Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Mindset Matters: A Prescription for a Great Year!

by Vicki Bechard
LFKS Secretary

It’s Back to School!  How do you feel?  Are you excited?  …Do you have great plans?  …Big hopes and dreams for you and your students?  Will you still feel this way in October? December? Next Spring?  Maybe it's time for a back-to-school mindset checkup.  

Is your mindset radiating excitement and confidence for new ways to teach and learn, new possibilities, and success for all?  Is it clouded by questions, doubt, and apprehension for the changes and new expectations for educators and students alike?  Is it a little bit of both?  All responses are normal, but some are more constructive than others.  Is your mindset propelling you to great things or holding you back?  What will be your prescription for success?

Variations of this quote have floated around social media this week that might make us consider the health of our educational mindset: 

“A goal should scare you a little and excite you a lot.” 
- Dr. Joe Vitale

What is your first response to that statement?  Whatever you say, that is your mindset talking.  That first reaction – knee jerk if you will – says a lot of about how you think.  The beliefs we hold, based on the experiences we’ve had, reveal themselves in the way we respond to every task, challenge, decision, or problem we encounter every day.  If we are interested or believe we can succeed, even though we may need to learn something new, our approach is viewed as a growth mindset.  However, if we believe we are being asked to go too far out of our comfort zones, that we might look bad, believe it is too difficult, or we had a similarly bad experience, then we exhibit a fixed mindset.   Mindsets are usually viewed as a continuum, rather than either/or.  We all display a range of mindsets depending on the situation. So as you examine your own beliefs and practices, what symptoms do you have?  In other words, which mindset do you exhibit more often?  And does it matter for the health of teaching and learning?

How does the mindset with which we approach everyday life, including teaching and learning, impact our potential for success?  …Or our students’ success?

With redesign of education at the forefront of our planning and focus of back-to-school professional learning, educators are being forced to reckon with many new tasks and challenges.  Thinking outside the box is a requirement of redesign and yet can produce both open doors of opportunity and possibility, and walls of self-preservation and resistance.  How do we shift our thinking to increase chances of success?  What new strategies will we try to improve our teaching and learning health?

If we want our students to exhibit a growth mindset, it begins with us – the adults.  Saying you have a growth mindset isn’t enough.  It’s about walking your talk; aligning your actions with your goals; and sending the right message for yourself and your students.  Just like we can often tell if our kids are faking it; kids can tell if we are faking it too.

Change Your Words, Change Your Mindset
Developing and nurturing a growth mindset begins by reframing your thinking and intentionally changing your words to change your mindset.  It begins with the ALL of the adults in the building and spreads to students through our instruction and modeling of the beliefs, words, and actions that represent a growth mindset.  It is a commitment, not a quick fix.  It is not something you achieve, like a test score or grade, but something you strive to live every day.  It requires a conscious effort to ensure our thinking, speaking, and actions line up with our intent.  It’s also more than a bulletin board or school slogan. It requires us to examine the work we give students, the class rules we post, the way we respond when feedback is given or an intervention is needed.  What message(s) do we send?   It is an intentional way of approaching every task, problem, or situation every day.  For some, the prescription may be a lifestyle change.

So What’s the Prognosis?  
Whatever mindset we have, we can change. Growth Mindset is more than a positive outlook or increased effort, although that is part of it.  It is a willingness to work through difficulties, plan for and deal with failures that we will most likely incur, and a resolve to focus on possible solutions rather than the problem itself.  This occurs in classrooms, faculty rooms, professional learning, accreditation and redesign efforts, as well as how we approach post-secondary success.  It starts early with kindergarten readiness.  Our mindsets are shaped by our experiences and it is up to all educators to ensure we are nurturing and guiding our students in the right direction so they can develop mindsets that lead them to be successful in school and as adults.

Even those with a growth mindset can slip back into a fixed mindset when faced with multiple setbacks, lack of support or resources, or mental/physical exhaustion.  Nurturing a growth mindset is always a work in progress. 

What We Understand
We evolve through our experiences and willingness to try or be open to new things.  We believe we can learn and grow with new understandings, practice, and a commitment to continuous improvement.  We have confidence in our ability to control of our circumstances.  We embrace possibilities and persevere through obstacles and setbacks.  We are committed to the message of hope that Dr. Carol Dweck shares in this video, The Power of Yet.   

Our prescription for a great school year, fueled by a growth mindset, is to be consciously aware of our thinking, words and actions.  Are they aligned with what we say we believe or expect?  Are we modeling and working to fulfill the Power of Yet?  What learning, feedback and support should we see in our buildings to ensure this is happening?  The side effects of a growth mindset prescription just might be the best teaching and learning you’ve ever experienced!

Doctor's Note:  Check back in 3 months so we can monitor our progress!

"The Power of Yet" by Dr. Carol Dweck
Brock & Hundley, The Growth Mindset Playbook
Mike Gershon, How to Develop Growth Mindsets in the Classroom

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