As we know, research has been done that sheds light on the importance of a growth mindset in all that we do as teachers (Gross-Loh, The Atlantic, 2016). It also highlights the importance of helping to teach students to share in this mindset for lifelong learning and growth. What could happen, then, if entire systems and school buildings agree to adopt a growth mindset as part of their innate culture?
Many schools operate using a “PLC” model, originally suggested by Rick DuFour in the 1990s. Though the implementation of PLCs may differ, often the intention is the same. DuFour states,
“The powerful collaboration that characterizes professional learning communities is a systematic process in which teachers work together to analyze and improve their classroom practice. Teachers work in teams, engaging in an ongoing cycle of questions that promote deep team learning. This process, in turn, leads to higher levels of student achievement” (EdLeadership, May 2004).
The PLC model naturally emphasizes a growth mindset. It encourages teachers to share, discuss, open doors, express challenges, and work toward solutions…together. Literally, the emphasis is not only on improving one’s own practice, but rather on improving the practice of the system as a whole by way of individuals’ questioning, data, and sharing.
Talk the Talk
This idea of a PLC leads us to the first way we can all contribute to a growth mindset PLC – Talk the Talk. Through collaborative, data-driven PLCs, over and over, teams talk through data, problems, and solutions with a growth mindset. Atmospheres of trust, respect, and expertise are created that ensure all ideas are heard and the idea with the most promise is selected based on its merit in improving student achievement. In addition, then, when we teach our students, we bring that sense of power and growth to them, letting them know that how they demonstrate their learning and the feedback they receive is most valuable to progress, not a grade or score.
Walk the Walk
Another way we can contribute to a growth-mindset culture is to Walk the Walk. After PLCs have helped us to determine the most appropriate ways to move forward, we then consider how to put it all into practice. According to Dweck,
“Let’s look at what happens when teachers, or parents, claim a growth mindset, but don’t follow through. In recent research, Kathy Liu Sun found that there were many math teachers who endorsed a growth mindset and even said the words “growth mindset” in their middle school math classes, but did not follow through in their classroom practices. In these cases, their students tended to endorse more of a fixed mindset about their math ability. My advisee and research collaborator Kyla Haimovitz and I are finding many parents who endorse a growth mindset, but react to their children’s mistakes as though they are problematic or harmful, rather than helpful. In these cases, their children develop more of a fixed mindset about their intelligence” (EdWeek 2015).
I see this in my own teaching and parenting. Each time I begin to get frustrated that something did not work or was not learned the first time, I am demonstrating a fixed mindset. Whether this comes from how we were raised, or the new stereotypes around the need for immediate satisfaction in millennials, I often find myself checking my reaction and starting over. Instead of getting frustrated, we need to consider each setback as part of the process, part of the unique journey that each of us must take to reach a destination. If we begin to see life, and progress, truly as a journey, we are not so inclined to become frustrated and perhaps damaging to others. We open the door to new pathways and new ways of thinking that were not previously conceivable. Then, if we transfer this reality into our classrooms and our school buildings and our PLCs, we move culture, which moves mountains.
Share & Celebrate
The last way we can all contribute to a growth-mindset culture is to Share & Celebrate. And not just our successes! Some of our most important insights come when we fail, or when we attempt and do not achieve our intended results. In a culture that values a growth mindset, these setbacks are part of the journey and without critique or judgment can be shared openly in the hopes of praise, suggestions, and comfort. Dweck writes,
“The growth mindset was intended to help close achievement gaps, not hide them” (EdWeek 2015).
Through public sharing and celebrations, schools can further identify what is working in the system and what gaps still exist. Teachers are encouraged not to hide, but rather to bring to the fore what struggles still exist so that system gaps can be identified and lessened, or even closed.
Teaching is hard. Collaborative teaching is even harder. And the work of creating a growth-mindset culture can be harder still. Nonetheless, when we hold each other to high standards of expertise, solution-thinking, and in many ways, freedom, we allow for our best ideas to take flight to power our learning, and therefore, student learning. It is all a journey and our winding path is beautiful.