Growth Mindset Can Work – But Who Needs to Grow?

I was looking for some inspiration today for a post after listening to my wife debrief after another exasperating day working with a particularly rude and difficult child. It is very frustrating to hear about her bad days because she is a gifted teacher and does wonders with intermediate students. My natural inclination in these situations is to look for ways to mute destructive students like this so that their impact on their school surroundings is minimized.

I can no longer affect the outcome of these challenging situations, I am not longer a principal. So, I write.

I am reflecting on the unfairness of this situation. Why does one child have the ability to disrupt, frustrate and block efforts that are being made to help them get an education?

This is probably one of the most frustrating situations in education. Children who for a wide variety of reasons do their best to oppose those who are committed to helping.

Sometimes Twitter can help with a prompt to help reflect on these exasperating situations. Today I found something by Dr Stuart Shanker

As teachers, this is an imperative reframe:  “I wasn’t trained for this.” To:  “Where can I learn more?” I love hearing about real experiences with the “growth mindset” model – will you share yours?

The growth mindset here has to do with educators, not students. Many children are in no way prepared to change their mindset. Who knows what has caused the blockage that leads to disruptive and destructive behaviour? The change in mindset needs to come from the educator.

The challenges in the poster at the top of the post are instructive. What happens when we open our minds to vastly different ways of doing things to support a student who is really struggling?

Can we be flexible enough as a system to adapt to the needs of a struggling child?

I think in many cases if we are able to start this work early enough we can make a difference. We must be ready to throw out everything in order to do this. Rework the system to fit the child. Design a system that uses the talents and intelligence of committed educators to affect change.

I have seen this work. In my last school, we had a wonderful boy in grade 3 who really challenged the entire school. He started off with us one block a day and even that was a struggle for all of us.

We had to rework things to make things work for this child. He was held accountable, but he also became the focus of a group of very compassionate, talented educators. Gradually, over time, his day lengthened. There were still the outbursts, the anger and the foul words, but we persisted. We adapted. I would like to think that we grew. He flourished.

Unfortunately, we lost touch with the boy when he was moved to another city. I like to think that we had all turned a corner and that given more time he would survive and thrive.

I think at the worst moments, we have to think back to our stories of growth. Even in the most unlikely circumstances, good things can happen.

I am not fooled into believing that positive change happens all the time. It may only happen once in awhile and it may not be longterm. What is important is the belief that we can adapt our mindset to bring about success in some cases and this makes all the difference.

In the case of the student my wife is struggling with there is a long road ahead that will not be completed by the conclusion of this school year. Maybe in another place and time something will spark a difference.

In Ottawa, many of our high-needs schools work with an organization called Christie Lake Kids. Their mission is to transform children through recreation. They call it Transformative Recreation or T-REC.

Through participation in the T-Rec model, the children and youth we serve develop a greater capacity for self-regulation, self-efficacy, social skills, adult monitoring, and positive relationships.

T_REC Model Christie Lake Kids

I mention Christie Lake Kids here because I think that the mindset change we need to employ will involve others outside the education system.

Maybe the counter statement to ‘We don’t have enough resources’ should really be ‘But what resources, especially in the community are we not using to their full potential?’

We certainly can do a better job at thinking outside the box. We also need to take a moment and really applaud the teachers like my wife who go in every day to face the unending challenges of dealing with the students who challenge.

May we learn to support them better.

Is leadership an innovative endeavour? – Response to George Couros

In January, George Couros asked this question and answered it with a definite “yes”.

I totally agree with his answer and his caveat that it should be an innovative endeavor.

My concern is that the urge to innovate seems to dissipate the higher people reach up the leadership ladder. There is certainly more pressure to follow the company line and as this pressure increases, the ability to innovate declines.

But when you see the challenges that are facing schools and organizations, if “leaders” are not also “innovators”, there is a danger of irrelevance.

George Couros

As George Couros writes, the inability to think outside the conventional ‘box’ can lead torganizations like school boards to become irrelevant.

Almost as a response to this challenge, Larry Ferlazzo has written a good series on leadership –  Response: Support Curriculum Innovations by ‘Failing Forward’

This three-part series offers a whole variety of ideas and suggestions from some of the top education leaders in the United Staes on how to support innovation in schools. One suggestion from Mark Estrada, principal of Lockhart Junior High School in Lockhart, Texas is very interesting.

School leaders and teachers must develop a growth mindset as Keith Heggart describes in a recent article.

  • Teachers and administrators must model a growth mindset

  • Create space and time for new idea development

  • Build time for self-reflection

  • Administrators must provide positive formative feedback

We are all familiar with the concept of ‘growth mindset’, and we want our students and teachers to embrace this idea. We don’t, however, insist that a growth mindset be adopted by school and district leadership. In my opinion, after working for years as an administrator in a large Ontario school board, a growth mindset amongst our leadership is sorely lacking.

I would argue that what we experience in many schools and certainly at the district level is a preservation mindset. Keep everything moving, nudge forward a little, pick up the newest fad in education, but basically keep things the way they are and celebrate compliance as the gold standard.

Those who do not accept this as the standard operating procedure are not welcome at the table.

So, while I applaud writers like George Couros, Larry Ferlazzo, and Mark Estrada who work hard to extend the reach of new ideas on leadership, I have to ask – who is reading these articles, and who is simply paying mouth service to ideas about innovation, change, and bold leadership?

If our education leaders are not overly concerned with real innovation, do they risk becoming irrelevant?