Growth mindset and the innovator’s mindset

In the past 6 weeks I have been participating in #IMMOOC (Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course). For those of you who aren’t aware of #IMMOOC, the course is centered around the book The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. The book focuses on these guiding questions:

  • How do you move from “pockets of innovation” to a “culture of innovation”?
  • How do we start to innovate inside the box?
  • How do we move from “engagement” to “empowerment”?
  • What does innovation mean for education, and should every educator be an innovator?

In the first week I wrote a blog post titled Innovate…why? in which I pointed out my 3 main reasons for innovation in education. One of the items I shared was on the role growth mindset plays in innovation in education. After posting my blog, I got the comment below from George:

Couros Comment

With this comment, I began thinking about the role that growth mindset plays in The Innovator’s Mindset.  Couros defines this mindset as:

the belief that the abilities, intelligences, and talents are developed so that they lead to the creation of new and better ideas.

I believe that all teachers agree that we are looking for ways to help the learning that happens in their classroom be “new and better”.  As I read more and more of The Innovators Mindset, I began making connections between what I read from Couros, and the book Mindset by Carol Dweck.  In this book, Dweck shares a quote from Benjamin Bloom that I feel relates to The Innovator’s Mindset:

After forty years of intensive research on school learning in the United States as well as abroad, my conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn, if provided with the appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.

Think about the power of that statement. This is not about the top 1-2 percent – the ones we might call geniuses – being able to learn anything. It’s the belief that with the right circumstances, anyone can learn anything.  What does that fact do for you as a teacher? I know that for me, that drives me to think about what those appropriate conditions are that will lead to the best possible conditions for learning.

I don’t think that the traditional model of school creates those best possible conditions for learning. I think that we as educators reflect on what we can do to learn and grow in ways that will create new and better learning environments for our students. As I think back on the conversations through Twitter, through the guest sessions, and the text of The Innovator’s Mindset, there are a few things that I see as imperatives, and all of them take a growth mindset from us.  Here are 4 of them:

  • Risk Taking: This is not just about getting our students to take risks, it’s about modeling our own risk taking as educators. During our course kick off with Jo Boaler, a statement really resonated with me – “It’s hard to give kids a growth mindset if you don’t have a growth mindset about your own learning.” Statements like “I’m not good at technology” or “Math was never my strong suit” show your students a fixed mindset, and does nothing to encourage their own risk taking. Instead, we might say things like “We’re going to try this and see how it works out.” Even if you fall flat on your face, you modeled for your students a willingness to step outside your own box, which encourages them to do the same.
  • Homework: You better be coming at me with research on this one, because I know some of us in education view homework as a must. As Alice Keeler pointed out, that 10 minute per grade level rule of thumb for homework is totally bunk with no research to support it.  “Some dude just made that up” she says.  The research on homework, especially at the elementary and intermediate grade, shows that the effectiveness is very low. On the other hand, relationships have a very high correlation to learning and growth. What gets in the way of those relationships? One thing is the negative interactions that happen at the start of class when we are discussing homework that wasn’t completed last night. If we take that away, we instantly remove one of the barriers to great relationships with all kids! If you must give homework, assign 20 minutes of free reading time. That reading is correlated with a lot more success than any worksheet! And if the worksheet is so important, shouldn’t you be doing it in class so that the students have appropriate guidance?
  • Grading Practices: For years, there has been a tradition of teach the lesson, hand out the homework, collect it the next day, grade it, put it in the gradebook, and hand it back (that’s what was done to me, and at least for a while, it’s what I did in my classroom). Let’s be honest though – most of those papers we hand back end up in the trash. Kids didn’t value them. Parents often only valued the grade in the gradebook, and how it affected their child’s overall grade. Learning was not the focus, an A-F letter grade was all that mattered. When we put a grade on anything, that signifies an end of learning on that topic. If we want to continue the learning, meaningful feedback is so much more powerful.  And I have to ask, are there times that you don’t pick something up as quickly as a colleague? Maybe some new tech is taking you a while to get used to, maybe you’re trying to figure out how to embed more inquiry into your math, whatever it is, there’s probably somebody who “got it” more quickly than you. Should you be evaluated lower because it takes you longer to make it work in your classroom? I want to applaud those who try something new – even if it takes longer than the teacher next door to them! Students are entitled to the same chance. If the focus of your classroom is on learning, how can we not reteach to those who struggle? How can we not offer a retake to someone who wants to show that they are learning and growing? We need to celebrate that learning, whenever it happens!
  • Flexible Seating: This isn’t just about putting fancy furniture into your classroom and then assigning seats just like you did with desks. True flexible seating is like what happens each time you go to Starbucks to work. I know that sometimes I like the table and chair so that I can spread out. Other times I like the high table so that I can stand while I am typing, or use the stool if I must sit. And every once in a while, that comfy chair in the corner calls may name. How sad would it be if every time I walked into Starbucks, they told me where I had to sit? Kayla Delzer reminded me that “Starbucks is a better learning environment than our classrooms.” A true flexible learning space leads to ownership and choice, which leads to more motivation, which leads to better learning. And here’s the fact – if flexible seating can work in kindergarten classrooms, there’s no way you can’t set the norms for your class to make flexible seating successful! Have kids try out each seating choice, have them reflect on what is their best learning space and why, and then encourage them to choose the spot that works best for them! As you set the norms, remind them that you always have veto power on any poor choices that they make, and then give it a whirl. Why wouldn’t we want our students excited to get to class so that they can pick their just right seat?

OK teachers, how many of you are feeling challenged by some of the things in this post? That’s ok! Are you feeling intrigued to make a shift? Then just do it! Don’t wait for the weekend, don’t wait for Thanksgiving Break, if you believe that a change here could impact learning for your students, then take that leap. Have a growth mindset, but even more, have an innovator’s mindset to try something that will be new and better for your students!

Couros - Best for this learner

Using outdoor spaces

Today I was reading a recent blog post by John Spencer about the ways that nature helps us to be more creative (check it out here).  Personally I love to be out in nature, so the post really caught my attention.  The gist of the post was about the fact that time in nature can lead us to greater levels of creativity.  His 5 ways that nature makes us more creative are listed in bold below, with my own thoughts added:

  1. Nature creates positive disruptions – Life draws us into the natural hustle and bustle of our world. Being in nature helps us get away from technology, current events, and everything else that makes it hard for our brain to stay focused.  That time away from all those distractions allows our brains to think more deeply.
  2. Nature encourages problem-solving – Almost every time I go for a hike, or spend some time in nature, I’m inspired to write a new blog post, or solve a problem, or be creative.
  3. Nature helps us embrace deep work – When do you do your best thinking? There is a lot of research that says that simply being active can lead to deeper thinking.  Simply going for a walk helps us activate our brain in different ways.  According to some research, throw nature into the mix and you multiply that effect.  So what does that mean for you?  Before teaching a particularly important skill, take your class for a walk in the woods outside of school.  Your students brains will be better prepared for deeper thinking when you return.
  4. Nature humbles us while also expanding our worldview – I’m not sure how many of you know this about me, but I was a 10 year 4-H member. I didn’t show animals (we weren’t on the farm), but I did lots of other projects over the years.  One of the projects I did required me to take multiple observations of a natural environment every day over multiple weeks.  I chose a small wooded area with a trail just a little over a mile from my home.  I had to observe at different times in the day, and I began to notice changes in what seemed like an untouched environment.  Some animals were more or less active at certain times of the day, some plants looked different depending on various factors.  The time I have spent in the natural world helps me realize that there are so many things happening in the world around us that we miss when we are in our cars, or on our devices.  Sometimes you really do have to slow down, look around, and smell the flowers in order to be aware of what’s happening in our world, and to realize how little control we have over so much of what’s around us.
  5. Nature can spark innovation – Did you know that Velcro was designed by a Swiss engineer after his dog was covered in burdock burrs after going on a hike? Or that the design of the nose of Japanese high-speed trains was meant to mimic the beak of a kingfisher?  These are just a couple of examples of innovations that came about because of things that people noticed in nature.  Imagine what the future scientists of the world (our students) may be able to develop if they learn to look to nature for ideas and solutions to our problems.

Reading Spencer’s post got me thinking about the natural wonders just waiting to be explored outside of our school.  By walking out the doors of our building, you can access a variety of outdoor environments.  Between the trails in the wooded areas, the stream running through the woods, the untended plain near the baseball fields, or the river, there are so many ways for us to access nature.  And the benefit doesn’t just stop with the kids being out in nature away from their devices.  Something they see while they are with you may inspire creativity and wonder in a way that is totally unexpected.

What have you done with your class in our outdoor areas?  Have you seen increased levels of creativity as a result of the time you have spent outside?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Gentle pushback

How do you spend the beginning of the school year?  What types of activities are you using in your classroom?  Keep in mind that the expectations that you set in the first few weeks will carry throughout the year.

So often at the beginning of the year, we spend lots of time on relationship building.  Those of you who know me will know that relationships are a key part to success (see previous posts here, here, and here).  Relationships alone aren’t enough though (I have a bigger post on this topic coming soon).

Part of what got me thinking about this was a series of tweets from Rick Wormeli – I happened to be on Twitter last Saturday evening, and he had a string of tweets on this topic.  He focused on the first week of school – we’re past that already in my school corporation – but I think that his sentiment can carry over to the first month of school.

What things have you tried for the beginning of the year to push your students in intellectual, academic, or creative ways?  What do you think about Wormeli’s thoughts?  Do you have different opinions?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

One key to student success

With it being the beginning of the school year, many of us have been spending countless hours getting ready for our students.  We made sure our classrooms look just right, we made sure to pick the perfect activities for our students to get to know each other (and for us to get to know them).  Before the first day I’m sure you were all just as excited as I was thinking about this school year.

One thing that many of us think about during the summer time is how to help our students to be successful.  For those of us in education, that is something that we all want for our students.  I’ve read many philosophies of education, written by lots of great teachers, and all of them say something about helping our students to be successful.  So what needs to happen in order to help our students be successful?

As I was thinking about this question earlier this week, I found myself drawn back to a book that I read a while back – What Every Middle School Teacher Should Know by Dave Brown and Trudy Knowles.  I know I’ve mentioned this book in previous posts – if you haven’t yet, it’s definitely worth the read!

In order to create cognitive growth for our students, they have to be willing to take risks in their own learning.  They have to be willing to try things that they’ve never done.  They have to be willing to fail from time to time.  Failure leads to growth for all of us!

The problem is, failure is scary.  How many of us have not tried something because we were worried we wouldn’t be able to do it?  During my high school years in Bloomington we would hang out at the Indiana University outdoor pool.  If you’ve never been there, one thing you should know is that there are multiple diving boards, including a platform.  I had a couple of friends who were divers, and they made it look so easy to go off the 3-meter springboard, or any one of the platforms.  I on the other hand, while being a strong swimmer, was scared to death to jump off that top platform.  Multiple trips to the pool, and many times watching others go for it, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Finally one of my buddies got me to go up the platform with him – “don’t worry, if you don’t want to jump, you can go back down.”  Once I got to the top, he jumped right off.  I was next in line, I turned around and there was a line behind me.  I didn’t want to walk past all of them, so I walked up to the end of the platform, looked over the edge, thought about it for a moment or two, and went for it.  What a rush it was to take that jump!  My fear had held me back and prevented me from a fun experience.

For some of our students, the fear that I felt about jumping off that platform is what they feel about reading aloud, or writing a story.  Maybe a teacher has told them that math isn’t their strong suit, so they don’t want to solve a problem for the class.  We expect our students to come to school for 180 days to do something that feels risky.  How many adults would do something risky every day?  A lot of us might just give up.  For the kids who feel this level of fear about their academics, they may say to themselves “If I’m not good at it, why even try.  I don’t want to embarrass myself.”

These students need our encouragement and support to build enough confidence to take risks.  That comes back to our classroom culture – the expectations we set about how students treat each other, as well as the things we (the adults in the room) say in the classroom.  Kids need to feel safe enough to be able to take risks.  Brown and Knowles share the following list of things students need to feel academic safety:

  • No one laughs at them when they attempt to ask or answer questions
  • Teachers establish realistic academic expectations and outcomes for every student
  • Students’ efforts are recognized, as well as the products of those efforts
  • Teachers eliminate competitive situations that create inequity among students
  • Teachers develop cooperative grouping strategies that encourage students to collaborate in their learning and share their knowledge and expertise with one another
  • Teachers play the role of learning facilitator to encourage student independence
  • Teachers choose alternative instructional strategies to meet each student’s learning style
  • Teachers recognize and appreciate talents other than academic skills

This list is not meant to be the end all be all solution for all our students, but it provides some ideas that we can reflect on in our planning and preparation to make sure that our students will feel safe in our classroom.  They need that safety to take risks, and they have to take risks to grow.

What steps do you plan to take in your classroom to make sure that all of your students feel comfortable to take risks in your classroom?  How can you model your willingness to take risks in your own learning and growth?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

What did you do this summer?

It’s that time of year – my summer break has ended and I am back in the office preparing for a new school year and the new group of Hawks that will be coming into our building.  As I’ve been at school, I’ve been running into a lot of people that I haven’t seen much during the summer.  Invariably one of us ends up asking “What did you do this summer?”  It’s exciting to get to hear about the awesome things that my friends have been doing, or to share the fun things that I did with my family.

In all my years as an educator, there is one other thing that I have done consistently every summer – it’s been an opportunity to learn.  I always have a stack of professional reading that I want to complete (currently there are 12 books in that stack).  At the beginning of the summer, I grabbed a couple of books from the stack that I really wanted to read, and they came home for the summer.  When someone asks about what I did during the summer, this isn’t something that I always think to share in those conversations, but I think there’s great value in sharing our learning.

The first book in that stack was one that I had started reading prior to the end of the school year.  Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani was so intriguing that I ended up putting together a PD session to share at Launching Inquiry.  Design Thinking is all about creating the conditions to allow students to use their curiosity to find things that they can make and share with a real audience.  Innovative activities like this will empower our students to find problems in their own world, and then seek out meaningful solutions – we can help to give them the tools.

My second book this summer was Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Kylene Beers & Robert E. Probst.  In this book, the authors lay out a framework (called Book, Head, Heart) to help us all understand that there are multiple types of thinking going on when they are reading.  While it is important that kids know what’s happening inside of the book (able to summarize, notice what the author is doing, and understand the theme of the book) Beers & Probst also point out how important it is to recognize what you’re thinking about in your head, and how the book makes you feel.  Each piece is an important part of the interaction that takes place between a reader and the text.

The third professional book, and one that I haven’t yet finished, is Daring Greatly by Brene’ Brown.  In this book, Brown pushes us to understand that vulnerability, or the willingness to put ourselves out there, is part of what brings meaning to our lives.  Without being vulnerable, and willing to dare to do great things, we risk not really living.  It’s scary to make ourselves vulnerable, but only through going out on that ledge can you accomplish great things.

I look forward to continuing my learning – it truly never stops.  As you think about what you did this summer, I’m curious – what did you learn about?  As educators, we’re all committed to being lifelong learners.  Sharing with others, including our students, is a great way to further our own learning.  Share below anything that you learned this summer!

Make it meaningful

I was recently directed to an interesting article by Zachary Johnson titled “Bored Out of Their Minds” (click here to access the article).  While there were several aspects to the article that I connected with, and lots of interesting data and statistics about students’ engagement, one passage in particular stood out to me.

“But the biggest shift we need,” Rose believes, is much more elemental. “We need to get away from thinking that the opposite of ‘bored’ is ‘entertained.’ It’s ‘engaged.’” It’s not about pumping cartoons and virtual reality games into the classroom, it’s about finding ways to make curriculum more resonant, personalized, and meaningful for every student. “Engagement is very meaningful at a neurological level, at a learning level, and a behavioral level. When kids are engaged, life is so much easier.”

Parts of this quote come from Todd Rose, author of The End of Average.  I read the book last fall, and wrote a couple of posts on the ideas learned from the book here: Part 1; and here: Part 2.  The idea of the book is that the “average person” just doesn’t exist – there is jaggedness to us all.  The implications of this jagged profile for educators is that we have to remember that no matter what label a student may carry, they all have strengths and weaknesses.  We can’t expect our students to fit into specific characteristics that we place on them.

What leads kids to disconnect as they grow older?  One of the things that Johnson brings up is that as students grow older, they have less and less choice in what they do.  I think back to my own educational career – in elementary school we were given great leeway to dig into the topics that interested us.  I was free to choose what books I wanted to read (my sixth grade reading log would show lots of Stephen King novels), what topics I wanted to research for the science fair, and how I wanted to share my learning as we discussed European explorers visiting the “New World” – these are just a few of the choices I got to make.

This photo was titles “Boring Lecture, 1940s”
https://www.flickr.com/photos/dukeyearlook/2076633334/in/photostream/

By the time I got to high school free choice was mostly gone, most classes were lecture based.  Many of my class syllabi were the exact same as the ones that were used for the students before me, and the students before them.  I remember being checked out of my trigonometry class (sorry Mr. Petry), putting forth just enough effort to get through biology, and being bored out of my skull by the filmstrips that were shown on a daily basis in world geography (at least I could get extra credit by bringing in a box of Kleenex anytime we were running low).

So how do we help our students to stay connected to the learning that happens in our room?  The HSE21 Best Practice Model helps us to get there.  We can help provide the relevance for our students to see why it’s important to learn whatever it is that we’re doing in our classroom.  We can give our students choices in how they express their learning.  We can push our students to ask questions and wonder once they have seen the relevance in their learning – getting us to that inquiry driven study that we’re looking for.

As the summer approaches, take some time to reflect on the things that your students have done this year.  What are the things that worked best?  What are the things that fell flat?  With those things that were best, what was it that got the kids excited about learning?  And with those things that may not have been so great, how can you add more relevance and choice so that students may be better engaged?  Remember, as Johnson says above, engagement isn’t about entertainment, it’s about finding ways to make the curriculum more meaningful for every student.  I’d love to help you on that path!  If you have an idea and want someone to brainstorm with, let me know.  Two brains are always better than one!

What are some of your best engagement strategies?  How have you been able to get your students highly engaged in learning in your classroom this year?  Share with us in the comments below!

Guardrails

Have you ever driven in a freshly painted empty parking lot?  There seem to be no limitations, you can go any direction at any speed you’d like.  As a few more cars join you, things become more difficult – lines have to be added, maybe even stop signs or curbs in order to keep us all safe.  These limitations are visible reminders to all of us about the correct way to go, as well as the ways we should not go.

As teachers, we set guardrails for our students at the beginning of the year.  We explain our expectations.  We practice what we need to do.  Over the course of the year, as you become more comfortable with your students, and your students become more comfortable with you, then we may loosen our expectations, give more freedoms, and allow things to slide a bit.

Then comes the end of the school year.  Suddenly things seem to change.  We want to be able to give our students the freedom that they have been enjoying, but we begin seeing poor choices.  Don’t hesitate, even in the month of May, to take time to review your expectations.  Explain your expectations, practice them.  In some cases you might even need to add a few new expectations.  When students do well in the moment, show that you appreciate it.  If they do poorly, review it again.

Just like the parking lot needs additions to keep drivers safe, you might need to add some lines, curbs, or guardrails to keep your students safe.  Even late in the year, a few moments invested can be so valuable.

I’m sure that some of you have things you’ve tried at the end of the year.  What are your best tips and tricks to help your students finish out the school year successfully?  Share with us in the comments below.