Since the Holidays are upon us and I love celebrating with my family, I couldn’t help but think about how my mindset is different this year. It is different because the world around us is different. 2020 will always be a year to remember. Yet, I really am thinking about how, if and when my family groups can be together. When we do, I want it to be perfect. Down to the decorations and the food of course. Can it be perfect this year? Or, is it ever really perfect? Well…if I am honest, I think back to past years and the answer is no. Something is not finished or may not have turned out the way we had hoped. What I remember feeling is happiness with my family. Perfect isn’t the things, but the people. We are there, together, enjoying each other’s company.
Perfection – What is it in our minds? As teachers, we strive for perfection in our lessons and activities, maybe even trying to make our classrooms perfect. But, like the focus of being together for the holidays with family, what is our focus as educators? Students and their learning. So, can everything be perfect? Can we be innovative if we always want a perfect result? The biggest question: can we truly learn if perfection always exists? Most likely, the answer to all of these questions is no. Which brings about the importance of having a learning mindset.
What is a learning mindset?
I find the work of Carol Dweck and George Couros very interesting. Belief that abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed leading to the creation of new and better ideas is Carol Dweck’s growth mindset approach. I find Couros’ characteristics of an innovator’s mindset – empathetic, problem finders, risk-takers, networked, observant, creators, resilient and reflective embody the essential components to create meaningful learning experiences for all of those around us, especially students. Teachers, mentors and beginning teachers, need to reflect on their own learning mindset and believe in making a difference for their students.
These ideas around growth mindset and innovative mindset have led me to think more deeply about a learning mindset. With a learning mindset, there are characteristics that embody the most innovative of learners. To start with, the learner being empowered to attempt new problems needs to be coupled with being passionate about improving critical thinking skills. All of this has to happen while being flexible with next steps. The possibility of failure or imperfection being a part of the process as well. A logical progression to get to the highest level of learning mindset can be seen in this way: Fixed, Emerging, Growth and Innovator.
Reflection: In your own words, how would you define a learning mindset?
How can I support a learning mindset?
With the students being our focus, then I believe all teachers can make a difference by employing a learning mindset. Let’s uncover a few tips that can support this endeavor for not only ourselves, but also students and our colleagues. In particular, beginning teachers and mentors could benefit from these tips.
Tip #1: Set and revise goals
Many of my colleagues know I like setting goals. I also absolutely love making lists. Who doesn’t feel good when they accomplish their to-do list?!?! But, I set goals, big and small, to have a clear direction and to keep me on track. When working with teachers, I encourage setting goals in their work around the impact on students. This helps keep the focus on not only the students’ needs and their learning, but also on the teacher’s learning. Don’t forget to teach students to set goals as well! Goal-setting is one of the key ways that can support the growth of students and is known to propel their learning forward faster. Take a look at John Hattie’s Visible Learning practices if you are interested in students as assessment-capable learners.
We also can’t be afraid to revise our goals when needed. The whole concept of learning at an innovative level requires change. Change is personal. We have to put aside our assumptions and take risks. This mindset begs for vulnerability in trying new ideas. That means the majority of what we do won’t be perfect and will take multiple attempts. We owe it to our students to be models of this! With all of that said, it means our goals will be imperfect and need revision at times as well.
Tip #2: Ask teammates questions
I had to have the help of others to get where I am today. It is in our human nature to need to be around other humans. It is also supportive of success. Asking questions to learn more from teammates is a key part of effective planning and problem-solving. I have become the queen of questions. Some may think I ask them too many. But, only my husband will probably be honest with me on that one!
Asking questions can evoke uncertainty and vulnerability. Having the courage to say “We Don’t Know,” is hard for many. It shows we are not perfect. As learners, if we want to grow and learn, we have to attempt to at least ask questions about new skills. As teachers, if we want to impact our students, we have to attempt to learn more about effective instructional practices and continually ask ourselves, ‘What is my impact?’ This question comes from John Hattie’s Visible Learning Work and I encourage you to look at the 10 Mindframes for Visible Learning.
tip #3: Celebrate the process
I love to celebrate just as much as I love setting goals! So, why not celebrate the little wins along the way to reaching those goals? But, really, why not? I think it is important to celebrate the attempts we have made in our work, just as much as the end product. Many goals take time to achieve. Without taking the opportunities to reflect and celebrate the effort throughout the process, we can easily lose sight of the purpose for our goal. The extensive time can make it harder to work for that goal if it is far from our reach. Students need help with this process. And so do beginning teachers. And so do all teachers.
There is no reward without risks or failure. The process of learning comes with chances, imperfection and messiness. Many say that’s where the real learning takes place. It is where we learn persistence and flexibility. It is where we learn problem-solving and creativity. It is where our thought process behind our actions grows. It is where we develop beliefs. That sounds amazing and beautiful. So, embrace the imperfect and celebrate the process along the way! Whether you achieve your goal or not, you can still have fun trying.
There is still more to come around learning mindsets. I am intrigued to think more around the connection of time to our mindset. Who doesn’t wonder about time? It is a resource we all wish we had more of for sure. Stay tuned for my next blog around that topic!
- Dweck, C. (2017). The Growth Mindset Playbook: A Teacher’s Guide to Promoting Student Success. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press.
- Hattie, J. & Zieier, K. (2018). 10 Mindframes for Visible Learning. New York, New York: Routledge.
- Couros, George. (2015). The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.