Growth Mindset: A Snapshot

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Growth Mindset

     I have talked a lot about growth mindset over the last few years, both in person and on my blog.  I have embraced the mindset described by Carol Dweck quite assertively since I became a literacy coach.   Perhaps because I had so much to learn in order to help others, it seemed like a growth mindset was the mentality I needed to have.  

     Being a perfectionist, and a stubborn one at that, I don't know how much I embraced the learning process growing up.  I have always been someone who fears failure, and because of that I will not be seen parallel parking or making a left turn onto a busy intersection.  There are things in life that I can't do, and those things seem pretty fixed.  

     So, why is it that some things are fixed for me, while others I feel ready to develop and grow and be better at?

     Today, when we were at the zoo, my daughter spontaneously rubbed her nose together with her pet stuffed seal.  She had really wanted Dip N Dots, and we eventually gave in to our little girl.  The sun had gone away, so her hat came on, probably as a result of the frozen treat in front of her.  When asked if she was ready to leave, she said that Sealy wanted some Dip N Dots, too. She can't feed a stuffed animal ice cream, so she just leaned down and went nose to nose with him.  It lasted for 30 seconds, or a minute at most, but it was the sweetest thing I have seen in a long time.  And, because I am quick with my camera, I took a picture of it.

     In fact, over the last year, I will say that I have gotten to be a better photographer.  I have ALWAYS loved taking pictures.  It started when I was a kid myself, with an old camera that my mom had.  It used flash cubes and real film.  I graduated up to another camera that used a flash stick and film, then disposable cameras with a flash, and finally a pocket 35mm camera with a built in flash.  I didn't get my first digital camera until after I got married, so for 25 years or so I took pictures and had to wait for the film to develop to see the images.  It was a gift... That excitement over seeing the images.  Today, though, I can take 300 pictures and only keep the best 100.  Yep, that's my average photos taken on a trip with my family.

     I have always loved taking pictures, but last year I made some real attempts at being better at it.  Upgrading my camera always resulted in better images, but not my skill as a photographer.  I bought a nicer DSLR camera a few years ago, so I took a class that helped me learn a little about it.  It didn't help me actually shooting, so I took an online class that gave us a project each month and some feedback.  That is where I started to get better.  I learned some tricks, started following new photographers on Facebook, learned a little more about Photoshop Elements, and I practiced.  A lot.  

     Today, I took a picture of my daughter.  A picture that I love.  One that I will cherish forever, because it is HER, captured in a photo.  But, there were 327 other photos I took today too.  Some were good, many were awful.  A lot went into the digital trash can.  With all the work I have done to take great pictures, I still take a lot of bad ones.  I still have a lot to learn, but I can develop that talent.  

     How does this apply to education?

     When I say that we need to have a growth mindset, I am coming with the belief that we are already good teachers.  That we take our profession as an art form, and are always developing those skills to be the best we can be for our students, and for ourselves.  Over the years I upgraded the tools I use to take pictures, just like the tools I use to teach. But, the knowledge I have learned isn't forgotten.  It is applied and synthesized into something new, to make me better than I was before.  I once used an overhead projector and screen, and now I use a laptop and a SMART Board.  But, I can still use the pedagogy and content knowledge I used back then.  I have only upgraded my method of delivery.  (Or have I...  Someday I will find a reason to use an overhead projector.  It has to be instructionally relevant still in some capacity, right?)

     It seems that with all the new stuff in education these days, we are forgetting that the old stuff is usually just repackaged and retitled.  Many things remain the same.  What is different is the teacher that we are today, and the one we were before.  With the experience we gather each year, we learn the rules well so that we can break them to fit the needs of the students sitting in front of us.  It is that instructional decision making (and the toolbox that we require to make those decisions) that grows by having a growth mindset.  Picasso believes that artists break the rules, and I think that great teachers know the rules well enough to make their own or break them when it will truly make a difference in their students' lives.  A hybridizer, as I call it.  Use what you know, and make it better.

     I have also come to the conclusion that it is much easier to have a growth mindset over things that we are passionate about (hence my struggles with parallel parking and left turns).  The truth is, it is hard to believe that we can improve our skills when we feel we have no skills at all.  That's why it's important to remember what brought you into teaching, and bring that into your classroom as often as you can.  Remember why you became a teacher in the first place, and use that to propel you into developing yourself into the teacher you dreamed you could be.  

      The Leah of my childhood would have benefited from the reminder that it is ok to make and grow from mistakes, and that there is always something to learn to move ourselves along.  Perhaps the Leah of today would know how to parallel park...  Oh well.  There's always tomorrow. 


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