You need a growth mindset to teach a growth mindset!

Ever since I started teaching, my walls have been plastered with positive slogans and messages about the importance of making mistakes, and being kind to ourselves and one another. And yet, for the first half of my own journey I was whinging and moaning in the staffroom about students, parents, colleagues, the system…you name it. We all bonded with a whine and went home and drank wine.

At the end of last year we had transition sessions where students and teachers for 2020 were given the chance to connect briefly. My Stage 3 colleagues and I decided to do our transition as a stage. As part of our activities we asked students what they expected our classrooms to look/feel/sound like. The students gave all of the right answers, teachers nodded their encouragement at terms like “respect” and “have a go, even if you’re not certain”, but I left that session thinking that what they had suggested was what we wanted to hear – it didn’t feel like they REALLY understood what it meant to respect another person in the face of adversity. I know that what these children are saying is at odds with their behaviours away from the direct supervision of us teachers.

So I came home and pondered some questions. What has been lacking in my own Growth Mindset classroom culture? How can I help my students adopt these concepts holistically? And I believe the answer to this last is “my own Growth Mindset”.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The staffroom should be a place where we can go for some venting when frustrated or stuck, or ANYTHING. We should be able to go there for some collegial support. But it’s important that we don’t get stuck on the problems. It is in no way helpful to have a staffroom where the main focus is on complaining, as I was apt to do in my early years. An empathetic ear is one thing, a bitch fest is another thing entirely, and rather than contributing to staff unity, it becomes divisive and destructive. One minute we’re complaining about a student who won’t follow instructions, and then we’re talking about a lack of support from the school or the system, and then we’re talking about how terrible the parents are, and not one positive thing has come from the process, apart from us feeling somewhat heard, and often self-righteous. I know many great teachers who avoid staffrooms altogether because of the negative talk that goes on there, and they are the people who should be helping to establish our positive environment!

Of course, it isn’t easy. Teachers are under incredible amounts of pressure, and it is very easy to become overwhelmed and emotional. In fact, it’s hard to avoid at the busiest times of the year, but here are some things to consider…

What is a growth mindset all about anyway?

The infographic below gives a general outline of the differences between “fixed” and “growth” mindsets. Carol Dweck examines how people’s attitudes help to shape their relative successes or failures in life, and maintains that just by changing small things, such as our wording, we can drastically alter outcomes.

I have dabbled a little in NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), and my learning here supports everything Dweck asserts about a growth mindset. What I have decided is that the biggest thing that contributes to my happiness in the workplace is me.

When we are talking to one another about how tough this is, or how stressed we are, or how frustrating it is that parents won’t take responsibility, all we are doing is feeding the negativity. Perhaps we should instead be framing issues as how we want things to look so that we can consider solutions.

How do you talk to yourself?

Now, changing our self-talk is not an easy thing to do. We have spent a lifetime considering the things we don’t like about ourselves, and it won’t just stop overnight. But consider this: words don’t need to be spoken out loud to be heard. People don’t need to hear me say “I am hopelessly unorganised” to know that this is an issue for me. It’s in my self-deprecating laugh at my inability to lay my hands on the piece of paper I need at any one moment. It’s in the eyerolls that I give myself when there is any discussion about being organised. By telling myself that I am unorganised, I am perpetuating disorganised behaviour. It has been my self-fulfilling prophecy. So, I began testing out the theory, and I changed the language I use with myself to “I am learning to be more organised “. Well, a switch flipped, and each time I lost a piece of paper, or put down a resource in a silly spot, I said to myself “whoops – I’ve done it again” and consciously thought about where I SHOULD have put it. Slowly, but surely, I am becoming more mindful of what I am doing when I am busy, and I am definitely making improvements. It is contributing to my happiness at work!

Does your workplace adopt a growth mindset?

Workplace culture is very much dependent on the leaders of the organisation. However, some of the biggest obstacles to harmony in the workplace come from the attitudes of the workers themselves. Imagine if every single person who had an issue with something came out and discussed the issue with a view to achieving a positive outcome, rather than just expressing their discontentment! Imagine if we celebrated the achievements that came from our efforts, rather than just looking at where we have failed, or how our workplace is failing us. We need to be there for our students as a team, and we need to look for a common goal and work together to get there, rather than stand in our own way with our fixed mindset.

I, as much as anyone, know how limiting it can be to face massive hardship in the workplace and feel completely powerless to achieve anything. I went through months of feeling completely helpless, and resorted to just talking about my problem, rather than how to solve my problem. I wanted other people to feel sorry for me, to say “that’s so unfair, you don’t deserve this”. I made my problem part of my whole personality. Eventually, though, I found the people who helped to fill my cup. I went back to the union and asked for more support. I started focusing on what I envisioned for myself as the best outcome, and I made something happen. I took the blame out of the equation and looked for the resolution. And I am a better, more appreciative worker for my experiences.

Monkey see, monkey do

If we are telling our students that mistakes are awesome because they help us to grow, and then beating ourselves up because we haven’t kept up with our assessment records this term, how can we expect them to take our advice to the heart of their learning? When we teach our kids through a growth mindset model, we get them to consider a mistake that they’ve made, use it to highlight an area for growth, and then focus on mastering it without getting lost in the feeling of failure. So many teachers are perfectionists! We spend far too much of our energy thinking about how we haven’t nailed it this time. Instead of celebrating an area for growth, WE get lost in our feelings of failure! Well, enough is enough. Flip the switch, guys. How can you model your own growth mindset and show students that you are looking for opportunities to learn and improve? I am going to start setting my own goals when students set theirs. I am going to talk about my mistakes when I make them, and how I am learning from them.

Here is your challenge. How can you rephrase your messages to yourself, to your students, and to your colleagues? It doesn’t matter what your motivation is – success means different things to different people – but whether you want to progress your career, or just be happier, I guarantee that developing your own growth mindset will be a big part of your journey. And if we all spoke to ourselves with love and compassion and approached obstacles as opportunities to grow and learn, imagine what the world could look like!

#walkthewalk #fixthefuture #bethechange #growthmindset.

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