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EdTruth Files: When Teachers Are Students

Last week I wrote that educational goals without plans are just wishes. Toward the end of that article I wrote:

Attending a workshop is a good way to see a new way of thinking and to become energized. Walking away from the workshop with a goal to improve without specific goals and an actionable plan is just making a wish, and simply wishing doesn’t make anything happen.

I want to take a step back and talk about not what needs to happen after a workshop, but what happens before and during one.

I facilitate workshops on instruction, technology integration, and formative assessment in schools and districts throughout the world and wish that all educators would adopt a growth mindset regarding professional development. What is your mindset as you are preparing to attend that workshop or PD day and how will that impact your growth as a professional? How are you conducting yourself during the workshop? What are your personal and professional goals? What do you hope to learn that will make you an even better teacher or instructional coach?

I know that teachers often feel professional development is something that is done to them and not something they asked for. They are given a short list of topics to choose from and are expected to attend. Like the Carnegie unit for high school students, the emphasis is on seat time.

Teachers with a fixed mindset might say, “That’s just the way things are around here. I will put in my time and get it over with. Attendance is required, learning is optional.”

Teachers with a growth mindset on the other hand think, “I may not have a choice in what I have to do, but I do have a choice in how I react. What can I do to be sure I learn something that will help me and help my students?”

I believe honoring people’s time is important and always start and end my workshops on time. I know teachers set that as a norm in their classrooms as well. When my workshop is scheduled to begin at 8:30 I am in the room no later than 7:45 to make sure the room set up is as conducive to learning as possible, all technology is working properly, and materials are in place.

I am at the door of the room and ready to welcome my learners by 8:15. When I have 45 people on the sign-in sheet and there are less than 10 in the room at 8:30 it tells me something about the mindset of the participants. If there is a scheduled 15-minute break midway through the session and it takes 20-25 minutes before people are ready to learn again, what does that say about the educators’ mindsets? Teachers with a growth mindset look at experiences, both good and bad, as ways to learn and improve.

I try to use one new (to me) technology in each workshop. This helps me to push myself to find great new ways to integrate technology seamlessly into my work and to model tech integration for my participants. Sometimes there are hiccups and that’s just part of the learning experience. I want my learners to see that it’s ok to try something new and learn from it, even if it isn’t perfect.

I continue to be surprised when teachers in my sessions refuse to even try to use a new technology. I recently used Sli.do to do a poll at the beginning of a session.  Even though there is no app to download or any tech skill other than clicking on an answer, only about half of the teachers in the session participated in the poll. I heard a few tell their table partners they “just didn’t do technology and they preferred to watch.” I wonder how they would react if one of their students told them, “I just don’t do analogies and prefer to watch my partner do a few.” A fixed mindset teacher thinks, “I don’t have time to learn new things. What I do is good enough.” A growth mindset teacher thinks, “I want my students to see me as a learner and I can always improve.”

Dr. Carol Dweck writes, “Teachers (with a growth mindset) strive to strengthen their own practice, rather than blame others. They truly believe that all students can learn and succeed—and show it.” Teachers with growth mindsets are more likely to have students with growth mindsets.

Dr. Jackie Gerstein has a number of professional development courses that seek to instruct teachers in how to model a growth mindset and one of her key principles is encouraging teachers to see themselves as learners, and, just like students are all capable of learning and improving, so too are teachers.

When you attend a professional development session are you entering a learning zone with the intent of growing professionally, or are you there to put in the time and go home? Are you expecting of yourself what you expect of your students?

As I wrote in the previous editorial, growth mindsets can be developed.  When you are entering a new learning experience or situation your fixed mindset inner voice will say, “I don’t think I can do this” or “I might look bad and embarrass myself.”

Your growth mindset inner voice will say, “I might not be successful at first but can learn from mistakes and grow” or “Every time I don’t try I have automatically failed.” You have the choice which voice you listen to.

Practice hearing both voices and learn to act upon the growth mindset voice.



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  • My experiences as a teacher of teachers mirror yours, Howard. We all need to approach PD with welcoming minds and an eye toward chang .

    March 24, 2016
    • Oops, an eye toward CHANGE.

      March 24, 2016

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