Although not new, the terms growth and fixed mindsets have become relative buzzwords in education due to the implementation of the Common Core. Common Core requires learning to shift from content only to process learning, collaborative problem solving, and authentic application.
Leading the work on growth mindset is Stanford University professor Carol Dweck, Ph.D. Dr. Dweck defines growth mindset as the belief that anyone can learn anything if they put in the effort to do so. This is important in the new era of Common Core because learning can be challenging. There isn’t always a single correct answer. Students are tasked with making connections between ideas and justifying their answers. And, as the problems posed become more complex, it is easy for students to give up prematurely. By focusing on growth mindset, educators can encourage students to continue endeavoring until a solution is found.
Yet, while growth mindset is worthy of focus, equally valuable is the idea of a flexible/adaptable mindset.
Growth mindset focuses on the belief in one’s ability, however a flexible mindset focuses on a learners’ adaptability. Having a flexible and adaptable mindset helps students creatively approach problems and uncover innovative solutions. When a student fails to find a solution, they not only need to believe that with effort and perseverance they can solve the problem (growth mindset), they must also have the ability to switch gears and try a different approach (flexible/adaptable mindset).
Flexible thinkers are not quick to judge. They do not see things as black and white. They are natural experimenters and open to change (Brooks, 2009). This is compelling because it tends to be counterintuitive to most teachers. That is not to say that there aren’t many creative teachers, however planning and scripting are cornerstones of our profession. How many times do we plan a lesson, only to have the technology not work? Or have a lesson veer off course with a single student question? Do we get flustered and try to pull the lesson back on course, or do we engage in flexible thinking and proceed down a new path?
We will argue that while sticking to the plan is more the norm, we need to do more of the latter. Leaders must redesign professional development to foster flexible thinking in our teachers. Teachers must model flexible thinking for students. We must resign ourselves to be less dependent on the textbook and more focused on the learning outcomes. When we do, we will become more responsive and more effectively engage our learners. In return, our students will become more adaptive and flexible thinkers of their own.
More on fostering flexible thinking
If you intend to achieve significant change, you must allow things to get messy. Messy is the time between establishing your vision and transformation occurring. The only problem is that messy isn't comfortable.
As educators, we constantly put our students in such situations. We introduce new concepts and expect them to give it the "old college try." When they struggle, we encourage them to persevere. We support them with scaffolds until we can gradually release control. And, despite how many different opportunities we must provide to help them get it, we do not stop until we are celebrating our students' successes.
Yet, as educators, we often forget to afford ourselves the same process. When we hear about new initiatives, or learn about new approaches, we internalize that we must instantly be able to implement them. But, think of it this way:
Would you ever expect your students to be perfect on their first try at something new?
What would you do if your students were too afraid to try something?
How would you support your students when they felt like they wanted to give up?
You would encourage, offer scaffolds, and keep offering opportunities until your students succeeded. Therefore, you must do the same for yourself and your teachers.
Change is a process, a messy process... and we are all learners in this process.
Add "purge file cabinet" to your next to-do list and you'll be surprised at what you'll find. Do you really need the picture day schedule from 2004? Or teacher evaluations for staff that have been retired for five years already?
Now that's not to say that you shouldn't hold on to things that you are currently utilizing, or documents that may be needed for an audit down the road. However, most things we hold on to just keep us grounded in the past. They keep us comfortable.
To determine what stays and what goes, ask yourself these five questions:
1. What purpose does this serve?
2. Does this reflect a 21st century vision?
3. Why am I keeping it?
4. How will I use it next time?
5. Does this keep my school moving forward?
To be a transformational leader, you must look to build on past successes rather than simply repeat the past. Know where you want to go and you'll always lead in the right direction.
This one small step of purging your files, is both tangible and symbolic. It demonstrates you are forward thinking. Do this regularly and you'll be free of those dusty files in no time!