Do I or Not Yet?

I recently had a conversation with someone where I said, “If so- and so- were observing me in my classroom, I would want them to think that I was a good teacher.” After reflecting on Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, I have struggled with my comment. On one hand, I absolutely meant what I said, and on the other hand I did not, which has inspired this reflection post. After all, I believe my efforts to think through this will only help me develop the desired mindset. Let’s not also forget I’m writing to be transparent and to learn from other educators.

I would absolutely be lying if I told you that I did not care what my boss or my colleagues thought of me as a teacher. I never want my boss to think, “What was I thinking when I hired her.” Or a colleagues to say, “That’s just Courtney, you know, she just does whatever she wants.” I truly care. To be completely transparent, who does not like a compliment from time to time? Who does not like feeling valued or apart of something great? So here I am, asking myself the hard question, was I demonstrating a fixed mindset by my comment? Was my goal to put my talents on display for this observer? Was I seeking validation of my worth from them? Yikes, kind of scary to admit out loud because that is exactly what it sounded like.

However, on the other hand, I know that my daily focus has never been trying to prove my worth to my boss or colleagues. All in an effort to enhance what they already think about me. Their opinions of me are NOT what drives me out of bed in the early mornings to go over the days agenda. Their opinions are not the reasons why I invest so much of my time into planning new and better lessons. They are not the reasons why I read books that help me think deeply about my job and help build on my weaknesses, when I HATE reading. (You will never see me reading for entertainment. Never.) I roll up my sleeves, dig my heels into the ground, and face challenges head on because, I’m focused on learning and improving with my students everyday. I seek meaningful feedback and I turn my mistakes and failures into lessons I can profit from in the future. I want to grow. If I tell myself that I want to do what is best for my kids, than I need to back up my words with action. This means I need to continue to look for ways to develop new skills throughout each year. This also means I have to leave that cozy comfort zone, of what I think I do well and attempt something new, in order to do something even better. Recognizing both sides of my comment leaves my wondering, do I really have a growth mindset or both? Frustrating stuff. What do you all think?

Modeling a Growth Mindset

What motivates people to raise the bar each day? Is it an external factor, such as a compliment from a fellow colleague? Impressing our bosses with our awesomeness? Or is it an internal desire to continuously challenge ourselves to grow? The desire where we shift our views of setbacks and failures and embrace them and use them as an opportunity to learn?

If you’re anything like me, you’re mainly self-driven with the internal desire to develop and grow. You constantly reflect and sometimes over analyze everything, but nonetheless, you search for ways to improve on a daily basis. According to Carol Dwecks, this is known as a growth mindset. Dwecks’ research teaches us that intelligence can be developed and that both children and adults can be taught to change their mindsets.

Recognizing that we have the power to grow our brains is one way I try to instill this mindset in my students, by modeling that learning does not end with a degree or a letter grade. Even though I’m the teacher,  I’m constantly communicating to them that I’m looking for ways to change and grow. For example, if they are reading their AR books, I’m sitting and reading a book with them. This way they see me learning and growing too.

Being very transparent with my students when I’m faced with classroom challenges is another way I prompt a growth mindset. By being transparent, I hope to be modeling what it looks like to not to give up, but to persevere through a problem. How can I solve this problem or think differently? How will this problem help me get better? (Perseverance is our classroom theme.)

Finally, I try to instill a growth mindset by intentionally guiding my students in conversations that center around our classroom goal, which is to become better readers and writers than the day before. That it doesn’t matter what we didn’t know or get right yesterday. But rather, did we learn from yesterday and can we build on that today? Even more importantly, can we take what we learned or wrote about yesterday and develop it even more today? (This makes traditional grading a challenge for me.)

My hope is to help motivate my students not to accept both their accomplishments and failures as a one-time event, but rather to help them reflect on how they can continuously grow. How can we get better? Why not get better? Why not grow?

How do you prompt a growth mindset? Would love some feedback.

Perceived Value Limits Growth, Instilled Value Promotes Growth

As I reflect on my own student experience, the primary memories that flood my mind are not the important concepts that my teachers taught me; like reading for main idea, theme, or conceptually understanding mathematical algorithms. Rather, I remember the relationships that a number of my teachers created with me. I remember how these teachers built me up by communicating positive reinforcement and focused on what I could do, rather than what I could not. Each of those teachers met me where I was in my learning, and we moved forward from there. These teachers did not compare me to the other 25 students in the class, but instead taught me to focus on my own development, by comparing myself to myself. To focus my attention on where I am today, compared to the day before or the year prior. These teachers went above and beyond the call of teaching and developed a deep desire in me to learn and better myself with every passing day. They instilled in me a passion for learning, and most importantly they communicated their belief in me daily. As a direct reflection of their belief in me, I worked harder while in their classrooms. I wanted to make them proud of how far I had come with their continual guidance and support. They believed, therefore, I demonstrated my learning in their classrooms.

I contribute the fact that I was the first person in my family to graduate from high school and attend a private college, where I graduated with honors, to the teachers who believed in me and believed that all kids can learn. They focused on what they could control while I was in their rooms, and therefore, I left their classrooms a better student than when I entered. I might not have been reading or writing on grade level, but I had made progress and we celebrated that accomplishment.

I equally remember the teachers who I knew did not believe that I could catch up to my peers. These teachers did not have to say they didn’t believe, I just knew. I can still see their disappointment when I continuously communicated the wrong answer. Their sheer disappoint still continues to echo in my mind and the self doubt lingers from time to time. You see, my educational background would include an IEP label that followed me until 8th grade, retention in the first grade for a second year, in hopes that I would develop the skills needed to read on grade level, and I received services for a slight speech impediment. For some of my teachers, this label is all that they saw when I entered their classroom each day. Therefore, each day that I sat in their classroom, I believed what they believed. I believed I was slow and that I had no clue what was happening around me.

The truth is not that I could not do the assignments, but rather the fact that I did not perform for a teacher who I felt did not believe in me. Why would I work so hard for someone whom I easily frustrated? Why would I care if they didn’t care about me?

Having had experienced both types of teachers, led me to the paradigm that people do not perform for people that they do not like. Period. Therefore, how will I meet all the listening and speaking standards of my students that will not perform? How will my students demonstrate and communicate their understanding of NGSS and Common Core Standards if they do not feel valued? Think about it, every human who walks on the planet wants to feel three things: love, purpose, and security. As a result from my experience as a student, I enter my very own classroom each day reflecting and focusing my energy on meeting every student where they are and focusing on moving forward from there. Why not focus and communicate to students what they can do, rather than what they cannot? Why not focus on having a student leave my classroom a better student than when they entered? Why not build powerful relationships in the classroom that empower students to believe in themselves? Why not?

Why I Started Blogging…

I’ll be completely honest, when Tricia Shelton, a High School Science teacher, asked me to blog and share my classroom journey with her #NGSSblog group, a plethora of feelings raced through my brain.  First, I was thrilled to death to have the opportunity to learn from her.  She is, without a doubt, a spectacular teacher leader in our district.  Secondly, I was pumped to start my own blog.  I had previously pondered the concept of developing my own blog after being motivated by the quote, “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will.”  These words “hit home” with me and got me to thinking, TRANSPARENCY is the key. WHY NOT share with others, and in return learn from them?

Trending slowly into uncharted waters, I connected our classroom to Twitter and Facebook.  Thus, allowing a daily viewing lens to be inserted into our classroom, and allowing us to connect outside of our own walls.  Moving forward with the idea of transparency leads us to “this blog.” This opportunity and tool will allow us to further our sharing and take our learning experiences, ideas, reflections, thoughts, and questions to the global table of other experienced professional educators.  Why not be apart of a greater community of learners?  Why not make our learning visible to others?  Why not seek feedback?  Why not grow together?  I am so looking forward to this learning experience of moving my learning forward with #NGSS!