We often speak about mindset as an attribute of a person—we say that a child “has a fixed mindset,” “I’m working to develop a growth mindset,” or even, “She has a fixed mindset about math”—and much of our research has focused on how individuals’ mindset beliefs influence their feelings, choices, and outcomes. But as we know from other research (on the impact of praise and of teaching about a growth mindset), the environment has a big impact on our mindsets too. This is no less true for adults than for kids. Try this thought experiment:

 

Imagine that, in your workplace, your performance is judged solely by a set of “high stakes” events: the number of sales you make, cases you win in court, or students’ scores on an annual exam. How much you have learned and improved are not considered; your helpfulness with your colleagues is irrelevant; your willingness to work hard and to learn does not matter. Furthermore, no one provides any support to help you improve; it’s “sink or swim” (really, really fast). Your colleagues are competitive and unwilling to share information and strategies, and your supervisor is remote and inflexible.

What kind of mindset are you likely to bring to your work? Will you be eager to take on challenges and work hard to improve, open to learning from your mistakes, and resilient when you don’t perform well? Or will you lapse into fixed mindset thinking, and avoid risk and learning that might expose you to failure, obsess about how your performance “measures up” to others’, and feel like quitting when you don’t succeed right away?

 

Take the quiz, “What’s My School Mindset?” to find out where your school stands now! Then read more about the key features of a growth mindset school culture, and how you can promote one in your school. 

What are the key features of a growth mindset school culture?

In education, it used to be common and accepted for teachers to “fly solo” in their classrooms and be largely left to their own devices, while administrators ran the plant and upheld the rules. While never an ideal model, it has become a recipe for disaster with the new accountability pressures.  To survive and thrive, school communities need to work together with a common vision, sharing knowledge, support, and resources. In other words, they need to be growth mindset school communities.

 

Shared Leadership

By providing opportunities for everyone to exercise leadership in areas where they have interest and skills, a community taps into much more of its resources and knowledge than one in which decision-making is concentrated in a small group. It also affords the opportunity for individuals and teams to develop their capacities. Finally, it leads to shared accountability, and in turn to everyone putting their best effort forward.

 

Open communication

When communication among members of a community is open, everyone gets honest feedback on what is working and what is not. This knowledge is essential to growth. Such information need not be threatening if everyone understands that its purpose is to help each learn how to improve, rather than to pronounce judgment.

 

Professional collaboration and a culture of adult learning

To realize their potential, adults need opportunities to learn with and from colleagues. Although schools struggle with finding opportunities to collaborate because of time and schedule barriers, effective professional collaboration actually saves time and resources in the longer term. Think about how much time we invest to recruit and train teachers, and to evaluate, support, and ultimately remove those who are ineffective—not to mention the missed learning opportunities for students when teachers struggle in isolation. What if that energy were put into a collaborative, growth-minded culture that supports those who struggle and grows its members to be leaders? In a strong collaborative culture, teachers are not only more effective but more dedicated and happier too. To create one, we need to invest time and resources: scheduling time for collaborative planning, peer observations, and feedback, and modeling and rewarding effective collaborative practices.

 

Clear and realistic goal setting and support for teachers as learners

Setting clear goals with a practical plan to achieve them is important to adult learners as well as kids. Just as students need to be given clear exemplars of strong work, and to participate in setting goals for themselves, so do adults. And like students, they also need formative feedback, not just summative, high-stakes evaluations. Administrators can support this by providing effective models, making evaluation standards transparent, engaging teachers in developing individual goals, giving feedback early, often, and in manageable and concrete chunks, and following up by providing appropriate professional development opportunities.

 

Support for and valuing of all students as learners

Believing in their power to help students succeed is at the core of teachers’ sense of self-efficacy. When educators don’t feel effective in helping all students learn, it can be extremely demoralizing. To protect against this feeling of personal failure, sometimes educators give up on certain students, or even blame them. But in the end, if you don’t believe that your students can succeed, you are also placing limits on your own potential success. Continuing to believe in the potential to overcome challenges, and working purposefully toward that goal, is a sign of a strong growth mindset community.

 

What can you do to move your school community toward a growth mindset?

  • Reflect on how mindsets impact adults: Understanding how fixed mindset thinking may be inhibiting your own growth is the first step. Think about the areas in which you may have limited your own growth in this way, or where your school community may have done so.

 

  • Set goals for growth: What would it look like if you removed the fear of failure and negative judgment? What goals would you try to achieve? Write them out or discuss them with someone. Does one of them really excite you? Try focusing on growth in that area. Survey the resources available to you and develop a plan to build your capacity.

 

  • Seek growth mindset mentoring: Are there members of your school community who have skills that you admire? Ones who seems always to be learning and growing? Try starting a conversation about how they have developed and ask them to help you learn what they know.

 

  • Start small and build:Are you working with a team or committee? Small collegial groups can be a safe space for expanding thinking and practice. Perhaps you can engage your group in a discussion about how mindsets impact adults as professionals, and how your team might explore ways to be more learning-focused.

 

  • Become a growth mindset mentor to yourself and others: Make a conscious decision to stretch yourself and give yourself permission to stumble and make mistakes as you learn. When you find yourself feeling anxious about what you don’t know, remind yourself that this is the very reason you are taking on the challenge. Remember that everything you do well now was also once beyond your skill. In your contacts with supervisors, colleagues, parents, and students, remind yourself that each one is probably experiencing struggles and anxieties as learners. Think about how this may be influencing their behavior, and resolve to work to help each one to feel safe and supported as learners.

 

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