The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
This spring I visited Jennifer Vincent, who works as an instructional coach in a large school district just north of Chicago. The day I visited, Jen’s “growth mindset” professional development group was meeting. I was fascinated by the premise of the group. It was voluntary, with each of the six participants bringing some professional reading they’d completed since the last meeting that was helping them build a growth mindset.
If the concept is new to you, the “growth mindset” is based on the work of Carol Dweck, author of the book Mindset. In a nutshell, Dweck argues that mastering new skills isn’t dependent upon how smart you are — it’s based on a mindset that values learning and growth. Jennifer and her colleagues demonstrated the growth mindset by the structure of their meeting. There wasn’t any required reading, or even required attendance. What was required if you attended was that you share something new you’d learned that was building your skills in working with adults, with copies for everyone. Jennifer brought in research on Gronovetter’s Theory of “weak ties.” Another colleague shared a video of Dweck presenting her work. I provided copies of an article I’d read about the Common Core and teachers’ fears. Another coach shared Robert Selman’s research on social perspective taking, which lent itself nicely to connections with the weak ties article.
As the lively conversation continued for 90 minutes, I looked up and saw a quote in one foot high letters which blazed across an entire wall of the teacher work room where we met: If you aren’t modeling it, you aren’t teaching it.
I thought about all the professional development sessions I’d led, where we’d all read the same article or research study I’d selected. There is certainly value to getting everyone “on the same page,” yet at the same time, what was I modeling? That the teacher was the one who provides the reading, and we all learn the same things at the same time. Who was the most important learner in the room? It was obviously me, since I got to decide what everyone else needed to read and talk about.
In the growth mindset group, everyone was an equal learner, with the ability (and responsibility) to bring research to the group that could be used to solve problems they all faced in working with adults and fostering changes in schools.
After I said goodbye to Jennifer and her colleagues, I spent a few hours driving across Illinois, through mile after mile of cornfields on my way to my next school visit in Indiana. I couldn’t stop thinking about the power of having colleagues routinely share some new research they discovered. What a great way to build the habit of seeking out new voices and fresh perspectives. How often do your students have the chance to practice that habit? What are the opportunities and expectations for teachers to seek out and share research?
This week we’re considering the first read alouds of the year. Plus more as always — enjoy!