Educators at Munford Elementary School have been studying the work of Carol Dweck, a researcher at Stanford University, to learn about the impact of mindsets on achievement and success. Through our study beginning this past summer, we have learned that recent brain research negates the notion that intelligence is “fixed” at birth. This research emphasizes “neuroplasticity”-the ability of the brain to change, adapt, and “rewire” itself through our entire life. A person’s intelligence is constantly changing based on effort, persistence, and motivation. Having a growth mindset leads to embracing challenges and persevering in the face of setbacks in order to be a more effective learner, while having a fixed mindset can hinder skill development and growth.
To effectively transform the mindsets of our students, we realized that the change must begin with us. Our process began with serious self-reflection. Knowing that a person can have fixed mindsets in different areas of his/her life, we examined deep rooted beliefs about ourselves. For example, many teachers admitted to believing that they were “not a math person”, not a good writer, or terrified of technology. We also talked about non-educational activities such as sports, art, cooking, gardening, managing money, etc. I posed the question, “If you took a class to learn how to do one of these activities, had opportunities to practice it daily with support, do you think that you could have success?” The answer was a resounding “YES!”
We discussed how new brain connections were formed and strengthened when learning and practicing a new skill. I asked teachers to think about how they could apply this new learning to their own professional journey. As educators, we all have areas for growth and often times, we shy away from areas where we feel the least amount of confidence (or even have a fixed mindset.) I challenged my teachers to model a growth mindset for their students by taking the initiative to try something new and persist when facing a challenge. I prepared a “Tic Tac TRY” board for each teacher. Some of the tasks included: Join Twitter, Try a New Tech Tool, Set up a Classroom Instagram, Teach a Growth Mindset Lesson, Read a Professional Article, etc. I told teachers that for every “tic tac toe,” they would earn a chance for $200 to spend in their classroom. Over 75% of the teachers participated and almost all of them completed their board!
In addition to Tic Tac Try, we have implemented peer walkthroughs to gain feedback about our teaching practices. I think that it is common for teachers to say that they have a growth mindset, even though their actions say otherwise. For example, teachers who never invite administrators or peers into their classroom, probably do not have a growth mindset because they are not open to feedback. As educators, we know how important feedback is for growth. At Munford Elementary School, I have seen multiple examples of teachers with a growth mindset. Teachers have volunteered to be placed on full evaluation (even when it was not their year), they volunteer to have guests from other schools observe their teaching practices, and they are taking ownership of their own learning like never before. Our teachers were so motivated by the Tic Tac TRY board, they asked for another one to complete during the 2nd nine weeks of school!
Munford Elementary School teachers are definitely modeling a growth mindset for their students. One can find evidence of a growth mindset culture throughout our building. Teachers and students are setting goals based on things that they may not can do “yet.” We no longer say the words, “I can’t” or “This is too hard.” Instead, you may overhear a student say, “I haven’t met my reading goal YET” or “This problem looks hard, but I’m going to try my best because I know that my brain will grow bigger when I figure it out!” I see teachers and students supporting and encouraging one another more than ever.
We are constantly learning new ways to support our growth mindset culture. We believe that all students can be successful if given quality instruction, guidance, and opportunities to practice. We also believe that we must have a growth mindset so that we will be equipped to create opportunities for our students to thrive. We are already seeing encouraging results in both student attitude toward learning and motivation towards reaching learning goals. We have just begun this journey. I can’t wait to see the impact our efforts will continue to have on our students and teachers!
Dr. Brooke Morgan