Where Have We Reached With Growth Mindset?

Mastery of anything worthwhile takes time. Teachers, of all people, should be very well aware of this fact. However, it’s all too tempting for them to look for silver bullets that can deliver quick, easy panaceas. In Growth Mindset, many teachers believed they had just such a silver bullet.

Carol Dweck has acknowledged that there are those ready to criticise and doubt the relevance or value of her work, as I highlighted in my earlier blog post:
Carol Dweck Applies Growth Mindset to Growth Mindset

When I first came across the work of Carol Dweck on Growth Mindset, one of my first thoughts was that if an educator was to be capable of helping children to have more of a growth mindset more of the time, they were going to first need to do some significant work on themselves. We are all products of the education system we seek to change and therefore, when fixed mindsets are so prevalent, the first group of people who need to acknowledge this are teachers themselves.

Once teachers take this fact on board, they come to realise that such ‘inner work’ and change will not magically happen overnight. it’s a long and arduous process of self-reflection, modest goals to change, working on those over time and following up with further goals. Mastery is a long term goal.

I’m not saying that a teacher has to develop perfect ‘all the time Growth Mindset in themselves before they can begin to work on children’s mindset. In fact, too often, that becomes a mistake on the part of teachers – believing they must be perfect at something before they bring it in to their classroom. However, what’s important is that the teacher is on a journey and committed to the process with themselves. Then, they’re able to begin the work with students.

However, we have to accept as well that the work with children won’t happen overnight. We need to have multiple ways to guide children, learn to have our receptors attuned to when we see or hear mindset that we want to reinforce and strategies to redirect fixed mindset thinking. Mindset is a form of habit, and like any habit creation or change process, it takes time, diligence and persistence to achieve.

Both in ourselves and in children we will find that there are some areas where growth mindset comes easily and effortlessly, but others where the fixed mindset remains stubborn and entrenched. We need to be honest with velours, but also kind and compassionate.  On this journey we’ll have both good days and bad and that’s OK.

What’s important is to be on the journey.

This article, and the downloadable report it summarises carry more than enough evidence on this. It appears that in the US teachers haven’t lost faith and intuitively know that the concept is a good one and that this journey is worthwhile. However, they’ve come to the realisation that it’s not a quick fix and it doesn’t happen overnight. They seem to feel they need more strategies to sustain their work with children. And, as I’ve indicated above – they may need to acknowledge more of the work they need to do with themselves.

Edweek – Mindset in the Classroom  – US National Study 

 

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The Schools We Don’t Want

There are plenty of people ready to speak out about the type of schooling we no longer want, the industrial model education of yesterday that gets perpetuated in slightly altered forms despite the weight of voices to speak out against it. I’m as guilty as the next man for this. Prominent people who’ve stressed the need to get away from this model include Seth Godin, Sir Ken Robinson and now George Monbiot, British writer on politics and society;

The Guardian – George Monbiot – In the Age of Robots, Our Schools Are Teaching Our Children to be Redundant

George Monbiot is a respected writer on society, politics and a prominent columnist on important issues. In the article, with perfect justification, he attacks the industrial model of education, the gaps between what’s going on in too many schools today and the skills young people need to really flourish in the Twenty First Century and the relevance and applicability of much of the knowledge being crammed in to children. He also does a reasonable job of highlighting some of the reasons why, despite all the protests, little changes.

However, it’s when Monbiot, like many other commentators before him, comes to the alternatives that we see one of the reasons why change is so difficult. He gives a number of examples – giving students ipads, taking them out in to nature, imaginary project tasks, Reggio Emilia but for many educators, parents and even the politicians the sheer variety of these different options seems to be what daunts them and eventually causes them to settle for little tweaks around the edge of the existing industrial paradigm model.

For example – if we take the ‘getting back to nature’ idea, I know plenty of urban brought up children for whom this would be a minor form of hell. They would be uncomfortable with dirt, uncertainty, potential dangers and risks. Some might also be unsettled by the uncertainty of purpose, with the result that their learning in that environment is very limited and they just count off the time until they can get back inside a building.

Taking the artificially constructed projects idea, I was recently intrigued by the ideas developed by Marc Prensky (the man who came up with the terms – digital natives and digital immigrants) in his book – “Education to Better Their World.” He sees a future where a great deal of children’s school time is spent on real projects with real implications and real impacts. I don’t think anyone knows exactly how such an approach would work, yet. But, it’s going to be fascinating to follow through on those ideas.

At one point, Monbiot’s article becomes more about teachers than children. I’m afraid i don’t buy in to his ideas that if you just leave teachers to do whatever they wish and go individually in whatever direction they choose, this will deliver the answers. With justification, parents and society cannot accept that the educational outcomes for an individual child become a mere lottery and a game of chance determined by who happens to be their teacher. We also cannot be naive that teaching is ‘a calling’ and a passion for every teacher in every classroom. For an enormous number it’s a job choice out of a variety. In such circumstances, we need clarity in our expectations, we need accountability and a strong commitment to supporting the learning and continuous improvement of the educators.

I don’t claim that I’ve got all the answers any more than anyone else as to exactly how a the most ideal school education programme should look going forward. However, I believe for all of us collaboratively, the answers lie in developing our understanding of the world our children are growing up in, their needs for the future; emotionally, socially, economically and spiritually (in the broadest sense). The child and their interrelationship with their world now in the future should drive our decision making.

Teachers, Pay and Working Hours

Here in Malaysia, we are undoubtedly faced with a very important issue in the next few years – a need to attract a greater flow of high calibre graduates and candidates to the teaching profession to meet increasing demand, especially for International and Private Schools that intend to provide high quality holistic education without pricing outside the means of most people by employing all expatriate teachers.

There are those who believe that if the profession is to attract in the desired talent, then two issues will be critical – pay and working hours. This is said so often, without necessarily being proved, to the point where few question the validity of the statements. So, it’s particularly interesting when there is hard evidence and data flowing from analysis. The following article and infographic come from the Economist:

Economist – Daily Chart – Do Shorter Hours Or Higher Wages Make Better Teachers?

The data is fascinating as it presents significant evidence that suggests that whatever is the ‘secret juice’ for great teachers, it seems to have very little to do with either wage levels or working hours. Schools with high or low achievements in the PISA examinations are spread throughout the range of salary levels for teachers and the range of hours teachers worked.

So, if it’s not wages and it’s not working hours ………….. what is it that leads high calibre people in adequate numbers in to the education system and creates the environment within which they can support students’ high achievements?

Teacher Professionalism

Too often in education there’s an inconsistency that’s a little hard to explain. On the one hand, most are quick to state as a truism that the key to better quality of education for every child is the teacher. However, these words don’t tend to be backed with adequate and effective action to raise the professionalism of teachers.

That the professionalism needs to be higher is the case, backed by recent research by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – the same body that runs the PISA tests), and not limited to teachers in any one country or part of the world.

I believe we can put some of the blame on the fixed industrial model that plagues education. When the teachers are seen as interchangeable widgets in an industrial process or production line, this is not a conducive mindset to think positively about how to enhance the skills levels, attitude, motivation and purpose of the individual teacher.

This article shares the key findings from the recent OECD research. I think it’s appropriate that they haven’t tried to simplify or suggest that there is one simple solution that can be applied every where. Professionalism is a sophisticated set of standards, expectations and common norms that all members buy in to. This isn’t about lessening autonomy or scope for creativity. In fact, commitment to continuous improvement, innovation and contribution of new and innovative ideas to the profession are important components of what it should man to be a professional teacher.

The Journal – OECD – Teacher Professionalism Needs Improvement Worldwide

When looking at the findings, I can see them from the perspective of teachers in the Indian private school system. Teachers do get pre-service training whilst in-service development is often rather ad hoc. However, we know that the quality and standards of that pre-service development are woefully inadequate. Talk of major overhaul of the B.Ed syllabus has gone on for years with little meaningful change. Worse, vat numbers of the colleges given licence to run B.Ed courses are sub-standard money-making operations with lack of consistency, standards or awareness of international best practices. For this reason, I’ve often seen that better results can be achieved taking teachers without the B.Ed who have more worldly professional experience, training them on the job and merely requiring them to get the B.Ed within 3 years to satisfy the rules and requirements.

The fifth of the observations is an interesting one, that I’ve seen in practice. There tends to be more professional development available to teachers working with younger children than for those in secondary and higher secondary. This often comes because of perceptions from both sides (the teachers and management) that for those teachers, niceties like theory or science of learning are mere flim-flam and that their job is to know the syllabus material and to target all of their time and energies on putting as much of it as possible in to the pupils’ heads long enough for it to stick to produce the best possible results in competitive examinations. People who are merely dispensers of gobbits of knowledge don’t require much professional development! In fact, its sometimes seen as a distraction and a waste of their time.

The four recommendations make a lot of sense and are quite strongly in aligment with ideas that I’ve been developing lately in looking at the whole ‘end to end’ process of recruiting and developing professional educators who rise above the average.

Acknowledging that the pre-service training available to them isn’t all it might be, we have to go further to counteract this negative effect. High impact induction, proper mentoring and buddying systems and setting them on the right path as lifelong learners are critical factors, after recruiting for attitude, EQ, child-centricity and commitment to the role. Talent with the sciope to grow in to leadership roles should be identified early and nurtured. This isn’t always easy in single stand-alone schools. Groups can do it. otherwise, schools should learn to collaborate more in this area, perhaps where they are not in direct competition.

Then, the teacher professional networking can be taken to higher levels. Today, teachers have the scope to network with fellow professionals anywhere in the world. Within schools, we need a culture where teachers don’t feel threatened by each other’s presence in their classrooms and we need to be training teahers in action research – especially in countries where there is little or no education research coming out of universities.

In short, if we start to really act like we mean it when we say that teachers are the key to raising the bar, there is much we can do. That work needs to start now.

Hacking the Factory Model

As educators, if we stop and challenge ourselves every time we see, here or feel something in a school that is redolent of the ‘factory model’, we’d still spend way more time stopped than moving!

I’ve often written in the past about the incongruence between educators who nodded and applauded whilst watching Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Conference speech (which is now nearly 10 years old) and the slow pace of real change in schools.

I recently read this article from Education Week, written by a teacher working in an International School;

Edweek – Why The Factory Model of Schools Persists

Quite rightly, he highlights that most educators, working in government ‘state education’ systems have blamed those systems for the inertia that has seen change and progress so slow. However, so many international schools operate in environments where they really have a great deal of freedom and autonomy. So, all this begs the question – why is change happening so very slowly?

The writer, William J Tolley highlights a number of issues; educators whose best interests are served by not changing, the rigid nature of the college admissions system and/ or the workplace – motivating all to continue to prepare children for the future in the same ways as the past. I believe there’s another factor that shouldn’t be underestimated – parents. There is an incredible level of comfort for a parent when the schooling their child is receiving looks, sounds and feels like a good quality version of what they got in their most formative years.

As a result, parents often ‘want’ something familiar, tried and tested (even if in a different age). Then, for the educators the question becomes – is our duty to give people what they want/ ask for or to have the courage, the conviction and to put in the hard work to educate them as to what they (their children) need, and how to ask for it?

The article’s also very good for the links it provides to some interesting organisations and to conference talks by key educators.

Value of Great Teachers

Here’s a quite startling article I squirrelled away from the New York Times a few years ago. It shares some truly mind-boggling numbers in terms of the financial value difference for a child between whether they have a great teacher, a merely OK teacher or a poor teacher. How they arrived at these numbers, I’m really not quite sure, but let’s agree to take them on face value for now.

New York Times – The Value of Teachers

To me, there are a few things that the article highlights.

Firstly, there’s a whole history of school culture that left teachers largely to their own devices day to day in their classrooms as to ‘how’ they taught pupils. Their job was to put the knowledge in to the children and this would be checked periodically through testing/ examinations (see my article from a couple of days ago). This was all pretty naive as it ignored the maxim – what gets measured, gets done. Result = some teachers will just focus on getting the children to produce the right results in the exams, by hook or by crook. We’ve even seen high profile cases where this tempted some teachers to cheat the process to artificially inflate student exam performance. However, we all know there were many other ways that teachers had that were arguably just as immoral, but not condemned; writing a really easy exam paper, only testing for memory, priming students beforehand to pretty much know what was going to be in the paper, dropping big hints about what to memorise/ prepare or not, having children do practice papers/ essays/ questions that are almost identical to the ones coming in the exam.

The principle for many teachers was, “If you’re not getting any complaints about my classroom and my children are producing required results in the tests, then everything else is up to me!”

Amongst other things, this has great relevance for the article i wrote yesterday about school sizes. In a big school, if such teacher attitudes prevail, then which teacher a child gets for a year becomes a lottery issue that, as this article suggests, can have a significant impact on outcomes for the child. We are all aware of those conversations that go on between parents (mainly mothers) each year at the annual orientation when they compare which section (which class teacher) their child has for the coming year. They either congratulate or commiserate. Is there any service industry where we would accept such a lottery or such broad disparity of standards and expectations dependent upon the employee (or branch/ unit) the individual customer will deal with?

Teachers defend the status quo on the basis of their freedom of expression, their creativity and their innate knowledge of the individual children in their classroom. However, whilst I believe this is true for the best teachers it has been a tragic hiding place for the sub-standard and inferior. Worse, everyone at the individual level around schools could name who those teachers were!

Overall, I believe more professional approaches from leadership wouldn’t deny the teacher their creativity. In fact, at times we can find that effective systems and processes actually increase the scope for individual freedom and creativity.

I don’t believe the blame lies particularly with any one group (especially the teachers themselves). Nor does the solution. Leadership must step up, own the issues and begin to address them.

There are fundamental issues of consistency, establishment of good practices and then strong execution around; how we recruit teachers in to schools, how we induct them and bring them on board, how we train them and how we manage them on a day to day basis (including appraising and supporting raising standards and continuous professional development.

For example, when i first got involved in schools in India i was quite shocked to see the extent to which the ‘principal as superhuman’ with control and driving force over every little detail meant that recruitment interviewing often consisted of little impromptu 10-15 minute ‘chats’, the Principal’s gut instinct and occasionally a request for the candidate to deliver one or more ‘demo lessons.’ References were (are?) rarely followed up once candidates are shortlisted, except occasionally for more senior roles. If what we want is personalised learning, then I’m really doubtful of the merits of demo classes where the teacher is put with students they don’t know – this can only check for their skills in ‘delivering stuff’. What do we recruit for? If we believe that what matters are a set of skills and competencies, character traits and student-centricity, then shouldn’t we be working to develop recruitment methods that focus more on these things. Otherwise, we’re claiming to have new perspectives in terms of our schools’ visions, but continuing to recruit to support the old ways.

In my experience, teachers who join a school at the start of an academic year undergo some form of induction programme, may be assigned a buddy to help them acclimatize and generally have some sort of structured induction. However, quite a high proportion of teachers join during the year, especially in newer schools and then the induction pattern is far more patchy. This reinforces a set of messages that how the teacher approaches his/ her classroom is largely their choice, rather than formalising a set of expectations and beginning a process of alignment to the vision and mission of the school and how it chooses to manifest those in the day to day work of teachers.

There is a saying that has always struck a chord with me, “learning hasn’t taken place until behaviour has changed.” Way too much professional development and training for teachers just feels and looks like going through the motions and too little changes as a result in terms of what teachers do and how they do it. One of the objectives of PD should be to embed certain practices as common ‘minimum standards’ expected by the school in every classroom, taught to every teacher and coached to become standards parts of daily practice. I stress again, this is not to deny the freedom of creativity, spontaneity or individual expression. Those teachers who advocate for no such standards must be looked upon with suspicion as advocating a free-for-all without quality that makes the classroom more about the teacher and less about the child, their learning and what a parent has a right to expect.

The above saying can be put together with another – “Training without coaching follow up is mere entertainment.” I’m not sure who said it, but I believe it wholeheartedly. We need, if necessary, in many schools to reduce the variety of training, focus on the key deliverables that make a difference and then train them to a level and degree supplemented by on the job daily coaching that makes very clear that whilst a teacher will receive every support to attain the standards and levels expected, they are not optional, subject to the whimsy of the individual teacher. There’s a soft and a hard aspect to this – coaching is not soft on accountability. Consistency and congruence of expectations of the leadership team and supervisors is vital. Rubrics can be used in teacher PD as much as in student learning to clearly guide towards effective and expected levels of performance.

Perhaps the biggest factor that can determine the extent to which schools can achieve such standards is leadership – not necessarily that of one individual, but of the full leadership team in the school. Time allocation of leaders needs to reflect the importance of these things. In terms of Covey time management approaches it’s about ensuring that school day time is not all sapped by the urgent (whether important or less so) to the point where those things which are important but not necessarily pressing and urgent get squeezed out.

It’s also vital that the leadership culture is right. Too often, I have seen or experienced school environments where the vision and mission talk of wanting children to grow as lifelong learners, to be self-directing, to have good character, self-discipline, to be empathic, caring etc, to be creative, hard working etc. and yet have day to day things happening that talk of a real culture which is top-down, command and control and directive in terms of discipline. These are not congruent, but at times leaders are responding to informal driving forces that are leading culture in to dangerous directions. If teachers are uncomfortable about being truly accountable, it’s the easiest thing in the world to misbehave a few times to the point where the leaders then get tempted to fall back on command and control, stick and carrot and top-down. Now, the teacher can say – I am not responsible. I do what I’m told, how I’m told, when I’m told. They treat pupils likewise. In the meantime, the culture informally becomes one of seeking to ‘get away with things’, to defy and undermine the command and control based rules because there’s no sense of ownership.

In short, I believe great schools with great leaders are likely to have lots of great teachers. When those things are lacking, the presence or absence of great teachers will be a scattered, inconsistent thing and parents will continue to see their child’s education as a lottery based on who teaches them.

Great Teachers Teach Commitment

Seth Godin – spot on !!

Seth Godin – Blog Post
(Click on the link to read)

A short blog post from Seth Godin, but with big implications and a lot to think about for all thinking, caring educators.

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