“I’M STILL LEARNING.” ~MICHELANGELO
10 More Strategies for the Start of School
Educator mindsets matter. They matter because our internal assumptions and beliefs shape our actions and the outcomes we are able to achieve for students. Renowned education researcher John Hattie suggests that our mindsets set in motion a chain of events with important implications for equity:
The purpose of education should never be to meet the needs of children; what a lowly aspiration this is that helps keep kids in their place – the rich man in the castle, the poor boy or girl at the gate. The purpose of education should not be to help students reach their potential, as again this lowers the aspirations for many and defeats the purpose of schooling. The prime purpose of education is to help students exceed what they think is their potential. To see in students something they may not see in themselves and to imbue them with our passion for learning. (2018, p. 167, emphasis added)
As educators, we need to believe that each student possesses an unknown capacity for learning. Our primary job is to help students learn how to stretch beyond their current abilities. As such, we must continually stretch ourselves. Moment-to-moment we must operate from a learning mindset, actively seeking and using evidence of our impact on student learning, recognizing that the act of teaching is itself a learning process.
But choosing and maintaining a learning mindset is easier said than done. How can we support ourselves and each other in learning to monitor and manage our mindsets? A learning mindset culture is key to building classrooms and schools where all students actively and confidently learn. Here are 10 strategies to help you grow a learning mindset as a feature of your school or organization. These strategies can be used in group settings, one-to-one coaching conversations, and for self-reflection. They can also be adapted for use with students. For even more strategies, see the July issue of Learning Matters at https://suechapmanlearning.com/2019/07/01/how-to-grow-a-learning-mindset-in-your-team-or-faculty-10-strategies-for-the-start-of-school/. Enjoy!
- Learning from All Experiences
List three people you know or work with, including one who is sometimes challenging to work with. Now identify something you might learn from each of these people.
- What are your Superpowers?
What are your strengths? Spend five minutes brainstorming your superpowers. Next, write five sentences that describe these internal assets. You may want to use sentence starters like these:
- I enjoy ___.
- I excel at ___.
- People can count on me to ___.
- I can help others learn how to ___.
- One way I make our team/school/district stronger is by ___.
Have a conversation with another person in which you tell each other about your strengths and why they are important. You might make a group-wide list of strengths as a way of building a sense of interdependence and community.
Questions for reflection or coaching:
- When is this strength especially advantageous?
- How might you use this strength in new ways?
- What could you do to develop this strength even further?
- Whose shoulders are you standing on? How will others stand on your shoulders?
Think about a teacher who was an important mentor to you, someone who helped you become the person you are today. Think about the experiences this teacher might have had which allowed her to grow into the person who impacted you. Perhaps she was also influenced by a teacher who became an important role model or life guide.
Now, think about your current work as a teacher and a student you are responsible for, perhaps a student who is challenging to work with. Consider the opportunity you have to help this student become the person she is meant to be. Imagine how, as an adult, this individual might impact another child as a result of your actions today. Take a moment to feel a sense of awe for the web of mentorship that exists over time and a sense of gratitude for the chance you have each day to make a positive difference in the world.
- Pay It Forward
Our lives are continually shaped by the care and kindness we receive from others. For five minutes, list the people who have shown you kindness, past and present. These moments of kindness need not be monumental; include simple acts of kindness such as a stranger holding a door open for you when your hands are full. Now, think about one of the people on your list. Spend a moment honoring him or her with gratitude. How do small acts of kindness make a difference? What are some ways you can regularly demonstrate your regard for others in the form of acts of kindness?
- A Successful Failure
Think about a time you experienced failure. Remember your feelings at the time and your response to this event. Now, step back from this experience and look at it through the wider lens of your whole life. What did you learn from this experience? How are you applying these lessons in your current life? How did this experience make you stronger?
Consider the types of failures your students experience as a natural part of the learning process. How might you help them reframe failure as a sign of learning?
- Perseverance Hero
We have come to recognize the importance of perseverance to learning and student success. But how do we cultivate this important ability?
Think about a person you know whose life exemplifies perseverance. How did this individual’s story of perseverance unfold? What might we learn from this story? How do you build your own muscles for perseverance in learning?
What are some ways you can recognize and celebrate perseverance as a feature of your classroom, team, or school? How might you give those you support feedback on their perseverance? How might you measure the growth of perseverance in yourself and others?
- Teacher Recess
Teaching is hard work. Teachers regularly feel emotionally spent and in need of rejuvenation. We tell ourselves we need balance in our lives, but we often fail to give priority to our need to recharge our cognitive and emotional batteries. Research tells us that when children are given recess on a regular basis, they are more effective learners. It makes sense that teachers also need regular brain breaks.
Write down three simple ways you can intentionally take brief mental breaks during the school day, things you can do that will momentarily trigger your smile muscles, cause you to chuckle, or allow you to find a place of peace. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Take a walk during your planning period
- Tell a joke
- Recall a favorite quote or verse
- Visit with a student about his or her life outside of school
- Eat lunch outside
- Connect with a colleague whose classroom is on the other side of the school building
- Send an encouraging email to a colleague from another school who you met at a professional learning session
Share your ideas with others to build a bank of ideas for quick “teacher recess.” Create a plan that will allow you to take a one-minute “teacher recess” each day for the next week. Make it a priority. Notice how it impacts your energy and attitude.
- Mental Preparation for Addressing a Problem
Conversations to address a problem can be unsettling and even distressing. Sometimes we simply avoid such conversations. Other times we enter these discussions already irritated by the need to have them. In either case, we fail to arrive in this space with a learning mindset and a readiness to support the other person as a learner. A simple mental preparation protocol can prepare you to be at your best in facilitating a problem-solving conversation:
- Visualize what it will look and sound like when the problem is solved. Write a sentence or two to describe this future scenario.
- Create a bulleted list of the benefits of this new reality over the way things currently are.
- Now, write three coaching questions you can use during the conversation which will help you both to understand the current situation and its consequences as well to think creatively about how to solve the problem.
- Have the conversation with the goal of not only solving the problem but also building your own and the other person’s capacity as thinkers and learners.
- Reflect on your facilitation of the conversation and its outcome. What did you learn? What will you try next time?
- Brainstorming with Questions
Brainstorming with questions rather than ideas is a process for generating creative thinking around a problem or goal. It can be more effective than traditional brainstorming because of the power of questions to spark thinking.
- Team members brainstorm as many questions as possible about a topic or issue while someone records them on chart paper or with a computer/projector.
- Questions should be open-ended. “How might we…” questions are especially helpful for generating creative ideas but who, what, where, and why questions are also useful.
- During the initial phase, push for quantity of questions. The best questions typically come later in the process as team members push their thinking into new territories.
- After the initial round of generating questions, review and analyze the questions, looking for patterns and missing questions. You might move from here into action planning or identify a one or two important questions to consider further.
Question storming can also be used in one-to-one coaching conversations or as a strategy for personal reflection when insight and fresh thinking are needed.
- Teacher Job Description
Write a job description for a teacher who will work with your own child, grandchild, or a child you know and care about personally. Share what you wrote. How are teacher mindsets towards learners and learning reflected in these job descriptions? What does this exercise reveal about the importance of teacher mindset?
Learning From Each Other
Each month Learning Matters readers will be invited to share their ideas and experience related to a specific professional learning topic. Responses will be published in next month’s newsletter.
What are some ways you are growing a learning mindset culture in your school or organization?
[Button with link to Google doc: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfJHTTdz9wAb8AIe6SYf00hxV6ctEROCjfq2vaRXJ7fgwX68w/viewform?usp=sf_link]
Learning from Suzanne
A new grandmother’s reflections on learning
Learning with Meaning
From the moment of her birth, my granddaughter Suzanne began to learn two languages. Her bàba (dad), yéyé (grandmother), and nǎinai (grandfather) talk to Suzanne in Mandarin. I am taking Mandarin lessons at the Chinese Community Center with the hope of learning key words and perhaps coming to understand a bit of Suzanne’s other language.
Our first Mandarin lesson started with Chinese numbers.
“Piece of cake!” I thought. “I have lots of schema around numbers. This will be easy!”
|0: 〇 (零) líng |
1: 一 (壹) yī
2: 二 (Traditional:貳) èr
3: 三 (Traditional:參) sān
4: 四 (肆) sì
5: 五 (伍) wǔ
6: 六 (陆) liù
7: 七 (柒) qī
8: 八 (捌) bā
9: 九 (玖) jiǔ
10: 十 (拾) shí
Audio of spoken Chinese numbers: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2a/Zero_to_ten_in_Mandarin_Chinese.ogg
I was wrong! I struggled to make the sounds for the numbers and struggled even more to mentally capture and move these sounds from my short-term memory into working memory. Writing the Chinese numbers was fun when I had a model in front of me, but when I had to identify the number that went with each symbol in end-of-class quiz I was lost. I suddenly remembered all my failed experiences learning languages. Despite living in Montreal and Puerto Rico for periods of time, I hadn’t been successful mastering French or Spanish. This caused me to ponder: 1) the importance of persevering when learning gets difficult, and 2) how learning a language is similar in some ways to learning mathematics.
I’ve been reading the book How to Teach Your Baby Math by Doman and Doman. These authors draw from their background helping severely brain-injured children in suggesting that all children are capable of remarkable mathematics learning if provided with the right experiences. The Domans recommend strategically exposing infants to dot images to build their understanding of quantity.
Now this is very different from the way that we traditionally have taught children about numbers. Typically, first we teach young children to orally recite number names by rote (one, two, three, …). Then we teach them how to say these number names as we look at written symbols for the numbers (1, 2, 3, …). Finally, we have them practice writing these symbols again and again on worksheets. Almost as an afterthought, we ask children to apply these skills to counting pictures or objects. Without an understanding of the quantity represented, the number names are just sounds. Without an understanding of the quantity represented, written numerals are just squiggles on paper. And this is true whether the number names and written symbols are in English or Mandarin or any other language.
The Domans explain the power of teaching children about number through models of quantity in the form of dot images:
We adults recognize the symbols that are called numerals with great ease from the numeral 1 to the numeral 1,000,000 and beyond without effort. We are not, however, able to recognize the actual number of objects beyond ten or so with any degree of reliability. Tiny children can actually see and almost instantly identify the actual number of objects as well as the numeral if they are given the opportunity to do so early enough in life and before they are introduced to numerals. This gives tiny children a staggering advantage over all adults in learning to do and actually to understand what is happening in arithmetic. (p. 40)
So, I’m going to try using dot cards to practice learning the Chinese names and symbols for numbers. And I’m thinking that Suzanne’s relationship with mathematics is going to be entirely different than mine because her experiences will begin with meaning rather than in abstract representations of that meaning.
I came across this quote in a book by blogger Patti Digh:
To a four-year-old child, a chair is a castle, a race car, a secret cave. To an adult it’s just a chair. We lose the ability to see things once we name them. Language reduces possibilities, sometimes. This is true of objects, and it’s true if we name groups of people, too. (Life is a Verb, p. 98)
I want Suzanne to learn about the meaning of mathematics and all of life. I want her to understand that true meaning is separate from the labels we give to ideas and we need to be careful not to get the two confused.
Digh, P. (2008). Life is a verb: 37 days to wake up, be mindful, and live intentionally. Guilford, CT: skirt!
Doman, G., & Doman, J. (2005). How to teacher your baby math: The gentle revolution. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers.
Resources worth checking out
Question Week 2019. Questionologist Warren Berger offers a wealth of free activities to help students and others learn to ask good questions.
A Learning Mindset: Method to the Mathness Podcast Episode 5 with Anthony Colanino. A thought-provoking conversation with an educator who has walked the walk.
10 Mindframes for Visible Learning: Teaching for Success by John Hattie and Klaus Zierer, Routledge, 2018
In addition to giving us invaluable information about the effect sizes of various instructional practices, John Hattie has been telling us that the most significant influence on student achievement is how teachers define learning and thinking about their role. In other words, teacher mindset. In this book Hattie and his colleague Klaus Zierer articulate and unpack 10 mindframes of effective teachers:
- I am an evaluator of my impact on student learning.
- I see assessment as informing my impact and next steps.
- I collaborate with my peers and my students about my conceptions of progress and my impact.
- Change and Challenge
- I am a change agent and believe all students can improve.
- I strive for challenge and not merely “doing your best.”
- Learning Focus
- I give and help students understand feedback and I interpret and act on feedback given to me.
- I engage as much in dialogue as monologue.
- I explicitly inform students what successful impact looks like from the outset.
- I build relationships and trust so that learning can occur in a place where it is safe to make mistakes and learn from others.
- I focus on learning and the language of learning.
This book would be a good choice for a book study in a leadership team, a PLC, or with an entire faculty. It is a great starting place for schools and other learning organizations committed to building a learning mindset culture. Hattie and Zierer paint a vision of what school could and should be and remind us that the secret to realizing this vision lies in our mindsets.