‘I’m too old to be using technology in my classroom.’
‘I’m not the business type. I know nothing about finance or business so how can I teach Business English?’
‘What? The photocopying machine’s broken down? There’s no way I can teach without handouts!’
‘I can’t do group lessons. I can only do one-to-ones.’
‘You’re doing the DELTA (diploma in ELT)? You must be really insecure about your teaching.’
‘I have too much to do. I don’t have the time for professional development.’
‘I’ve been teaching for 20 years. What else is there for me to learn?’
Through my years of teaching and teacher training, these are some things that I have heard from other teachers. What do these statements have in common?
In my last blogpost, we looked at the differences between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset and how our students could benefit from having a growth mindset nurtured in the classroom.
But in order to play the part of the nurturer, teachers need to start with a growth mindset themselves. They need to be a role model that can create an atmosphere in the classroom conducive to such nurturing. Needless to say, a teacher who doesn’t believe that abilities and talents can be developed is not going to be very successful in getting their students to believe so.
And looking at the statements above, it’s perhaps safe to say that not all teachers are an embodiment of a growth mindset.
So what kind of mindset do you have? Author of Mindset: How you can fulfill your potential, Carol Dweck provides a useful questionnaire on her website Mindsetonline.com that allows you to test your own mindset and find out if you are of a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
But finding out that you have a fixed mindset does not necessarily mean that change is not possible. After all, recognizing our ingrained attitudes and reactions is the first step to forward.
Perhaps part of having a growth mindset is the ability to reflect upon our beliefs, our motivations, and our responses to situations.
Think back to the last time you experienced failure or the last time you received negative feedback.
How did you feel? How did you react? What did you do as a result?
Consider if your feelings and reactions to the negative feedback was due to a fixed mindset.
e.g. “She said I talk too much in class. I’m a teacher. That’s what I do! I’m supposed to talk so the students can learn!”
What would your growth-mindset-self say to those reactions?
e.g. “This could be a learning opportunity. What could be the benefits of talking less? How else might students learn?”
Learn to talk back to your fixed mindset voice and remind yourself that mistakes and failures are a part of learning and progressing, and that anything that requires effort is a chance for your neurons to make new and stronger connections. Remember to give yourself a pat on the back for effort, strategy/process and progress, and encourage yourself to push out of your comfort zone to learn something new and difficult.
But a growth mindset can be better instilled in a teacher if they receive the support of their organization and their management. And it could be said that schools which push for a growth mindset amongst their students should start by fostering a growth mindset amongst their teaching staff.
So if you are an education manager or a director of studies, how can you develop a growth mindset in your staffroom? Here are some questions that could help you think about the support you are offering your teachers:
- Are all teacher observations summative?
- Do the teachers being observed feel the need to deliver a perfect model lesson?
- Is there a fear of losing their jobs or not getting a promotion if their lesson was not perfect?
- If all teacher observations were summative, then teachers would regard negative feedback as a reflection of poor quality in teaching, and not an opportunity for development and improvement.
- Are there observations that are for formative purposes?
- Who observes the teachers? Is it someone from management? A fellow colleague? A teacher trainer? An external consultant/teacher trainer/teacher?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of each of the above?
- How does the observer communicate to teachers (before and after the observation) that the observation is informal and meant for developmental purposes?
- How does the observer praise the good examples of teaching? And how do they offer constructive feedback?
For more on the differences between summative and formative teacher observations, see this useful summary by CSU.
- Do your teachers get feedback regularly?
- Do you only give feedback when an observation has taken place?
- Do you only praise teachers who get good student feedback for their performance? When else might teachers get feedback?
- Are students only asked to give feedback at the end of the course? Or do they give mid-course feedback that could influence the way the rest of the course is run?
- Is feedback usually results-focused?
- Or might it be process-related?
- Are you familiar with the journeys that each of your teaching staff are on and how they are progressing?
- Do you recognize the efforts of a teacher who is trying to do something that they might not yet be experts in?
- Do you recognize and support attempts to develop professionally?
- How do you give negative feedback?
- Might you be relating the negative feedback to their personality or innate abilities (or lack thereof)?
- Do you offer a path for improvement?
- Do you ensure that teachers do not see this as a criticism but as a learning opportunity? How do you do that?
- Do you praise teachers for trying out new things?
- Do you encourage teachers to explore new and creative ideas?
- Do you encourage Action Research?
Do you provide a platform for teachers to share their findings and experiences? e.g. a weekly teacher development session in the staff room, a staff newsletter, a staffroom Facebook page.
- How do you motivate teachers to develop?
- Is there an incentive for teachers to embark on a professional development journey?
- Do you know the reasons why some of your teachers might not be interested in professional development? Have you spoken to them about their motivations?
- Are you familiar with the strengths and weaknesses, and the likes and dislikes of each of your teachers? How can you use this information to make professional development more appealing?
- Do you provide training?
- Do you provide a platform for reflection? A conducive communal area in the staffroom? Teacher journals? Private social media groups?
- Do you provide a framework for teachers to consider their mindsets when it comes to learner autonomy, giving student feedback, etc.?
- Do you give your staff training in providing learning strategies, supporting the learner’s journey, etc?
So the next time you find yourself saying…
“That’s just not how we do things here.”
“We’ve always done it this way. And it’s always worked.”
“I’ve never seen anyone do it like that. It’s too radical.”
Perhaps it’s time to take a step back and consider this:
Is this the kind of fixed mindset you want your students and clients to have? If not, then why foster it amongst your teachers?