Growth Mindset is alive and Well

The past two years have been the best professional development I could have asked for – ever!

Two years ago I began a journey with a group of educators brought together to achieve a imagescommon goal, to complete our graduate diploma program through Simon Fraser University. This course was called Learning and Teaching Through Technology. For some it was about furthering their education and for others it was originally not just about the learning but also about the pay raise that was to come at the end. Over the course of two years many changes occurred within this very diverse group of learners. What transpired will forever impact how I view, not only my learning, but the learning of my colleagues as well.

UnknownThis Langltt truly was a diverse group. We came from a variety of backgrounds, from a variety of teaching experiences and brought with us our own philosophies of teaching. Some of the students in the course were in the early years of their teaching career while others (myself included) had already been teaching for quite some time. It was  fantastic to sit at a table where, on any given night, there might be a grade 2 teacher, a special education teacher, a French prep/Social Development teacher, an English 11 teacher, a PE teacher,  and a grade 12 IB math teacher; crazy variety to say the least.

When we first met we were all asked to share a bit about ourselves, to share a bit about where we were at in our teaching careers and what we hoped this course would do for us.Unknown-1 There were a few who were literally at the end of their rope with teaching. They had lost their desire, their passion and were thinking of getting out. Others brought with them tremendous baggage that needed to be worked through for them to move forward in their careers. And others, well, they wanted to change the way education was being delivered and wanted to set about carving a new path.

Each of us had our own journey to travel, and travel we did. As I reflect on these two years I have to wonder how our instructor got through it all. He had a Unknown-2mission for us, he wanted us to determine what was important for us, to dig deeper into our own learning and for each of us to make our own meaning of the readings, discussions and field studies. Many balked at his approach because, many of you will understand, teachers for the most part were great in school and knew how to do what they were told to do. They are not so good at the open ended constructivist model of learning, though, and this caused many uncomfortable moments. I will be forever thankful that Matt Rosati guided us through this experience, that he did not give up on his methods and encouraged each of us to find what was important to us and travel our own journey. It was not about what he wanted but what we wanted.

Over the past two years I have grown substantially as a learner. I have been exposed to a Unknown-3plethora of approaches to teaching that I did not know about or had forgotten about. I have been introduced to many exceptional educational leaders that made me question what I was doing. I was asked to create inquiry questions  around what I was doing or wanted to do in my class and complete field studies on these. But most importantly, I was asked to reflect on my teaching practise and to question ‘WHY?’ at every turn.

Much of my growth came from sitting in a library week in and week out with 23 other images-1educators hearing their stories, listening to their ideas and debating where education is heading or should be heading. I cannot state this strongly enough-  I was truly inspired by my colleagues in this class and they have helped to push me to be a better me. How can you not be inspired by a teacher who, when he began the course was simply “showing up”, but has become an educational leader in his school and a mentor in his district. Powerful learning was taking place; he is just one example of the growth mindset that developed in the class. My growth may not have been this extreme but not all change needs to be giant leaps, some can be baby steps too, as long as change and growth are taking place.

As I ruminate on the past two years my wish is that all educators have a chance to ‘go Unknown-4back to school’. I know that the time needs to be right, the money needs to be available, but every teacher should be encouraged to do more than just a single day Pro D. I would hedge my bets that if all teachers went back to school this would change the face of teaching as we know it.

I have so loved being back at school and the learning process that I am now contemplating doing something I said I would not do because I am already 23 years into teaching. I think I may just, well maybe, if I don’t back out, apply to do my Masters. It is only one more year now that I have completed this course so the thought, as scary as it is for me, is floating around in my brain. This is something I should have done a long time ago but let it pass by. Now may be the time.

Unknown-5Participating in this course has reaffirmed for me that teachers get into this professional for all the right reasons. But for some they become stuck, some get into the fixed mindset. I truly believe that with support, encouragement, and a great program, (with a great instructor) we all can  regain a growth mindset and make a difference in this profession.

I want to sincerely thank all the members of Langltt cohort; you have inspired me to keep growing, to keep learning.

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Who Grew More, the Student or Teacher?

Two years ago the grade 6 and 7 teachers at my school, along with our principal, made an important decision. Little did I know that this agreement would change my beliefs about what is best for student learning  nor did I realize this was the nudge I needed to take  risks and make changes in my teaching.

Men in black

Then there were 4.

Men in black with star

Now we are 5!

In June of 2011, after much consideration, the upper intermediate teachers decided to move from 3 straight grade 7 classes and one split to 4 combined 6/7s. Notice I used the term combined, not split. There is a very significant difference in how you teach a combined class versus a split class.

This was not an easy decision for me as I had been teaching grade 7 for many years. I was in a comfortable spot where I knew the curriculum  well enough  to be able to develop new approaches to what I did each year without having to learn a new curriculum. I had so many questions of what this combined class would look like and how the parents and kids would react after the years of tradition that had taken place at our school.

DSCF2049As a collaborative group we decided to take the leap,  to start a new journey. As we took this turn, we also were starting an inquiry on the use of technology and student engagement in the classroom. We also made a decision to run a two year program – the grade 6s would stay with their same teacher for two years. Thirdly, we made a conscientious decision to change the language in our classes to ‘learning’ language.

Our first two year cycle has come to an end; the grade 6s we started with are now off to 100_4596high school and ready to fly. As I reflect on this journey I am amazed, thrilled and a little dumbfounded at all that has transpired. What is even more powerful is that the students have recognized how far they have come in the two years and articulate it clearly to anyone who might ask.

What made the most impact on the change in student learning? I don’t know if I can prioritize this. I doIMG_0951 know that having the students for two years allowed growth for all. If you were to tell me that Mary (made up name) would grow from a timid, sometimes socially inappropriate, and disinterested child to a leader in the class as well as the school and a deep, reflective thinker I would have scoffed. If you would have told me that Johnny (again made up) would go from the highly disorganized, lose everything, one line writer to the focused (not all the time but most of the time), love to help others learn, and writer of thoughtful, detailed pieces I would laugh. But these as well as 11 other powerful stories did take place. The 13 grade 7 students who walked out my door on June 28th, 2013 are not the same students who walked in September 5, 2011. Some may say, “Maybe this growth would have happened anyway even without the same teacher for two years.” Who knows. What I do know, from my perspective, is that I am incredibly thankful to be the teacher who did have them for two years to witness their growth and did have the chance to push them to find their own potential. I am lucky to have been part of their world for the past two years.

Creating a combined class rather than a split class was also instrumental for the students.IMG_1031 We did all of our learning together (except Math); there was no split curriculum or sitting in separate parts of the class. Each student had an opportunity to work with everyone in the class, sit beside everyone, build relationships with everyone. The students did not see themselves as separate but as a family. As we reflected on this at the end of the year the students very clearly stated that it was the creation of the family unit that was incredibly important to them. They felt that we all built trust together and that we learned together.

Finally, the change of language. This is harder to describe. I made it intentional to promote the concept “we are all learners.” I was not the keeper of the knowledge. In December of 2012 one of my grade 6 students wrote on my blog,

IMG_0997Mrs. Middleton

It’s Slapshot one of your students and I’d just like to say that I think your an amazing learner and critical thinker. By the way you take time to write out these posts and are not afraid to share your learning with the world is just amazing! You are one of the only teachers I’ve ever had that has made learning fun, and it’s an honor to have you as my teacher but most of all a fellow learner. It’s not just us that learns but you can learn from us. Like just today you said to Skywalker in class that you could never come up with “International classmates” by yourself. That just shows how much you have pushed our thinking in the past 3 months.

Thank you for making this the best year of school yet and more to come.

Slapshot

This was so powerful, a wow moment – my students saw themselves, as well as the teacher, as a learner.

I also tried to instil in each of my students that it was the journey that was important, the journey is the learning, not some end grade. Students came to embrace this and stopped asking, “Is this for marks?” or “What is my mark?” They came to own their learning. Two years ago I was wondering how I could move my students from being observes of their learning to owners of their learning. Well they have done it and I cannot believe how  powerful this piece is and how proud they each are of their growth.

Haley and IIt was a very difficult good bye this past June for me. It is hard to say farewell to those who have been such a part of my life for so long. I can feel a sense of satisfaction and a lot of pride that these  students will succeed in their lives because they have taken on the ownership of their learning, they are wanting to succeed for themselves. I also am thrilled to know that 15 of my students will be walking back through my door in September ready to take the lead in our class, to build new relationships and to continue their growth where they left off. How exciting for us all.

I cannot imagine going back to the way it was in June 2011; too much of who I have become happened because of the changes my colleagues and I made over the past 2 years. I am extremely excited to continue this journey and see what else transpires for me in this wonderful profession I am a part of.

To end this year each student created a reflective animoto of their growth – where they have come from and where they are now. I have shared three with you here but all of the reflections can be found on my website at Student Reflections. These are  powerful examples of how far each has come in their own growth as well as the growth of the learner.

Student Reflection

Student Reflection 2

Student Reflection 3

I would like to hear of changes others have made this past year or two that have made a difference in your teaching and student learning. Please share a story or two of what has made an impact in  your teaching.