Saturday, January 19, 2013

Be An Agent of Change

It's been a while since I shared professional reads here at Teach Mentor Texts but I read possibly the greatest trifecta of books that have clarified the way I look at my life and at teaching. In the fall, the department I work in now (Teacher Effectiveness Initiatives) did a book study with John Hattie's Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning.   
I honestly and admittedly can say that this book was difficult to read. I had to really sit down and reread it several times to wrap my brain around the barometer he came up with that measures the impact that different interventions have on student achievement. (I'm telling you this because after really spending the time to get to the core of what the message of this book, it's so worth it.)

At the beginning of the book, he spends time talking about a teacher's frame of mind. He says that teaching is about looking closely at the work that we are doing and making adjustments as needed. One of my favorite quotes is to "know thy impact." Be conscious of what you are doing and scrutinize your teaching so that if something isn't working or can be different, that you stop, reassess, and make a change. Know that you do make a difference in working with kids and be vigilant in making sure you are making a positive difference and that you are making the most of the difference you can be in your students' lives.

My all-time favorite line in this book talks about teachers as deliberate change agents. This implies more than simply know thy impact and know that you indeed make a difference. Being deliberate is about being purposeful in the work that we do because we know our impact. There are enough things in education that can cause a teacher to feel frustrated and disillusioned and like their autonomy has been stripped away but Hattie reminds us that no matter what initiatives or directives you are dealing with, you have the power to be an agent of change. (I would like a t-shirt that says, "I am an agent of change"...if anyone wants to design that, I'll pay the money...)

Knowing that I am an agent of change, in teaching and in my life, too, made me feel empowered. I feel like I can make things better, even if it's a small change, it's invigorating to know that I can and do make a difference (even if it doesn't always feel that way). Hattie reminded me of the book Mindset by Carol Dweck that my husband's school used for a book study. I asked him to borrow it and set to reading about the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. In reading about these, I recognized how much I live in a growth mindset (not about everything and certainly I have my moments). There is a great infographic that brings the difference between these two mindsets to life. I suggest looking it over and then reading Mindset for more practical ideas about how mindset really guides a person's life and what he or she can achieve. 

I shared my story with Teachers Write with colleagues and how to embrace the writing process is one example of how I truly live the growth mindset. Just taking the plunge into writing is accepting a challenge. Persisting through obstacles like not having enough time, crazy distractions, and being at a loss for ideas takes the growth mindset. Being open to feedback and separating someone judging my writing from someone judging me as a person is having a growth mindset. Putting in the effort and energy and time and tears even though I have no idea if I can ever get published is living the growth mindset because it's about learning from the experience. And celebrating when others have success and seeing them as an inspiration is to me what the growth mindset is all about. This is just one example but since I have read and become more aware of my mindset, I have realized how much I do live the growth mindset and how it has gotten me to where I am today in so many facets of my life.

Get ready! Here's maybe the most exciting part about learning about a growth mindset: brain research supports the idea that if you embrace a growth mindset you can maximize your potential. I read The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle after finishing Mindset and was excited by how well they go hand in hand. Coyle explains about a beautiful thing called myelin. Myelin is a material that forms a layer of insulation around our neurons in our brain. We all have heard the age-old adage of "practice makes perfect" and brain research supports that because we know about our good friend myelin. The more you engage in deep practice, the more myelin you build. It's kind of like rings of a tree trunk. As it grows, it develops rings and as we practice we develop layers of myelin. The Talent Code highlights various teachers and situations where deep practice has produced highly talented individuals - proving that, while we may have some natural ability - if we truly and deeply and continuously practice, we can maximize our potential in any skill. If you didn't believe in the power of the growth mindset before, this book shows you the cold, hard facts about how myelin supports the growth mindset.
Marvelous Myelin 
Finally, I listened to Tribes by Seth Godin. This is the book that made me feel the urgency and obligation to acting positively and actively on this idea that I am an agent of change. He explains that we are all leaders and that we all have an obligation to do more than the status quo. He writes, "Challenging the status quo requires a commitment, both public and private. It involves reaching out to others and putting your ideas on the line...More than anyone else in the organization, it's the person who's challenging the status quo, the one who is daring to be great, who is truly present and not just punching a clock who much have confidence in her beliefs." p. 49 Put your ideas on the line because if you put yourself in the growth mindset, whether you succeed or fail, it'll have been worth it because you can learn. 
I believe teachers need to demand more than the status quo - from ourselves, from our students, from our parents, from our colleagues, from our administrators. Doing what has always been done is not okay any more. Focus on the growth mindset, dream big, and then go for those dreams. Share ideas, collaborate, listen to others, make plans and go for it. If it doesn't go as you plan, think it over, make some changes, try again. Don't wait for someone or something else to make the change. You are an agent of change and you have the power to make a difference. 

Last spring, I went to the International Reading Association Conference in Chicago and saw Dr. Steve Perry speak. I don't really know much about him other than that I was inspired by his speech. You can watch his speech yourself, but there was one line that I will never forget. "You being regular, means that we can't be amazing." He demands that we all take charge of the influence we can have.

So how do we demand this? There are so many reasons for why someone finds themselves in the fixed mindset (whether it's sometimes or most of the time) and it's going to happen. Acknowledge your feelings, appreciate obstacles that are in your way, and then ask some "What if?" type questions to start thinking of possibilities or options. I feel like these conversations (with ourselves and with others) are a start but sometimes it takes time to get out of a fixed mindset. Just like all good teaching, we can also model the growth mindset for others - especially our students, but everyone we encounter will benefit. Be a model of someone who lives the growth mindset, someone who lives their values, someone who believes that others can impact change, too. I hope that I model the growth mindset as much as I possibly can...but if you ever see me stuck, give me a reminder that I need to get back to the growth mindset.

Kellee and I want to make sure that we continue to evaluate what we do here at Teach Mentor Texts so that it truly is a resource for you. Right now we have a survey open and value your feedback! Please share what works about our blog and what else you would love to see to support you. Thanks!

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