Sunday, May 26, 2013

Living a Growth Mindset

At the beginning of the month, I had a very special and totally awesome visitor! Brenda Power of Choice Literacy came to see me and participate in a conversation about fostering a growth mindset with me and my colleagues. I know Brenda through my work for Choice Literacy but have never met her in person! I was thrilled when she asked to visit. It worked out perfectly because it just so happened that we had a discussion about growth mindset already planned for the morning she would be coming by. We have been getting together for these discussions this semester because in the department I am in, we strive to foster the growth mindset in the teachers we interact with. Our "meetings" are 90 minutes long and attendance is optional. People bring ideas or articles or videos to share and our discussion seems to naturally flow from one person to the next as we listen and build upon each other's thoughts. The fostering a growth mindset meetings have been one of my favorite parts of my learning this year. 
Jen Vincent and Brenda Power Living a Growth Mindset
Jen Vincent and Brenda Power
When Brenda visited, I shared a part of The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Duhigg talks about how Rosa Parks was the right person to build the Civil Rights movement around because of the strength of her weak ties. As individuals, we have both strong and weak ties. Strong ties are the people with whom we have solid relationships, we commonly share similar ideas and learn about similar information. Weak ties are the people we consider to be acquaintances from whom we might get new and different ideas. Through connections with our weak ties, we can learn and coordinate new ideas and this is where innovation happens. I truly believe this is where the power of Twitter lies! Through connections with friends on Twitter, we can bring ideas to our own lives and to our strong ties. Without a network of weak ties though, we can end up living in "group think" where we all think the same and are happy with what we are doing. This would not necessarily support embracing a growth mindset. By interacting with our weak ties, we learn about new things and can develop new ideas, essentially, living with a growth mindset. Reading about the power of weak ties was very eye-opening to me. 
In February, I attended a conference where one of the speakers talked about our story. He asked if people in the audience felt that they were living the story that they want to be telling. When he asked people to raise their hands if they thought they were, no one did...except me. I raised my hand because I strive to model living a growth mindset. I believe that everyone can learn, everyone can improve and that if we take things one step at a time, everyone can achieve their dreams (or at least say they gave it their best shot). Sometimes I get cranky, sometimes I get overwhelmed, sometimes I just want to crawl into bed...but most of the time, I look at life and see the possibilities and then figure out a way to make things happen. I'm willing to try new things, I'm willing to take chances when I think it makes sense, I'm willing to ask questions to learn and understand. For the most part, I honestly believe I do my best to model and live a growth mindset. (I read and talked about Mindset in January, a great read!)
Reading about weak ties helped me recognize how Twitter has helped me to be able to live a growth mindset. I'm not fond of the connotation that comes along with the term "weak" ties because my weak ties, the people I have met through Twitter and blogging, 100% have helped me become the person I am today. They have definitely helped me think through ideas, learn about teaching and life, and have been a support system over the past four years. Without Twitter, I'm not sure I could stand so strongly behind my conviction that I live my life with a growth mindset. My awesome, brilliant, fantastic weak ties have helped me expand my thinking and ability to try out new ideas and to take risks. 

Our discussion led to talking about time to observe other teachers. I am super fortunate to work in a district that gives every teacher the opportunity to go and observe another teacher once a school year. It's in the contract, so a teacher simply has to request the day and he or she can go observe another classroom within or outside of our district. This year, I chose to go and visit Gary Anderson, an English teacher at a nearby high school. Gary and I live and work very close to each other but I met him for the first time at the Nerdy Book Club gathering at NCTE in Las Vegas last fall. I was ecstatic that Gary was willing to let me visit and learn from him for a day. While I was there, Gary and I talked about how having release time to go and observe another teacher is so beneficial. We also talked about why someone might not want another teaching observing him or her and what might make someone not want to ask to observe another teacher. I shared with him what Brenda share with us during the fostering a growth mindset meeting.

Brenda shared the protocol that was set up when she would take small groups in to observe a teacher. She explained that with simple rules about observations, all people could feel comfortable with observing and being observed. The first rule was that while observing, teachers were not allowed to talk. They could take notes, jot down ideas or things to ask about, but talking was not okay. The two other rules were understandings. First, observers were asked to understand that every decision a teacher made was logical. Second, observers were asked to understand that choices a teacher made were right for that moment. By accepting these two ideas, observers go in with the mindframe that the teacher is making decisions for his or her class based on what he or she knows and understands about the students and what he or she is teaching. After the lesson, the teacher who was teaching was asked to sit and debrief with those who were observing. They could then ask questions and he or she could explain what happened in the lesson but overall, the idea was not to judge or insert their own opinions, but to listen and understand what the teacher did. 

The notion that we can all learn from each other and that we all have something to share fits along with my belief in the growth mindset. What I valued most from Brenda visiting and from being able to observe and then talk with Gary about his classes, was that by listening and asking others to tell us about who they are and what they do - their story - we can learn and grow ourselves. While we can learn and share from people we interact with on a daily basis, we can also tremendously grow by expanding our network of weak ties. Be it through Twitter or some other means, I encourage everyone to take the time to ask questions and listen to what others have to say with an open mind in an effort to learn about yourself and the work that you do. 

It's a busy time of year but also a great time to reflect and think about ideas for next school year. If you have an idea you got from a weak tie or if you practiced the growth mindset this week, please share it with me! I would love to hear about how you are living the growth mindset in or out school! 

Also,  if you are interested in learning more about Brenda and Choice Literacy, visit these links:
Facebook: Choice Literacy
Pinterest: Choice Literacy
iTunes Podcasts: Choice Literacy Podcasts
Twitter: @choiceliteracy

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