Professional Learning
A Growth Mindset: Starting with Ourselves
September 14, 2018
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Ashley Corey

In the last few years many districts across the country have been encouraging a “growth mindset” with regards to students, grading, and general practice in the classroom. Oftentimes this means focusing on the gains that a student has made over a period of time. It also frequently means replacing the phrase “I don’t get it” with “I don’t get it yet.” This concept of yet can be very powerful for students, but making radical changes to our attitudes on how students grow must be authentic if it is going to be valuable. This means that when considering a growth mindset, we must first start with ourselves. When the beginning of the school year hits, an opportunity to show students that you believe in a growth mindset is present but also fleeting. Establishing this as a norm in the classroom must begin with teachers believing that the growth mindset model applies to everyone in the room, teachers included.

For us to embody a growth mindset that can be modeled to our students, it is important for us to surrender to what we do not know. We do not know the best way to reach every single child. If we did, we certainly would have done it already. We do, however, know that we can grow every student while they are in our classrooms. Finding interesting ways to do this already pushes us outside of our comfort zones, and this is a great thing!

You will be hard pressed to find education professionals who do not already believe that a certain amount of this growth mindset is already present in our practice. The commitment to lifelong learning is not only built into many ethical standards adopted across the state, but it is a requirement by most districts (I am just as guilty as anyone of calculating exactly how many more in-service hours I have to get before I make that requirement!) I have been to many incredible professional learning sessions, and they often lead to deeper understanding of the work that I am trying my best to do. However, some of the most effective training that I have gained has been outside of this required realm.

So how do we build on this with all the other stress surrounding our work? I am learning just like everyone, but I have found success in a few strategies.

First, make little things count. Finding new books on educational practices is a great habit to be into. Perhaps there is a group of teachers at school that would love to make an informal book club with you. Watching TED talks, exploring new ideas online, and finding new perspectives in educational article may all seem small at the time they’re being done, but they quickly add up to create a reflective teacher who is constantly questioning his or her own practice.

Second, seek opportunities that hold you accountable for continued learning even when it becomes difficult. Many teachers seek extra credentials such as National Board Certification, an Educational Specialist degree, or even micro credentials with online training tools. Any path of this nature is undoubtedly going to lead to further learning simply by exposure to the curriculum, assignments, or discussions. I like this system of long-term goal setting, because it shows students and others that continued growth is important for all of us, not just when we have leisure time to complete it.

Lastly, reach out to others in your learning network. If we can get into the habit of reaching out to one another, we can better model this behavior for our students. Encouraging students to grow by learning the stories or strategies of their classmates is much easier if we are already doing this ourselves. We will understand the tools and language that they need to use to fully engage in a growth mindset since we will be doing the same thing at our own professional level.

Adopting a growth mindset in the classroom has many benefits. It helps us meet students where they are, and it ensures that students understand lifelong learning as a basic tenet of the educational system. Students will be far more willing to adopt the growth mindset for themselves if they see us following the same principles along our own learning path.

Ashley has taught at West High School in Knox County Tennessee for the last five years. She has worked as an Economics, U.S. History and Personal Finance teacher. She has served as Senior Class Dean for the past three years and worked on the Upper House Small Learning Community’s Leadership for that duration. She has served as Leadership Team Secretary and Professional Development presenter in Economics for Knox County for two years. She has also served as a Lead Teacher and Instructional Support Team member. She received her Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 2011 and her Master of Science in Teacher Education from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 2012. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

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