More often than not, I believe that teacher professional development sessions are dead in the water even before they begin, and there are two main perpetrators to blame: confirmation bias and fixed mindset. In a previous post we explored confirmation bias. Now, let’s take a look at fixed mindset.
According to Carol Dweck, “Those with a ‘fixed mindset’ believe that abilities are mostly innate and interpret failure as the lack of necessary basic abilities, while those with a ‘growth mindset’ believe that they can acquire any given ability provided they invest effort or study.”
When it comes to professional development, confirmation bias and fixed mindset go hand in hand. For example, if educators truly don’t want to change (confirmation bias), whether or not they believe that they are capable of making it happen (fixed mindset) is a non-issue.
When addressing the obstacle of fixed mindset, I believe that facilitators of professional development have two options: the issue can be “attacked” within the context of what is already being presented, or it can be incorporated as an add-on to what has been planned.
“Attacked” within the context of what is already being presented
Quality professional development (not much different from what we already strive to deliver) can go a long way in promoting a growth mindset. Those in attendance should walk away with the information, ideas, and resources to ultimately deliver enhanced instruction without necessarily having to work harder, but smarter (and differently). In other words, they must think, “I can do this!”
The above might seem like obvious goals for which presenters should strive, but I have found that they can be rather difficult to obtain. Here are three reasons why:
- Often times, presenters who are no longer in the classroom (such as administrators) lose touch with how difficult it can be for teachers to make significant changes in their practice. In isolation, every little change seems so easy, but all of those instances of “Just do this!” can add up very quickly.
- Building off of the first point, many of these same presenters are simply not instructional leaders. To put it bluntly, in the past I have seen quite a few administrators who (1) could not speak intelligently about effective instruction, and (2) were obviously not impactful when they were in the classroom. Yet, time and time again they crowed about how their teachers did not know what they were doing. Sound familiar?
- What is learned/obtained by attendees cannot be transferred across multiple subjects, classes, students, etc. For example, several “higher-order activities” may be disseminated, but once the activities run out, so do the benefits of the professional development. Attendees need to become comfortable with leveraging new information, ideas, and resources across multiple contexts. Sometimes, this goal is accomplished by shifts in mindset and culture, and not just through the mere exposure to strategies and tools.
Incorporated as an add-on to what has been planned
A previous post discussed proactively addressing the confirmation bias of those in attendance at the beginning of professional development sessions, and I believe that this same approach can be taken when addressing the mindsets of these attendees.
One of my colleagues, Erin Murphy (@MurphysMusings5) is a Middle School Assistant Principal. Recently, one of her slide decks caught my eye because the first slide read, “Prepare your mindset.” When I asked her about this presentation, she had the following to say:
Our district spent two years providing professional development on classroom questioning. Through this time, the focus was always on the questions teachers asked our students. This year, we shifted our vision to promote more student-centered questioning in the classroom. We use this slide during teacher and student discussions to prepare them for this shift. Teachers prepare their mindsets to release some of the control over classroom instruction. Students, who may be used to situations where they will be only right or wrong, prepare their mindsets to take risks in a judgment free zone.
During our conversations with teachers, we begin by discussing the current practice in their classroom and validating this work. Then we clearly define how this concept is different. Doable, but different.
In this instance, Erin helps to move teachers out of their comfort zones by (1) being explicit about what they will try to accomplish, and (2) acknowledging the fact that what they are doing may be somewhat unfamiliar, but she will be there to provide the necessary support for everyone to be successful.
It should be noted that conducting a book study on Carol Dweck’s Mindset (as countless people have done) would be another way to proactively and explicitly address the mindsets of educators in a school or district.
Overall, the topic of mindset has become so popular (thanks to Carol Dweck), and it would be beneficial for schools or districts to address it in one way or another. More specifically, planning professional development with this issue in mind can (1) assist in providing better instruction, and (2) show attendees that those paving the way are cognizant of their backgrounds, experiences, and just how difficult change can actually be.
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