Growth Mindset (an NAIS AC reflection)

In my one, jam packed day at the NAIS annual conference a clear theme emerged above all others. We must have, model, and encourage a growth mindset. Leaders must instill a culture of continuous learning for adults and students. Time, resources, and processes must be put in place for teachers to work in a reflective, always growing environment.

In their session on “Promoting a Growth Mindset” the trio from Episcopal Academy, Geoff Wagg, Tracie Lee, and Kim Piersall spoke of their token program, Mastership. This program is an in-house, year-long, experiential PD program for 10 teachers a year. It was a compelling program of molding leaders and growing teachers interpersonal and pedagogical skills. I wonder, however, the process they took to get the program moving? Did it bubble up from teachers desire? Do the teachers who need it the most have incentive to take it? Does it fit within a great culture of growth?

During the general session, the amazing Pat Bassett spoke of the three revolutions which have shaped our country. The first revolution, the American Revolution and the forming of a country, brought us examples of accepting risk, dreaming, committing to strategy and “Madison’s Tipping Point Challenge”-do your homework, work the network, communicate frequently and consistently, and change course as needed. The second revolution, the Civil Rights Movement, brought us the speech that articulated the need a vision for all times and places. Mr. Bassett spoke of LBJ as the Madison of the Civil Rights Movement, bringing the dream to fruition. We are now in the 3rd great American Revolution. The era to Think Big, Think Great. A dream of educational revolutionaries who are re-defining teaching, re-thinking learning, and re-designing schooling. I am proud to be a part of this revolution. We, the educational revolutionaries, must fight the naysayers. We are “face to face not with the last time but the next time in history with something commensurate with your (our) capacity to wonder.” We must not let go of our capacity to wonder.

Mike Gwaltney and Brad Rathgeber reminded us in “Technology is Not the Answer” that our work in the 21st century is not about which tool we choose but rather the why and how of our guiding principles. Their examples from the Online School for Girls include:

  • Mission and Vision
  • Students and Learning at the Center
  • Essential Skills
  • Search for Opportunities
  • Growth Mindset.

And there is my buzz word once again, Growth Mindset, for our students and our faculty. At OSfG, they are continually analyzing the work of their students and faculty. Through the use of student feedback, teachers are encouraged to grow and shift. Backwards Design is used to meet the mission and vision of the school. The OSfG vision of Conneciton, Collaboration, Creativity, and Application is woven through all parts of the whole. I left this session feeling like a cheerleader and wondering how I can open the conversations about these things in my school?

Just as Pat spoke of the great revolutions, Cathy Davidson closed the conference with the Four Great Information Ages and how we can prepare our students for the future. We are currently in the fourth great information age, (the first being writing, movable type, and the age of the steam powered press); the Digital Information Age. So we ask ourselves, how are we preparing our kids and ourselves for THIS world? She asked us to brainstorm the three most important things we can do for our kids-I suggested develop a strong sense of empathy/compassion, and ethics (2) and learn how to unplug and reconnect with nature. Other ideas found on twitter included develop resilience, find passions and follow them, learn how to learn and become a discerning learner. She spoke to us of the reason single focused attention was so important during the industrial revolution and reminded us that the science behind mono-tasking is weak. Our brains were born to multi-task and grow. (How else can you explain breathing, heart beating, and typing all at the same time!) She then provided us with the “5 Things We Can Do Now to Shift the Paradigm”

  1. Rethink Liberal Arts as a Start-up Curriculum for Resilient Global Citizens (use the great masters to apply to real life situations.)
  2. Move from Critical Thinking to Creative Contribution. (Think about “The Han”)
  3. Make sure you what you Value is what you Count
  4. Find Creative Ways to Model Un-Learning
  5. Take Institutional Change Personally. (“Institutions tend to preserve the problems they were created to solve.–Clay Shirky)

She reminded us and empowered us to believe that teachers cannot truly be replaced by a computer system. Why? Because of what we wrote in our brainstorms. The things that we value, teaching character, teaching meta-cognition, can only be taught by human to human contact.

And in the end, all of this, comes back to a mindset of growth. The belief that we can do anything with hard work, leadership, and the belief that we were made to constantly grow. My brain is still so very full from the inspiration I found at NAIS this year. I hope that I can continue to inspire this mindset in my students and colleagues as our year continues. Thank you presenters, colleagues, and my administrators for giving me the opportunity the attend this year.


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