A Focus on Teacher Mindsets

in , , by Stephanie, August 27, 2018
As August comes to a end, I am spending time gearing up for the new semester with the preservice, new and practicing teachers I will have the opportunity to work with and am setting my intentions for the year.

As a literacy teacher educator and literacy coach, I believe my role is to build teacher expertise and support teachers’ spirits so they can do the same for their students. Alongside other literacy teacher educators and coaches, we work tirelessly to strengthen teachers' knowledge of literacy: how literacy develops, effective literacy intervention, authentic reading response and more. But as I sit here reflecting forward on the year to come, I am very aware of the need to focus on teachers’ mindsets for learning (and my own!) as well.

I have had many conversations with fellow literacy coaches on the importance of lifelong learning and the impact it can have on our coaching. In my experience, teachers who embrace a lifelong learning mindset listen, think, act, teach and lead differently. They are enthusiastic learners and look forward to entering the classroom. They embrace professional learning opportunities and have a positive attitude about new ideas and initiatives. They look forward to collaborating with others around instruction and practice and make connections to the classroom. Over time, I have realized while some might be born with this lifelong-learning mindset, it is something that we must consciously embrace and cultivate. It is also something that can wax and wane depending on our perspective of our surroundings. I know this from experience.

Years ago, as I was finishing my dissertation, my typically positive-and-embrace-continual-learning attitude was fizzling. I was working, raising three young children and trying to finish a degree that I had been working on for quite some time. I was tired and depleted. I was frustrated and even negative. I just couldn’t wait ‘to get it over with’. I had become my biggest fear: an educator who wasn’t invested in lifelong learning and instead, was more focused on a task to complete. It was then that I made an important realization. It was quite easy for me to blame outside factors for my change in behavior, but the truth was, those same factors had been present for quite some time. I painstakingly admitted that my new mindset was in fact, my unconscious choice, and by not consciously attending to my own mindset for learning in face of the environment and experiences around me, those choices were made for me. I recently found myself in a similar situation and was once again reminded how powerful a conscious focus on our mindset for learning (and living) can be. 

It reminded me of a recent TED Talk on stress and its impact on our health. Kelly McGonigal shared the results of a health study that showed the perception of stress was detrimental to our health, not the actual stress itself. It demonstrated just how powerful our perceptions and mindsets are to our personal well-being and I hypothesize that the same conclusions could be made about our teaching well-being as well. These experiences brought a new perspective to my work with teachers, particularly those so called ‘resistant’ or less-than-positive teachers. However frustrated I might become with teachers who felt they had nothing more to learn, I realized they most likely did not make a conscious decision to remain stagnant, to stop learning, or to be negative, just as I didn’t in my own experiences. They simply were not accustomed to attending to their own mindset for learning or consciously making decisions to empower themselves. 

As teacher educators and literacy coaches, we can create conditions to help teachers acknowledge the choices we make and the control we have over own learning and attitude, even if we do not seemingly think so at first. By focusing not just on the content of our work, but the process, we can notice and name the moves we are making to help teachers take control over their own mindset. So, this school year, I pledge to support the teachers I am privileged to work with by cultivating a learning community and empowering their learning with a conscious focus on our mindsets as learners. How? By working to:
  • create comfortable spaces to connect as fellow readers, writers, thinkers and teachers
  • coach with intention and honor teachers’ time, busy schedules and individual goals as teachers
  • plan and facilitate authentic learning experiences
  • listen to every teachers’ voice and honor their unique contributions
  • leave assumptions at the door and not make judgments about teachers or students
  • bring joy to our work and savor the little things that might go unnoticed
  • continually work to support teachers’ spirits so they can do the same for their students

This kind of work takes planning, a positive attitude and patience, but our teachers and their students deserve nothing less. Onward to a new academic year!

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  1. Great examples of the importance of reflection for all teachers. We need to be mindful of our mindset while being intentionally positive. Mark

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