Have you ever experienced so much learning that your head hurts?
Tonight, amid the beautiful sunset, the lightning show and the Perseid Meteor Shower, many educators are reflecting and thinking about today’s amazing learning at #CATC15.
I started to write some notes about today’s learning, but why should I hide those ideas away in a notebook that nobody may ever look at again?
Besides, the Innovator’s Mindset is about creating something with that learning, right?
I’m thinking a lot tonight about the conversation I had with George Couros and Mark Carbone today about the focus schools have on “student engagement”. “Engagement” has been a buzz word in Ontario for a long time. I remember a similar discussion at Educon in 2014 with David Jakes and Bill Ferriter about how engagement is not enough. It’s a start, but empowerment is a much more important goal for learners.
Last March, Andy Hargreaves explored thinking around student engagement with education leaders at #uLead15. Mark digs into this more here.
As George Couros said today, “engagement” still requires someone or something else to create the learning environment. Without the entertaining venue, the learning stops.
How are we ensuring that our students truly become self-directed curious learners? How do we empower learners to truly own their own learning?
I am taking a little of my own advice today, and rereading Carol Dweck’s 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
I am still working through the first chapters, but I have already found a number of connections to other work.
The most interesting new learning for me comes from exploring the symptoms of a “fixed mindset”.
We have been so focused on the “growth mindset”, that I have not taken time to really consider what a fixed mindset looks like.
What systems and structures encourage a fixed mindset?
A fixed mindset means that you believe that your talents, abilities and intelligence are what they are. You also believe that the talents, abilities and intelligence of others is fixed and won’t change.
The new learning for me is the idea that if this is your belief, you need to prove over and over again that you are smart and talented.
You can’t let the world see that you might not be smart and talented and able.
““Believing that your qualities are carved in stone – the fixed mindset – creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character – well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.”
Dweck, Mindset (2006) p. 6
When young children enter school, they arrive as learners. Does the evaluative nature of the classroom encourage a fixed mindset?
Do our students become afraid to show they don’t know something?
Do they become afraid of challenges, and of learning opportunities where they might fail the first time?
Do they begin to ask, “Will I succeed or fail?Will I look smart of dumb?What will people think of me?” These questions are related to having a fixed mindset about your abilities. (Dweck, p.6)
Does the structure of school create an environment for the entrenchment of fixed mindsets?
Do students begin to choose only those experiences where they will succeed? Do they believe that “kids who are smart don’t do mistakes”? (Dweck, p.16)
Do our “very best students”, those who learn to play school well, get high marks, and “succeed” leave school with the most fixed mindsets of all – needing to prove themselves over and over and over again?
This thinking links to two other ideas I have been exploring recently.
First, Seth Godin’s piece on the meaning of empathy.
Empathy is about wondering why people do what they do.
When we dismiss the actions of others as being the result of their unchangeable characteristics, instead of approaching the behaviour of others with curiosity and wonder, we are displaying the symptoms of a fixed mindset.
If we have a fixed mindset, then we know why people do what they do, because they only have so much intelligence, their personality is “this”, and their abilities are “that”, so obviously the outcome is “this”.
In an environment that promotes a fixed mindset, is it difficult for empathy to flourish?
Do our students who have learned to play school have a difficult time having empathy for others as they develop the belief that abilities are fixed?
When we look closer at it, we see that assessment for learning and assessment as learning are strategies for a growth mindset that believes all people can learn.
Assessment OF learning, in isolation, is a breeding ground for fixed mindset thinking, where intelligence, or being smart, must be proven over and over in an evaluative environment.
Robert Sternberg (on p. 5 of Mindset) is quoted as saying that a major factor in whether people achieve expertise is not fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement. If we really believe that, then assessment for and as learning would be a no-brainer, because learning would be a priority, not marks and evaluation.
Does a pervasive fixed mindset also seep into our professional lives? Are educators afraid to make their thinking visible through blogging because “they might look stupid” and they might “reveal that there are things they don’t know”?
When we think about promotions at the school and system level, does a fixed mindset enter into this process as well? Do we put our colleagues into neat little categories based on past mistakes? Do we forget that their abilities and talents can change?
Perhaps, if me must put people into categories, the most useful categories are learners vs. non-learners. Learners embrace feedback, thrive on challenge, and work to get better.
These are great words of advice for creating a presentation.
Could they work as well for those of us designing professional learning?
In his address to the Ontario Leadership Congress in April 2015, Simon Breakspear emphasized the importance of having a clear vision of what future learning looks like, sounds like, feels like.
He said, “We cannot lead others into a future we cannot see.”
Our role as leaders is to get out of the conceptual, and move from vision documents to “here, let me show you”.
So what is our profession, then, at the bare bones level?
Teachers cause learning to happen. They cause learning to happen for every child and student trusted into their care. Every single one.
It is not okay for a child to be ‘stuck’ and not learning in a classroom. It is the responsibility of the teacher to ensure that child is learning. No teacher has to do this in isolation. Teachers are aware of their best practice, and they search for their next practice that will help that child learn. The wider the professional network, the larger the opportunity to find solutions to learning problems.
This remains one of my favourite simplified statements about the work teachers do.
What do we do about the educators who refuse to embrace change?
This question keeps bubbling up in conversations, on Twitter, and in blog posts, in different formats, but essentially this is it: “How do we convince educators that they need to change their practice?”
We have names and categories for those who resist change and cling to the status quo.
But have we articulated what the “change” is leading to?
Have we co-constructed the success criteria of what this will look like when we are doing it well?
Simon Breakspear, at the 2015 Ontario Leadership Congress, challenged participants to think about what Ontario classrooms could look like three years from now. What would we see, hear and feel as we walk into our students’ learning environment in 2018? What is our shared vision for the future of our children?
This is not a hypothetical exercise. He wants us to set this out exactly as we expect to see it. What are we looking for, and how will we get there? It is only by doing this exercise that we can clearly communicate to educators what the path forward is, and what we expect to accomplish.
Over the past 1.5 years, I have been working relentlessly, with my OSAPAC co-lead (@markwcarbone) on a project to help education leaders become adept in the use of educational technology.
Because in Ontario we have a “renewed vision” for education, and that vision includes using technology as an accelerator to change where, when and how learning can take place.
And if we are actually going to see this happen in our “classrooms”, then our leaders have to have a very good understanding of what technology enabled learning and teaching looks like, sounds like, feels like for learners.
The world is changing rapidly and if our students are going to thrive, they need very different skills and abilities than the ones that worked for us. It’s easy to forget how fast the world is changing when we are immersed in our bricks and mortar schools each day.
Are we leading and teaching for where the puck is now, or where it is going?
So how do you provide learning for leaders to keep up with the changing role of technology in learning?
We think we understand the learning needs of leaders who are already pressed for time. We need many different entry points. We have to appeal to a range of styles of learning. We need learning opportunities that do not require a lot of commitment because of the varied schedules of those in leadership roles. Small chunks of learning have to be available so they can be accessed at any time.
We looked at a way to provide very, very simple access to opportunities to learn to become a connected leader. That simple access includes:
on that website, links to the blogs of formal and informal school and system leaders in Ontario so that this one site allows anyone access to the visible thinking of educators throughout this province.
on the website – a new post nearly every day, Tuesday evening open conversations,
on the website – a program to become connected in only 10 minutes a day
on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, and other social media, a stream of information on learning and connected leadership
If any education leader in Ontario has the DESIRE to learn to become connected, OSSEMOOC (Awesome MOOC!) is just sitting there waiting for them to start.
It is free, open and simple with 1:1 support for anyone who WANTS to learn.
Our question is, what more can we possibly offer?
Is the missing piece the desire to learn?
This is an interesting problem, because leaders openly wonder why educators in their systems won’t embrace change.
We hear that the world is changing, the nature of education is changing, what we know about learners is changing, but some classroom educators refuse to change their practice. How can we help them change?
Will they change if they don’t have the desire to learn?
So let’s solve this! Why is it not a priority for leaders to become connected? What is it about this learning that leaders do not buy into?
If leaders personally reflect on why they don’t see the value in becoming connected digital leaders, why they don’t take advantage of opportunities to learn to lead in digital spaces, will it reveal some understanding about the challenges in helping resistant classroom educators change their practice?
refuse to learn to use collaborative documents so that they can work asynchronously and at a distance from their colleagues?
don’t take the time to learn to use technology to download their own videos and make their own presentations shine, and even say “oh, I don’t do tech” (they would never say that about math!)?
don’t build a strong professional learning network so that they can reach out and find the experience and understanding they need to make evidence-based decisions around technology purchases, capacity-building and planning?
have not learned the skills needed to supervise and learn with teachers in online learning environments?
Are education leaders who preserve the technology status quo, “fundamentalists”?
Would we refer to leaders who refuse to make digital leadership a priority as “fundamentalists”?
Not likely, as we know that education leaders are learners. We might say that they don’t have time, or that they have other priorities and interests. But we see them as being learners.
Do we see resistant classroom educators as learners? Are they only labelled as fundamentalists because they are not learning what we think they should learn?
Maybe what we need to do is find out what it is they want to learn, and start there. Recognize that they ARE learners, and that what they are learning is valuable, and let them bring it to the table.
Find the mindset they already have – where learning is sought instead of provided – and discover what learning they are seeking, and harness this.
Fundamentally, our job as educators is to ensure that every single child in our care is learning. There might be all kinds of research on what best practices are, but none of that research was done on that student in that classroom. Only that teacher has the responsibility to ensure that child is learning, and once their repertoire of strategies is exhausted, it is that teacher’s job to connect with others to find the next best practice, to be the scientist for that child to find what will work.
The classroom educator is the researcher to find best practice for every child.
They need to know how to find out what others are doing, and how to adapt practices to each learner.
The shift is from a mindset where learning is provided, to a culture where learning is sought (David Jakes, 2015).
But since learning will only be sought where there is a DESIRE to learn, maybe that is the place we need to start.
“What Ontario educators and leaders have accomplished in the last nine years is truly remarkable and impressive on a world scale. Yet it is also disturbingly precarious without the focused innovation required for excellence.”
How do we accelerate the use of innovative practices in our classrooms?
Chris Anderson argues that Crowd Accelerated Innovation results from our ability to access a global community of ideas online. “Radical openness” works to spread ideas. Innovation emerges as groups of people “bump up” the best ideas.
Our reality is that we are part of a global community.
The role of a teacher is to ensure that ever single child in the classroom is learning. Teachers are researchers, searching for the best practices to meet the learning needs of each child. Focused, disciplined innovation results from modifying and adapting strategies and ideas that have been successful in other contexts.
Isn’t it important, then, that all teachers know how to effectively access, and contribute to, the global community of ideas?