Monday, April 4, 2016

Growth Mindset and Humans v. Dogs

This past summer I read Carol Dweck's book Mindset.  I found it not only to be incredibly beneficial as a teacher, but applicable to my own life.  When I think about how many challenges I have approached with a fixed mindset, thereby setting myself up for failure, I marvel at the fact that I was able to become a productive functioning adult at all!

In my classroom, student goalsetting has been something I have been moving from the back burner to the forefront and everywhere in between for the last 5 years or so.  This year I formalized it as one of my professional goals.  Mondays in my classroom are "Motivational Mondays".  I start class by giving students a prompt in the form of a quote or short video clip.  Then, in Google Classroom, students respond (in English, my purpose is metacognition and goalsetting, not TL acquisition) to 1-3 questions connecting the prompt to their goals and action steps to reach those goals in my class.

As I showed this video this afternoon:

it occurred to me that this was at least the third Motivational Monday video this year I have shown starring a dog. Now, at first glance, who cares?  Dogs are cute, like cat videos, dog videos can certainly be a youtube time suck, it's a fun way to burn a minute and a half of class on a dreary (snowy) April Monday, but why is this blogworthy?

What I believe often gets in the way of a growth mindset is learned behavior and learned beliefs.  I don't believe we are born with a fixed mindset, rather our mindsets become fixed over time due to a variety of environmental factors -- if we are not in environments that cultivate and nurture a growth mindset.  Willow, the dog in the above video, doesn't  worry if the humans watching her will make fun of her leaf-pile antics.  She doesn't worry what will happen if she can't find the ball.  The consequences of failure are utterly irrelevant to Willow, and no matter how difficult the task was, she was ready to start over again as soon as she found the ball. 

How freeing that would be to not be burdened with a lifetime of fixed mindset baggage to overcome!

But we all come from a place that is nearly as purely free of the tethers of a fixed mindset.

Think back to your childhood, and try to remember a time before you felt embarrassed, ashamed, fearful, or otherwise inhibited about trying something new or about taking a risk.  Think about a young child you know.  Their ability to trust without hesitation makes them remarkably resilient and enables them to try, try again, even to the point where the adults around them are ready to drop.  

Perhaps one of the keys to a growth mindset is to access that place we all come from, before fear and self-consciousness, and embrace that inner child who isn't afraid to fall down.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Change Is in the Air

Well, here we are again, and I have again failed to meet my personal goal of consistently posting to this blog.  But I'm back for now, much has happened in both my personal and professional life, and change, indeed, is in the air.

2016 brought the end of an 11 year personal relationship, as well as some exciting and challenging professional opportunities, most of them beyond the walls of the buildings where I teach, and this in turn has brought some surprising challenges within the walls of the buildings where I teach.

A significant part of my ongoing professional journey has been my headfirst plunge into social media about five years ago via Twitter and edubloggers. The ability to find 24/7 professional discourse on any topic in education has been invaluable in my professional growth and development.  From the start I was vocal in my participation in Twitter chats; I commented on blogs, and just generally added my voice to the others out there, whether they were newbies like I used to be or respected educators like Tom Whitby or Ira Socol, both of whom I have conversed with on Twitter.  In fact, not only have I conversed with these heavy hitters, but I have challenged statements they have made, questioned their ideas, and engaged them in contentious exchanges -- all in the name of learning, reflecting, and improving my craft.

For personal reasons, I kept my social media use to Twitter and blogs, and avoided Facebook for years.  It is perhaps for this reason that although I effectively grew my PLN with colleagues around the globe, I stayed under the radar with my local colleagues.

Shortly before the first of the year I joined the rest of the civilized world and became active on Facebook.  It started as an experiment for myself to see if I could maintain a social media account for purely social purposes.  I lasted 8 days.  Truthfully no one, myself included, believed I could manage to keep work out of it, and we were all right.  It started with a blog post that came up on my feed, and I couldn't help but respond.  I knew then that I was doomed.  But the other side of the coin was that there are so many of my colleagues -- particularly World Language teachers -- who are much more active on Facebook than on Twitter, that it just made sense to open a new avenue of connectivity.

So my professional posts on Facebook, like my Tweets and blog comments, are honest, straightforward, and made in the spirit of opening and encouraging professional dialogue.  In that same spirit, I welcome opposing opinions and enjoy having my views respectfully challenged, because whether or not my opinion changes, it allows further opportunity to examine my own beliefs and their validity.

Unfortunately, I am discovering that not everyone feels that professional discourse is desirable.  I have been on the receiving end of several complaints about postings over the last month, and I am truly perplexed and saddened.  These complaints are anonymous, and I am only told that they are coming from "multiple departments".  It is very disappointing that professionals would respond to a colleague with whom they disagree in this way rather than addressing the issue directly.  I have now spent several weeks in an uncomfortable atmosphere, not knowing who to trust, having been told that I'm "being watched".  It isn't the administration, because they have been nothing but supportive, but that doesn't help when the anonymous complaints keep coming, and I have no intention of accepting a muzzle.

This is the last in a sequence of red flags I have been dodging for the last several years, and it has become clear that it is time for a major change.  Many years ago, during a particularly disappointing PD session, I made the conscious decision that no matter how bad any given PD was, there had to be at least one good takeaway.  That one mental shift has transformed how I experience PD -- particularly PD I do not choose for myself.  That shift has carried over into my work experience as a whole.  Despite any shortcomings I may have felt in my current position, I have gone out of my way to find and/or create opportunities to engage and grow my passion for my work.  That has not always made me popular with my local colleagues, although increasingly it has made me successful in the profession at large.  And I know myself well enough to know that I need to be where I can push myself and continue to do what I believe to be right without being silenced, and without being held back.  Increasingly, I have been getting the sense that I have reached my limits in my current position.  Yes, I understand that negativity is everywhere, there will be jealousy and pettiness wherever I land.  But there is a lot to be said for fresh starts, and I'm ready.  My place is as a teacher leader, not an administrator, so that is not a path I will choose.  But the next stone in my path will be laid in a different direction.  Change is good.

Of course...if my optimism about finding another position proves overblown...but let's not jinx it  ;)