Guest Post: Growth Mindset- 3 Hard Truths and Some Beautiful Realizations

I remember well the year I felt the reality of growth mindset shift. Operating on the outer growthedge of my comfort zone, I had begun a graduate program to obtain my principalship at the prompting of my own principal and mentor. She had also asked me to lead a “new” model of intervention/enrichment using formative data to personalize learning. At the district level, I was part of a team of incredible educators planning the district rollout of a Thinking Strategies initiative partnership with PEBC/Denver Public Schools. Each of these opportunities was exciting and I was humbled anyone had confidence in my ability to carry out meaningful change for students and teachers. My own self confidence evolved and I grew firm in what I believed about education, became aware of my strengths, and emerged brave in my defense of education best practice. So, why, when I reflect on that time in my life, do I also remember discomfort and friction?

Because, friends, while shifting into the fullness of a growth mindset is- without question – invigorating and empowering (like all the cute social media memes tell us), it’s also hard work. Damn hard.

3 Hard Truths About Growth Mindset

  1. You will become uncomfortable and so might those around you

“Mindset isn’t just about believing. It’s about enacting those beliefs – living them out hour by hour, day by day, plan by plan.” -Carol Tomlinson, VAST Conference, 2014

Here’s the situation- people like predictability. Humans love to know what’s coming next so they can continue to do what they’ve always done and have it work. But when you shift your beliefs about yourself, your students, and your work, actions change. As I learned more, I questioned the status quo. The environment around me became less predictable and that was hard for my colleagues and on a personal level for my family. As I tried new strategies and found better results for students, I challenged my colleagues to do the same; sometimes overtly, but more often by modeling. Many friends celebrated with me and even asked for coaching around new techniques themselves. Others met me with apathy, avoidance, and in some cases indignance (“I’d like to see you try that with my group… It’ll never work…Forget it”).  As I flourished in my learning life, earning an advanced degree, I found myself on the defensive with members of my family who deemed my time and energy toward this end a selfish pursuit.

Know this: As you take a risk to do differently, begin to see different and positive results, and remain steadfast against setbacks, you will grow. As you grow, you are becoming fuller, better, richer for those in your life; students, colleagues, family, and yourself. Keep the faith.

  1. Action required

“You can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude.”- Eleanor Roosevelt

I’m going to have to respectfully disagree, Mrs. Roosevelt.

Growth mindset requires your actions to match your beliefs. The problem for those of us in education is we know what we are “supposed” to say we believe…

  • all children can learn at high levels
  • as a professional, I must develop and learn how to hone my craft
  • data driven instruction is best for students and for school improvement

We also know much of what we must do to make these beliefs part of our everday reality, but we are resistant or unwilling to take action.

Know this: Whether you are a teacher leader, administrator, or instructional coach, you must dance on the line of pressure to action. That pressure begins with modeling, then continues with invitations to join, and becomes a growth mindset culture when these trends emerge:

  • a shift from “these kids/those kids” mentality to a “my practice/our practice” one. By this I mean fewer mentions of what groups of kids can and cannot accomplish to an increased focus on strategies and practices that affect learning on all points of the continuum.
  • thirst for professional knowledge that reaches beyond the dreaded PD hour contractual requirement (ie: book studies, coaching cycles, edcamps, meetups, classroom visits, etc).
  • professional conversations with student data in the center leading to questions, considerations, and agreements to adjust instructional practice…and the fortitude to elevate the consciousness of our colleagues choosing not to contribute to these conversations meaningfully.
  1. Without it, success in our current educational climate is unlikely

“Important achievements require a clear focus, all-out effort, and a bottomless trunk full of strategies. Plus allies in learning.” -Carol Dweck

A fixed mindset assumes there is a point at which we reach expertise – a feeling of arrival; of having somehow checked all the boxes on the inventory and now we can relax. But if we are to not just survive, but abound in a test focused, impatient initiative-driven educational climate where everyone is looking for the next Balm of Gilead we must, as teacher leader Dave Stuart, Jr. reminds us often, be after “long-term flourishing.”  (Please click on the link and read his article – I simply cannot explain it any better than Stuart does).

Know this: There are “allies in learning” out there if you want this “Growth Mindset” thing for your students and yourself.  Here are a few that inspire me and whose work help me hone my craft:

Dave Stuart, Jr. – teacher leader, author: @davestuartjr

Carol Dweck – Growth Mindset leading researcher,  Professor of Psychology at Stanford University:

Carol Ann Tomlinson – educator, author, speaker

Elena Aguilar – instructional coach, author “The Art of Coaching”, speaker

Jim Knight – research associate in the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning and director of the Kansas Coaching Project

Jackie Gerstein – educator, author, speaker

About our guest author:

Jennifer Cox serves in the role of Goal Clarity Coach at Meyzeek Middle School in Louisville, KY, working with staff and administration to facilitate the purposeful intersection of data, instruction, professional development, and student success. Prior to this, Jennifer served as Instructional Coach for Martha Layne Collins High School in Shelbyville, KY  where she assisted in leading building and district professional development and as facilitator for PEBC’s Thinking Strategies Institute in Shelby County.  Her work with teachers centers on increasing meaningful  literacy instruction across content areas, differentiation, and on increasing the efficacy of discourse between teacher/student as well as among students.

Jennifer’s research focus is growth mindset for teachers and students, workshop model of instruction, and leadership roles precipitating school turnaround.  She has taught in the middle and high school settings since 1997. During that time, she served as a PEBC Regional Lab Host Classroom and was Shelby County Public Schools Middle School Teacher of the Year, Ashland Teacher Award Winner and Kentucky Teacher of the Year Finalist.

Her academic background includes undergraduate work at the University of Kentucky in Middle School Education, Master’s work at Bellarmine University in Middle School Education where she was a Nancy Howard Merit Award recipient for Excellence in Graduate Education.  Her latest endeavor was at the University of Louisville where she earned her Ed. S. in Educational Leadership and was awarded U of L Ed. S. Outstanding Graduate.

3 thoughts on “Guest Post: Growth Mindset- 3 Hard Truths and Some Beautiful Realizations

  1. Wow! What a thoughtful post Jennifer. Much of what you said resonated deeply with me. It’s reassuring to know that the discomfort I feel is not atypical. As I continue my educational journey, which currently includes transitioning to an instructional coaching position and beginning the path to a degree in school district leadership, I will remember you wise words. Thank You!


    • jennifer h cox says:

      I appreciate that, Connie! Best of luck as you pursue your advanced degree. Good for you for braving the path of growth for yourself , your students, and your colleagues- current and future!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank YOU, Connie, for your feedback! Best of luck as you pursue your advanced degree. Bravo! for choosing the path of growth for yourself, your students, and your colleagues – current and future.

      Liked by 1 person

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