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Posts Tagged ‘teacher voice

Developing a Flexible & Risk-Taking Mindset

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A flexible and risk-taking mindset rather than a fixed one will benefit all stakeholders in an educator’s realm: the educator’s learners, colleagues, her or his learners’ families, the community, the field of education-at-large, and of course, the educator him-or herself.

Mindset is defined as “a set of assumptions, methods, or notations held by one or more people or groups of people that is so established that it creates a powerful incentive within these people or groups to continue to adopt or accept prior behaviors, choices, or tools.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindset)

Given today’s climate in education systems, one based on accountability, scripted curriculum, and teaching to the teach, far too many teachers develop a fixed mindset. Many educators feel forced into a paradigm of teaching where they feel subjected to teaching practices outside of their control. Then when they are asked to engage in a process of continued growth and development, many profess: “I don’t have enough time.”, “I don’t have enough resources.”, “I need more training.”, “I need to teach using the textbook.” ,”I need to teach to the test.”, “I might lose control of the class.”, “I have always successful taught this way.”

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What happens way too often is that given these restraints, educators develop feelings of powerless and of learned helplessness. This leads to developing beliefs that they have no freedom to take risks nor to try out new things in their classrooms. Sadly, though, this becomes an over-generalization.

It is a myth that we operate under a set of oppressive bureaucratic constraints. In reality, teachers have a great deal of autonomy in the work they chose to do in their classrooms. In most cases it is our culture that provides the constraints. For individual teachers, trying out new practices and pedagogy is risky business and both our culture, and our reliance on hierarchy, provide the ideal barriers for change not to occur. As Pogo pointed out long ago, “we have met the enemy and it is us.” http://www.cea-ace.ca/blog/brian-harrison/2013/09/5/stop-asking-permission-change

Instead of this type of fixed and paralyzing mindset, educators should focus on having a flexible and risk-taking mindset. I know that these qualities can be part of a growth mindset which is usually discussed in terms of a growth vs. a fixed mindset.  I wanted, though, something specific to educators that signifies their willingness to keep evolving and building their professional skills.

What follows are some strategies educators can use to develop, further develop, and maintain a flexible and risk-taking mindset:

  • Develop an awareness when you enter the status quo and mediocrity complacency. Recognize it. Revisit it often. Talk about it. Shake yourself out of it in any way possible!  Interestingly, Mr. C. discussed this in a very recent blog post.

I developed an “If it ain’t broke why fix it” attitude. By being comfortable and satisfied with the status quo had I stopped learning, innovating, moving forward…being successful? (Does the Status Quo Make you Comfortable?)

  • Engage in continuous reflective practice. As I discussed in Where is reflection in the learning process?, educators need to be engaged in ongoing reflective practice to stay fresh and invigorated, and to insure that your actions in the learning environment are done with intentionality.

The critically reflective habit confers a deeper benefit than that of procedural utility. It grounds not only our actions, but also our sense of who we are as teachers in an examined reality. We know why we believe what we believe. A critically reflective teacher is much better placed to communicate to colleagues and students (as well as to herself) the rationale behind her practice. She works from a position of informed commitment. She knows why she does and thinks, what she does and thinks.  Stephen Brookfield

  • Establish both face-to-face and online personal/professional learning networks with other educators and other professionals, ones who try to live their professional lives with a flexible and risk-taking mindset.
  • Try and learn new things in the classroom modeling taking risks and being a lead learner. As A.J. Juliani notes in 10 Risks Every Teacher Should Take With Their Class:

As I work with students and teachers there is one common thread that the “stand-out” classrooms share: They take risks. Not only do these students and teachers take learning risks, but they also take them together. They are partners in the learning process, where the teacher is the “lead learner”.  A.J. Juliani

  • Attend conferences, workshops, and other professional development opportunities outside of your comfort area . . . way outside of your comfort zone.

The bottom line becomes focusing on what can work rather than what is not working.  This is not to devalue the obstacles that teachers face. It becomes about noting where change is possible and making some small changes in teaching.  Small changes often result in larger, more systemic change.

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. . . and sometimes having a flexible and risk-taking mindsets makes an educator an outlier educator in his or her school environment and it takes courage to be an outlier educator.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 7, 2016 at 11:04 pm

Teacher Agency: Educators Moving from a Fixed to a Growth Mindset

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It is a myth that we operate under a set of oppressive bureaucratic constraints. In reality, teachers have a great deal of autonomy in the work they chose to do in their classrooms. In most cases it is our culture that provides the constraints. For individual teachers, trying out new practices and pedagogy is risky business and both our culture, and our reliance on hierarchy, provide the ideal barriers for change not to occur. As Pogo pointed out long ago, “we have met the enemy and it is us.” http://www.cea-ace.ca/blog/brian-harrison/2013/09/5/stop-asking-permission-change

Educational psychology has focused on the concepts of learned helplessness and more currently growth-fixed mindsets as a way to explain how and why students give up in the classroom setting.  These ideas can also be applied to educators in this day of forced standardization, testing, scripted curriculum, and school initiatives.

Many educators feel forced into a paradigm of teaching where they feel subjected to teaching practices outside of their control. Then when they are asked to engage in a process of continued growth and development, many profess: “I don’t have enough time.”, “I don’t have enough resources.”, “I need more training.”, “I need to teach using the textbook.” ,”I need to teach to the test.”, “I might lose control of the class.”, “I have always successful taught this way.”

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But these are external obstacles whereby the educator places blame for resisting change or engaging in a growth mindset outside of one’s own responsibility. The result is a fixed mindset of learned helplessness, “I cannot change because the system won’t let me change.”  Sometimes educators are creating some obstacles for themselves that in reality don’t exist.

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A mental shift occurs when a fixed mindset which often leads to learned helplessness is changed to a growth and positive mindset, believing that there are options; that one can grow, change, and be significant.

How you interpret challenges, setbacks, and criticism is your choice. You can interpret them in a fixed mindset as signs that your fixed talents or abilities are lacking. Or you can interpret them in a growth mindset as signs that you need to ramp up your strategies and effort, stretch yourself, and expand your abilities. It’s up to you. http://mindsetonline.com/changeyourmindset/firststeps/

It becomes focusing on what can work rather than what is not working.  This is not to devalue the obstacles that teachers face. It becomes about noting where change is possible and making some small changes in teaching.  Small changes often result in larger, more systemic change.

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Teacher Agency

The deeper issue related to a fixed versus a growth mindset in education is one of teacher agency.

Teacher agency is typically viewed as a quality within educators, a matter of personal capacity to act (Priestly et al., 2012) usually in response to stimuli within their pedagogical environment. It describes an educator who has both the ability and opportunity to act upon a set of circumstances that presents itself within that individual’s leadership, curricular or instructional roles. The educator described would then draw from acquired knowledge and experience to intercede appropriately and effectively. Agency is increasingly rare in the educational world of prescriptive improvement, and the term is too “often utilized as a slogan to support school-based reform” (Priestley, Biesta & Robinson, 2012, p. 3). Teacher Agency in America and Finland By Roger Wilson, GVSU Faculty

But most educators would probably agree that out of all of the professions, they feel that their voices have the least amount of power; are the ones least heard of any profession when voicing desires, needs, innovative ideas.  Samuel A. Culbert, a professor in the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, noted in the New York Times opinion piece: How to Raise the Status of Teachers: Allow More Autonomy:

The way to make stars out of teachers is to let teachers be stars, to let them be as innovative as they can be, to let them find the path that works best for them and their students. If they are allowed to search for the best answers, they’ll find them.  Instead, we’re doing the opposite: we’re telling them that if they want to keep their jobs, they have to do what people who know so much less than they do about education tell them to do. They have to dance to some constantly changing, politically created tune that is guaranteed to leave them demoralized and their students floundering.

The bottom line, is that teachers need to reclaim their perceived and real teacher agency, voice, and empowerment. They need to develop a growth mindset that they can and do have agency in their profession.

With all that is happening in the education profession today, it is important to remember that teacher’s have power to change the system. This power for change can be called “Agency” which is defined as the capacity of teachers to shape critically their responses to educational processes and practices (Biesta and Teddler, 2006).  With all the external push from various sectors, ultimately teachers are the ones that can cut through all of the cross-purposed mandates and transform their own process and practices to ensure the best educational experiences for their students.  Teacher Agency and Today’s Teachers

Some concrete strategies educators can do for gaining and increasing their agency include:

  • Revisit and/or develop a strong teaching mission and vision.  Use it to inform your teaching practices, broadcast it to students, students’ parents, and colleagues.  See How Do I Write a Teacher Mission Statement?
  • Create time and space to develop a classroom you wished you had as a child; would want for your own children.  Be fearless and unapologetic about creating this type of classroom.
  • Find and use your own voice in the teachers’ lounge, teachers’ meetings, via blogging or social media.  Publicize your successes and accomplishments via social media.  See my post, Every Educator Has a Story . . . Just Tell It.
  • Develop and participate in strong Professional Learning Communities.
  • Get involved in local politics – attend and use your voice at school board meetings, local political meetings.

In conclusion, teacher voice, empowerment, and agency is needed for the educational reform that so many desire . . .

More than ever we — teachers — must be a vital part of this national conversation. As teachers, we have a responsibility to our students and communities to share our collective wisdom in an effort to facilitate quality reform. To get this reform effort right, teachers must be seated at the table demanding the type of change that will be in the best interest of our children, our fellow teachers, and our country.

Reforming our great profession is a necessary step in the development of our nation in general. We have a unique opportunity to share our stories, the good and the bad, in an effort to equip our colleagues to more adequately prepare their students for the future that awaits us all.  Teacher Voices Must Be Heard

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 6, 2013 at 9:59 pm

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