Friday, July 13, 2012

Stop. Engage the Growth Mindset

My dear friend and grade level team member recently announced she had been offered and (unfortunately) accepted a job in a nearby district.  This is a great move for her as she will be working closer to her home and be able to spend more time with her family.  My initial response to this scenario (remember she is a dear friend and colleague—i.e.—my world is crashing down) was very fixed.  I’m not proud of it, but my reaction with reference to my professional life was, “How in the world can my team provide better instruction to our incoming students next year when we have to get a new team member on board with our shared responsibility model?” 
Get a grip.  (AKA-Engage my dynamic mindset)
Start a blog.
Continue to collaborate.
In the 24-48 hours that have passed since I found out about this catastrophic change, my own thinking is swinging to be more dynamic.  This shift in which I have decided to make lemonade from the lemons that were left on my whiteboard ledge is an important moment for me--not just because my husband is happy that I’m not moping around anymore.   The mindset shift I noticed in myself is one that has practical implications in my day to day teaching.   As Peter Johnston notes in Opening Minds, it is the mindset we utilize when we encounter struggle that most defines us.  I want to share with my students the possibility and power of shifting our mindset. 
Action Plan:  Model authentic mindset shifts as they occur
To accomplish this action plan, I must first raise my first graders’ awareness that we all struggle.  That’s right…even their teacher, principal, and parents struggle.  Secondly, I must model that we have a choice as to which mindset we use when confronting a struggle (fixed or dynamic).  Third, I want students to observe how to coach oneself in a mindset shift–the decision to make lemonade from those juicy lemons. 
Since my first graders love hearing my personal stories, I might indulge them in my struggles as a new mom.  My current list of struggles includes getting my three month old to take a bottle, getting spit up stains out of our rugs, and the list goes on.  Accompanying these struggles are feelings of confusion, frustration, worry and/or disappointment which easily awaken my fixed mindset.  It is in these moments of struggle that I have a choice.  I can let the fixed mindset prevail and the said struggle becomes a permanent quality about me or I can awaken my dynamic mindset and grow.    When I engage my dynamic mindset, I begin to access resources.  Is there a term for speed dialing on the Internet?  If so, I speed dial Google often.  My mom always has knowledge to share about child rearing, too.  It should be noted that it takes effort to access the resources and execute the ideas gained, but it is worthwhile effort.  The pride I feel following the learning is a feeling I hope all of my students experience regularly.
Once I’ve shared the decision to engage my growth mindset in my personal life, I anticipate the concept will authentically surface in the school setting.  For example, I can model my pursuit to write a circle story about how I poured way too much syrup on my plate and ended up having to eat more pancakes to mop up the syrup.  Although I may originally feel my content lends itself to the circle story structure, if the story doesn’t develop with ease, frustration may soon set in. 
Pause. (a few moments, a few  days…whatever it takes).
Engage my growth mindset.
Try again by continuing to pursue telling my story through the circle story structure, choosing a different structure OR consciously noting the learning from the struggle. 
Although struggle might be full of negative connotation, imagine what struggle can bring when you confront it with a dynamic perspective.   I’m witnessing the fruit of my struggle today.  Despite job changes, my dear friend and collaborator, Lisa, and I embark on a journey to blog about our practices as teachers.  It is a way that we can continue our collaborative reflection. 

I’m so glad I was reading Opening Minds when I encountered this struggle, so I could note my mindset shift and have the words to articulate it.  As Johnston entitles his first chapter, “Changing words, changing worlds.”

P.S.-  Thank you to Franki Sibberson, Cathy Mere,  Karen Terlecky, Laura Komos , Jan Burkis and Kim Yaris and other bloggers that have helped enhance Lisa and my practices and see the possibilities of focusing our instruction through reflective blogging.   This new journey of blogging is our lemonade.
P.S.S.-Thanks to Choice Literacy’s Big Fresh for helping us find the bloggers. 


  1. Thank you for your honest post. I have had team members who have moved on to different opportunities, and I was scared to death. But now I have amazing new team members and we're on the same page again. Change is something that is scary (similar to changing the talk in our classroom or sharing our own personal stories) but in my past I have learned change has really helped me grow and become a stronger person/teacher. Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment.

    1. Thanks for sharing your positive experiences with change, Maria. I do know that our new team member will help me grow, too. I'm finding that I will have to be very focused on maintaining my dynamic mindset for this situation.

  2. Amber,
    OK, first of all, I have to say I am SO EXCITED to see a new blog started during #cyberPD. It just makes me want to sing --- but I'm a terrible singer (thankfully you won't have to hear any of that in cyberspace). I'm looking forward to following your journey. I'm glad that you and Lisa have found a way to stay connected.

    I enjoyed reading your post. You really had me thinking about the fine line we sometimes walk between our fixed and dynamic thinking. There are situations that make us want to quickly shut down. As you said, it is at that point we have "a choice." I'm thinking this is the point I want my students to know about and understand. That place where are learning gets hard and we can quit or start to think of a way to work through it.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I'm so glad you have joined the conversation.


    1. Hi Cathy,
      You found the salient point buried in my haystack of emotions: choice. I've been convinced for a while that I don't share my struggles with students enough (but still haven't effectively changed my practice). As you pointed out, it is the idea that we each have a choice to make when we encounter struggle that I need to share, as well.
      Thanks again for leading this online conversation. I am fascinated by everyone's thoughts.

  3. Amber,

    I loved how you were able to connect the changes in your life to the book. We all have to learn to deal with change and you are right if we can look at what mindset we are in, that will be half the battle. I like your new blog as a way to still collaborate and stay connected with your former teammate. What a great solution.


  4. Thanks for stopping by our blog. #CyberPD is such a rich experience--and it is just getting started!

  5. Amber,
    Welcome to the blogging world! We're so happy to hear your voice here. I was touched (and impressed) with how you connected Johnston's words to those real-life challenges we all face. And you truly have found an amazing way to keep that collaboration/connection going. I love that blogging is your lemonade! I'm so looking forward to reading more of your thoughts.

  6. Hi Laura,
    Thanks for the welcome! I've been reading your tweets and blogs for a while. One of my recent favorites is your post about book shopping! I'll be revisiting that post before school starts again.