“If you have a technology question,” I heard myself saying to a room filled with forty wilting ninth graders in those first stifling days of school, “you should probably ask Ms. Fletcher. I’m not a tech wizard. ” I paused as I felt the weight of those words, and then added, “Yet.”
These days, I’m hearing the word “yet” added to all sorts of sentences. Two years ago, the whole Burlington High School faculty read Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck writes about the differences between a fixed mindset, which holds that folks are born with a finite ability to learn, and a growth mindset, which values challenge and seeks to learn from failure.
These first few weeks of the school year, it has been so clear that Burlington High School’s teachers are taking the growth mindset very seriously. What I’m seeing goes well beyond get-to-know you icebreakers. Yes, ninth graders are practicing names, and learning who has more than three siblings, and who likes sushi. But students in all grades are also listening to each other’s experiences and stories. As I walked past the open doors of unbearably hot classrooms in those first weeks, and I kept hearing student voices. Students were on their feet, talking to each other, learning how to be together. We are building a community of learners.
There is also deep learning going on about mindsets, motivation, learning-styles and brain science. From chemistry class to art class, from algebra to the team-taught humanities classes of ninth grade, students and adults are deeply engaged in talk about the elasticity of the brain, the factors that contribute to learning, and about how to overcome learning challenges. There is a collective shift happening. More and more of us are using the beginning of the year to invest time and effort in helping students understand how and why they learn, and in developing an appreciation of their own learning strengths and weaknesses. I see it every time I head to the copier, which is covered with the leftovers of other teachers’ handouts: a personality inventory, a quiz that identifies learning styles, and readings excerpted from Dweck’s Growth Mindset, and from Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.
It’s true, I’m not a technological wizard. But I have come a long way since the day, some two years ago, when an iPad landed on my desk with an inelegant thud. And, like many of my colleagues, I have been reflecting on the messages I send students when I talk about my own technological learning curve. Through practice, and a willingness to try things that feel uncomfortable and risky, I have made tremendous progress with technology. I can answer questions about Notability; I can show students how to make a button on their homescreen; I can also use Reflector, trim and edit videos, Tweet, and a whole host of other things that I could barely pronounce two years ago.
A growth mindset is more than just jargon at BHS these days. Many, many of us are embracing the idea that students can be taught to learn, to value challenge, to believe in the efficacy of their effort, and to learn from mistakes.
These days, I hear myself saying: “I can’t do that yet, so let’s find someone who can teach us both.”