One of the perks of working at a university is the abundance of interesting free lectures and discussions going on all the time. A few months ago, I was able to attend a discussion by Dr. Garland Allen, Professor Emeritus, Biology Dept. who teaches the history and philosophy of biology – particularly genetics, embryology, and evolution – and their interrelationships between 1880 and 1950, most of which I don’t really understand.
But a lecture he gave that captured my interest was on the connection between the formation of National Parks, the Sierra Club and Eugenics, the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics.
The lecture was fascinating on many levels, but the one point I want to address in this reflection is the racist beliefs that some of the key people who started the Conservation movement including John Muir held. Conservation leaders like John Muir believed that the indigenous people who had inhabited Yosemite for at least 6,000 years were a desecration and had to go. Now whether this was because John Muir and other Americans wanted Yosemite for an American National Park and the First Peoples who lived there were in the way is a story for another occasion.
The point that really got to me was that the white men who were designing the parks, establishing the Sierra Club, etc. viewed the First Peoples as already extinct. Even while their Eugenic standard of “quality” genes are reflected in the First Peoples, they did not include them in their thinking. Partly because they thought the American soldiers had or would eliminate them, and but also First People were on land that Americans wanted and interfered with their way of thinking of them as actual humans.
The broken treaties, some 357 out of the 400 that were made with the First Peoples, are still being broken today, for the same reasons. No matter where the Americans keep pushing the First People; land, water, mineral rights found then force the People off and treaties are ignored.
You only need to look to Standing Rock to see how the systemic racism, genocide and greed continues. For further info, https://www.facebook.com/Standing-Rock-Sioux-Tribe-402298239798452/
A thought that is starting to pick up a considerable measure of support in instructive circles right now is the idea of fixed mindsets versus growth and how, and how they may relate to our students and learning. In view of the work of Stanford University therapist, Carol Dweck, the idea of mindset is identified with our comprehension of where ability or capacity originates from. Recently, instructors having been using the status of mindset as a tool to investigate our insight into student accomplishment, and ways that such achievement may improve.
I have found that the thought of building up a development mentality is as similarly relevant to staff and instructor execution as it is to students. This blog starts with a brief discourse about the distinction between the two outlooks, what that implies for instruction, and finishes up with a few thoughts on how school leaders might look to build up a growth mindset among their staff.
The New Psychology of Success (2000), Dweck built up a continuum whereupon individuals can be set, based on their understandings about where capacity originates from. For a few people (toward one side of the continuum), success and failure depends on innate capacity or the absence of it. Deck depicts this as a fixed theory of intelligence and contends that this offers ascension to a fixed mindset. At the flip side of the continuum are those individuals who that believes achievement depends on a growth mindset. They contend that achievement depends on learning, perseverance and diligent work.
According to Dweck, In a fixed mindset, students think that their abilities, intelligence, and talents are fixed attributes. They have a specific capacity and that’s all there is to it, and after that, their objective is to look smart and never look dumb. With a growth mentality, students understand that their abilities and talents can be developed through purposeful effort, great instruction, and persistence. They don’t really believe everybody’s the same or anybody can be Einstein, however, they trust everybody can become smarter because of work on it.
The vital point for individuals to understand is that mindsets have a substantial effect on our comprehension of achievement and failure. Fixed-mindset individuals fear disappointment, feeling that it reflects negatively upon themselves as people, while growth mindset individuals embrace disappointment and failure as a chance to learn and enhance their abilities.
Obviously, this body of thought has tremendous ramifications in education. One of the most important aspects relates to the cycle of feedback. As indicated by Dweck, when we praise students for how smart they are, we inadvertently may be encouraging them to develop a fixed mindset. On the other hand, when we praise students for their hard work and the process of learning, we are encouraging them to develop a growth mindset and expanding their potential.
We need to truly send the right messages, that embarking on a challenging task is admirable. Adhering to something difficult and attempting it numerous times says that you are committed and willing to work hard to achieve the task. At the end of the day, parents should ask “What amazing struggle did you encounter today?”
According to Dweck’s research students with a growth mindset are significantly more prone to go up against more difficult task and succeed versus students with a fixed mindset -even when all variables remain constant.
When students have a fixed mindset, there have feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. They eventually develop a self-defeating personality, and having toxic thoughts such as ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I’m not smart.’
Alternately, a growth mindset among students will encourage feelings empowerment – students recognize how their actions can to positively influence their own learning and their community.
Mindsets can predict motivation and the achievement of students according to research.
The students with the growth mindset were more motivated to achieve, learn and put forth the effort, and outperformed their counterparts in math.
This finding should apply to not only students but adults as well. Principals can apply this to their staff, they can ask themselves “Does my staff have a growth mindset? “How would a shift in culture of thinking affect my students”
As per Jackie Gerstein, educators, similar to the students they instruct, can learn how to build a growth mindset. This requires strategic planning by school administration. The most obvious method for developing a growth mindset is modeling through professional development. to educator proficient improvement is through displaying. Gerstein has run various expert courses that try to train educators in how to demonstrate a growth mindset among students, and one of her top priorities are urging instructors to consider themselves to be learners, and, much the same as students, teachers are capable of learning, growing and improving their pedagogical practices.
Make space for new thoughts
A second principle requires that school leaders give chances to instructors chances to attempt new things and commit errors. They should be encouraged to innovate. This can appear to be overwhelming for instructors, yet it is fundamental to building up a development mindset. One of the key standards of such an outlook is the willingness and eagerness to attempt new methodologies. While making this space , it is important to begin with the learning in mind; that is, what will teachers and the school learn as part of the process, rather than whether the new idea is going to be a success or a failure.
Making time for self-reflection
While making space for new thoughts is imperative, it is just part of the way toward building up a growth mindset. Connected to it, and similarly imperative, is giving an opportunity to teachers to reflect upon their new thoughts and consider what they’ve learned from the new method. In a perfect world, this reflection should concentrate less on whether the practice was a win or a loss, but instead on what the teacher and student learned from the new practice.
The process of educator performance can be distressing and awkward. However, the process should be view as a process of development. This can be achieved by making it formative rather than summative and inviting the teachers in the process. The feedback would prove more meaningful and relate to the teacher’s everyday practice.
Building a Growth Mindset among students and educators is not a quick process; it will require a purposeful and strategic effort from the school community.
Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House, 2006.
Gerstein, Jackie. “The Educator with a Growth Mindset: A Staff Workshop.” User Generated Education. August 28, 2014. Accessed January 30, 2015. https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/the-educator-wit….
- Seventy-eight percent say they are often physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day.
- Eighty-seven percent say the demands of their job at least sometimes interfere with their family life.
The staggering statistics listed above could be attributed to many different careers—police officers, social workers, military personnel, or senior executives. The aforementioned positions are some of the most stressful jobs in the United States. However, these statistics do not belong to the jobs mentioned. These numbers come from a survey of 30,000 teachers, conducted by the American Federation of Teachers.
Teachers have the honor and great responsibility of molding the next generation of leaders, scientists, doctors, policymakers, and teachers. A teacher arguably plays one of the most integral roles in a child’s life. This role is increasingly stressful and multi-faceted. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers says the following, “We ask teachers to be a combination of Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr….We ask them to be Mom and Dad and impart tough love but also be a shoulder to lean on. And when they don’t do these things, we blame them for not being saviors of the world. What is the effect? The effect has been teachers are incredibly stressed out.”
Teacher Stress and Attrition
Teachers are leaving education at alarming rates. According to Mindful Schools, a nonprofit organization, “Roughly half a million U.S. teachers leave the profession each year – a turnover rate of over 20 percent.” The Alliance for Excellent Education reports on the extreme cost of teacher attrition saying, “…..is not only damaging to schools, it is very costly, adding up to $2.2 billion a year.
Teachers are stressed out, and districts must create solutions and supports for teachers to combat teacher stress. Mindful Schools describes the domino effect of stress, saying, “Toxic stress starts as decreased productivity and creativity, escalating to more serious symptoms like frequent anxiety, dissociation, frustration, and, eventually, burnout.” No one can be expected to do their best work with these types of reactions.
The Solution: Mindfulness for Teachers
What is the solution to teacher stress? Many schools and districts try various ways to reduce the stress that teachers experience by increasing teacher pay, improving staff recognition, and providing better curricular resources. While increasing salary and providing improved professional development is key to retaining top talent, districts are missing the mark. Districts must provide teachers with the tools to combat stress. Mindful Schools explains, “Because the roots of toxic stress lie deep in the nervous system, we need tools that go beyond the conceptual mind to directly target that system. To transform our habitual responses, we need to regularly practice our skills when we are not in “fight – flight – freeze” mode.”
The key to transforming stress could lie in the practice of mindfulness meditation. John Kabat-Zinn, a researcher who has studied the benefits of mindfulness since the 1970s states the following, “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” It’s about knowing what is on your mind.” Mindfulness provides the practitioner with the ability to go back to one’s breath during difficult moments. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk known for his teachings on mindfulness says the following,
Mindfulness is the energy that helps us recognize the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives. It is present in every moment of your daily life. There are those of us who are alive but don’t know it. But when you breathe in, and you are aware of your in-breath, you touch the miracle of being alive. That is why mindfulness is a source of happiness and joy.
Many might be skeptical that being in the present moment and breathing deeply could prevent teacher burnout and toxic stress. However, several studies have indicated the overall benefits that mindfulness can have on one’s health. The University of Arizona reported on a study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies. The study of 860 Buddhist practitioners concluded that mindfulness training benefits people both physically and mentally. Specifically, mindfulness training, “improved social relationships with family and strangers and reduced stress, depression, and anxiety while increasing well-being and happiness.” Furthermore, The Huffington Post recently reported on a study that linked mindfulness with decreased amounts of the stress hormone, cortisol.
Thich Nhat Hanh leads an organization called Wake Up Schools as he is passionate about spreading mindfulness to teachers. Thich summarizes the powerful impact of mindful teachers, “With mindfulness teachers and students can experience more peace, learn how to take care of difficult emotions and create conditions for a happy school and a happy world.”
Imagine how different our schools could be if teachers were trained to practice mindfulness….
Zarcone, Kelly.Mindfulness Training Has Positive Health Benefits. Retrieved from https://nau.edu/research/feature-stories/mindfulness-training-has-positive-health-benefits/
Mindful Staff. (2016). Jon Kabat-Zinn: Defining Mindfulness. Retrieved from http://www.mindful.org/jon-kabat-zinn-defining-mindfulness/
Why Mindfulness is Needed in Education. Retrieved from http://www.mindfulschools.org/about-mindfulness/mindfulness-in-education
Layton, L. (2015). Is the classroom a stressful place? Thousands of teachers say yes. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/is-the-classroom-a-stressful-place-thousands-of-teachers-say-yes/2015/05/12/829f56d8-f81b-11e4-9030-b4732caefe81_story.html
Mindfulness Meditation Could Lower Levels Of Cortisol, The Stress Hormone. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/31/mindfulness-meditation-cortisol-stress-levels_n_2965197.htm
Teacher Attrition Costs United States Up to $2.2 Billion Annually, Says New Alliance Report. Retrieved from http://all4ed.org/press/teacher-attrition-costs-united-states-up-to-2-2-billion-annually-says-new-alliance-report/
- Why Mindfulness? Retrieved from wakeupschools.org