Upon completion of my latest course in the Digital Learning and Leading program, we were given the opportunity to reflect on our own learning journey, and how this affects our ability to create a significant learning environment for our students. Within this reflection, we revisited how our mindset has a direct influence on the environment we create for our learners, for better or for worse. A growth vs fixed mindset was introduced through Carol Dweck’s (2006) book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success in the first course of the DLL program in which we developed our first growth mindset plan for both ourselves and our learners. This plan was heavily influenced by Dweck’s four-step plan to a Growth Mindset (n.d.). I reflected on how I approach challenges, failures, and successes, and where I fall on the fixed vs growth mindset scale. I found that in the courses that followed invited me to authentically adopt a mindset that consistently revisits previously held beliefs, ideas, processes, and how these reflections can enhance learning in both my future and the future of my learners. I believe our time is valuable, so my goal is to seek opportunities to create authentic learning environments that reflect that value, and promote a life-long love of learning within my students.
As I revisited my first growth mindset plan and reflection linked as Impact of a Growth Mindset, I found that much of what I previously believed remained true, but had deepened over the course of the past few months. In the first reflection, I reflected on where the true foundation for developing a growth mindset resided, and I had determined it was based in humility. Where I still believe this, my belief has taken it a step further to suggest that developing a growth mindset means we must be open to vulnerability. Vulnerability is often seen in our society as a weakness rather than a strength, but I would argue that it is one of the strongest attributes we can develop, especially when developing and promoting the growth mindset. The reason I am revisiting this particular attribute is because I believe that if we truly want authentic change, we need to understand the foundation in which it will flourish. We will be able to own our process rather than aimlessly attempt to practice without any sense of real clarity. To develop a growth mindset, or what my professor, Dr. Harapnuik defined as a “learner’s mindset,” it has to be lived out, and cannot be faked (2019). Vulnerability and humility grants us permission to own our weaknesses and the opportunity to fail forward. We learn about grace, and how extending it to ourselves teaches us how to extend it to others. This in turn develops a trusting community where we can heal and ignite passion from learning from one another’s stories. The learner’s mindset sets us free to dream, create, and be the change we wish to see in the world.
The foundation in developing a significant learning environment stems from our ability to create a community that promotes a strong classroom culture. Sir Ken Robinson stated “Education is a human system and there are conditions in which humans thrive, and conditions in which they don’t. We are, after all, organic creatures, and the culture of the school is essential” (2013). The relationships we build with ourselves and our students will directly affect the environment and classroom culture. Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown (2011) promote in their book The New Culture of Learning, the importance culture has in creating significant learning environments and classroom culture. The fundamental difference in a traditional teaching-based approach and the learning-based approach is in “the first case the culture is the environment, while in the second, the culture emerges from and grows along with the environment” (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p. 37). I believe that when we guide our learners to develop a true growth mindset, we will create a growth-minded culture that will flourish and exceed expectations far beyond what we previously thought was capable.
Thomas and Brown (2011) also suggest that learning has shifted from one of explicit knowledge to a culture of tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge argues that learning should be approached in an information heavy setting in which the learner is to inhale as much facts as possible in hopes to tackle every standard needed to pass to the next grade. This promotes what is known as the fixed mindset. Carol Dweck describes the fixed mindset as one that is set in its current state of intelligence and abilities (2006). There is essentially no room for growth, and the risk of feeling less than intelligent is high. Vulnerability and humility are foreign in this type of mindset, therefore a fixed mindset limits one’s opportunities to fail forward, and see challenges as a chance to learn and relate to others. This is unfortunate because our learners who have adopted this mindset view learning as a “pass or fail” mentality, not ever considering that both successes and failures can lead them to deeper learning. Seth Godin introduces the metaphor of collecting vs connecting the dots in which information in the traditional sense is collected in the learner’s mind, but not invited to connect it meaningfully. “Connecting dots, solving the problem that hasn’t been solved before, seeing the pattern before it is made obvious, is more essential than ever before” (Godin, 2014). Tacit knowledge (Thomas and Brown, 2011) sets an environment that promotes “connecting the dots” rather than merely “collecting.” This promotes connecting both successes and failures to engage learning, and developing determination and resilience to keep going. One of the most powerful words Dweck (2006) uses to illustrate what it is to have a growth mindset is the word “yet.” This little word packs tremendous hope for us to get up in the face of setbacks and reflect on how to improve for next time. Yet has reminded my learners and myself to reflect on our “why” and to keep our eyes on our goal. And when all is said and done, that goal is learning.
In order to actively live out the Growth Mindset with my learners, I am determined to create a Significant Learning Environment in which we all learn from one another. I desire to help my students cultivate a true sense of choice, ownership, and voice through authentic learning (COVA). In doing so, they develop ownership of their understanding and lead others how to do the same. It allows them to have control in their own learning, and promote individuality and engagement. Beginning next year, I plan to implement my innovation plan to launch Project Based Learning in my classroom in hopes that it will catch the attention of my colleagues to implement in their classrooms as well. The guiding approach behind PBL is to ask relevant questions so that students feel that their learning matters, and they can attach it to real world issues. It promotes the ownership of their learning environment and a sense of purpose to seek solutions to these real world issues. PBL is based in constructivism in which learners connect prior knowledge, experience, and understanding to new concepts. Every exposure and experience leads to deeper understanding, and builds or reconstructs prior beliefs. It confronts the fixed mindset in which it requires an understanding of the learning process, and elasticity in intelligence. If our abilities are truly fixed, then we would never benefit from new experiences or exposure to new ways of thought. Constructivism debunks the myth that suggests our intelligence is set for life, and to measure that intelligence we must promote a society of standardized testing and conformity. This learning philosophy sets us free to approach learning with a fresh outlook, and attach even more power to the word “yet.” Just because we may not understand something now, doesn’t mean we never will. Perhaps we haven’t been in a situation that invites us to reflect on it with experience that only comes with actively living our lives.
To further map out this environment for our learners, we were asked to develop a 3-Column Course Map developed by L. Dee Fink’s (2005) taxonomy and Jim Collins’ (1994) Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). This plan intends to help learners see exactly where they are going in the learning process and addresses why they are learning it in the first place. The three column table lays out the details of the learning goals, learning activities, and assessments so learners are aware of the expectations and have a chance to own these expectations for themselves. This map also compliments PBL in which it helps learners tie their learning to the world around them. It also promotes a sense of spontaneous discovery in which learners are given the freedom to approach the learning goal in a way that helps them develop their interests and talents in the process. In this approach, it takes the pressure and anxiety off of the student to try to guess where they’re going, and allows them to focus on how they plan to creatively get there.
Along with the 3 Column Course Map, I zoomed in on the detail of this unit using Wiggins and McTighe’s (2005) Understanding by Design (UbD) approach. UbD takes a closer look at the learning objectives and asks how exactly they fit within the course as a whole. It is much more detail-oriented, and helps the facilitator develop daily essential questions, learning activities, assessments, and influences the central goal or learning objectives. The course is designed with a perspective of our learners so we can anticipate difficulties that may cause a disruption in the learning process. The project I designed using the UbD approach is linked here Understanding by Design.
I am grateful for every opportunity to stretch my beliefs and work through Dweck’s four steps to developing a Growth Mindset. It has been equally as difficult as it has been enlightening, and I anticipate the future courses that require continuous meta-cognitive reflection to be the same. Where much of my frustration in maintaining a growth mindset comes from being asked to re-visit an idea to the point I’m fearful of sounding redundant, I do understand the necessity in this reflection due to my learning philosophy grounded in constructivist views. I find myself struggling with believing I will come up with something original yet again on the same topic, but I am pleasantly amazed with the ability to do so. I believe this is where we begin to see our own growth mindset expand and deliver more experienced reflections. It is in this moment where our ideas truly become our own. Helping our learners embrace the Growth Mindset or what I plan to begin calling the Learner’s Mindset will help them develop a true appreciation for grit, resilience, and learning. If we help them view learning and mastery as the goal rather than grades or test scores, then these traditional approaches will matter less over time. I believe it will inspire our learners to learn from one another rather than compete. If this competition is removed, it will also work to eliminate the temptation to cheat. If we develop a culture of growth mindset within our learners, it will promote a sense of respect for one another’s work, and further develop ownership of their learning environment.
The misconception in promoting the Growth Mindset is the talk without the walk. It is easy to plaster a growth mindset poster on the wall and walk through the steps blindly without really having any understanding of what it truly means to live it out. This brings us back to the above paragraph on vulnerability and humility. These two attributes are strengths, but they do not appear on their own. It takes grit and resilience to come to terms with one’s own weaknesses and failures. However, these failures do not define their identities, they’re there to teach us how to grow inspite of them. All of the feel-good, desired emotions that come with the human experience cannot exist without the presence of the alternative, sometimes uncomfortable emotions (Brown, 2011). When we understand this, only then will we be able to learn that failure and the feelings that come from failure are there to move us forward with a new wisdom that was not there before. When we develop a true learner’s mindset, we will be prepared to work through life’s setbacks and have grace for ourselves and others along the way. My hope for this next year will be to help my learners see their potential as limitless, and that they are fully equipped to be forces of change they wish to see in the world.
Along with links to work throughout this post, I have included links to the list of work completed in this latest course Creating Significant Learning Environments:
- Significant Learning Environments
- My Learning Philosophy
- Column Course Map-The Learning Journey
- Understanding by Design
- The Learner’s Mindset
Brown, B. (2011). The power of vulnerability. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o
Collins, J. & Porras, J. (1994). Built to last: Successful habits of visionary companies. New York, NY: Harper Business.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books.
Dweck, C. S. (n.d.). How can you change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset? Retrieved from www.mindsetonline.com
Fink, L. D. (2005). A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. Retrieved from: https://www.deefinkandassociates.com/GuidetoCourseDesignAug05.pdf
Godin, S. (2014). Connecting dots (or collecting dots). Retrieved from: https://seths.blog/2014/04/connecting-dots-or-collecting-dots/
Harapnuik, D. (2018). Cova. Retrieved from http://www.harapnuik.org/?page_id=6991
Robinson, K. (April, 2013). How to escape education’s death valley. Retrieved from: https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_how_to_escape_education_s_death_valley
Thomas, D. & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Printed by CreateSpace.Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.