Our Teachers, New Technologies in learning, and the Growth Mindset

Excerpted and adapted from my remarks at New Parent Night, August 19, 2010

Welcome to St. Gregory; we are so glad you are joining our school community.    You have come at a very exciting time, both in the history of our school and in the current national conversation about K-12 education.   This is a time of great change and energy in thinking about what and how our students need to learn in our fast-changing world.

A great example of how our school is changing and aligning itself with contemporary best practices is our new Wings program: 1:1 laptops at St. Gregory, by which every student has a laptop (netbook) and uses it every day.   This is a key step in the development of our educational program, one where our students exploit the power of digital technology to collaborate, communicate, and create on-line– and in so doing, develop exactly the critical skills necessary for success in our new global economy.

Our teachers are fully embracing, with good enthusiasm and great attitudes, these developments and this new era in learning.    What is more, and more important, is that our teachers are learning too.  One of the most exciting aspects of this new era of technology integration in learning is the way our teachers are, each and every day, learning in their classrooms and growing in their skills.  Our teachers are:

  • attending conferences in Memphis, Phoenix, San Francisco, and elsewhere;
  • visiting schools in Dallas, San Diego, and Vail;
  • reading and preparing presentations on assigned books this summer;
  • and are meeting two hours every week, Monday and Friday mornings, for collaboration and sharing of techniques and resources for our new educational initiatives.

Our teachers are also learning from our students, asking them about ways they might research, publish, or create with the technology that sometimes some of our students know more about than we do.   This very morning, as an example, I spent an hour in World History working with some ninth graders as we all learned new techniques in Prezi, an alternative to PowerPoint for presentations, and let me tell you I learned a lot from one of my ninth graders!

In doing so, our teachers are not just learning themselves the skills and techniques crucial for learning today, they are serving as wonderful role models of a “growth mindset.”    This is a concept, from Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, that I think is among the very most important lesson from learning psychology in the last decade.   She explains in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success ,that it is very valuable for all us, educators and parents (and human beings) to recognize that there are conceptually  two separate mindsets– one fixed, the other growth.

The fixed mindset is one where we decide, often unconsciously or barely consciously, that on any given subject, we have already learned all that we can– that our learning about it, our understanding of it, is pretty much fixed in place.    This can operate in either of two ways– one in which we think we are too stupid to learn anything more, such as thinking that we are just no good at math and can never learn more about it; the other way in which we can think we are very smart about something and then, hence, cannot tolerate having that conviction be tested by trying to learn something more about it.

Both forms of the fixed mindset can be so problematic for our students, and for ourselves as adults– we can decide not to try to learn something because we feel we cannot, or alternatively we can be afraid to ask a question or tackle something challenging because we are afraid we will expose ourselves as not being smart at something we have the mindset we are smart about.

The growth mindset is the opposite– and is so vital!  In this mindset, whether we be children or adults,  we believe that no matter how much we do or don’t already know about something, we accept and delight in the fact that there is always lots more to learn about it, and we delight in doing so without fear or hesitation or insecurity, or we give great effort because we know that learning and knowledge is the result far more of perspiration than inspiration.  We don’t carry ourselves around others as needing to be recognized as experts, but rather as being fellow sojourners in the quest to understand better.

Teachers, generally, and this is a very sad statement, but I fear too many teachers generally (and like so very many of us, perhaps the majority of us) suffer from a fixed mindset.  What these teachers learned about teaching from their own teachers, or in education school or in their first few years of teaching, is all they think there is to know.   They might think that they have already mastered their teaching, or that they are just unable to adapt to these new technologies in teaching– they just can’t do this new stuff.  Or, they think they can’t ask questions or try things that might not work perfectly the first time because to do so would be to expose them as less than masterful teachers, (when in fact it demonstrates they are still learners and growers themselves!)

But what our St. Gregory teachers are demonstrating and role modeling daily this new school year as we embark on our new 1:1 laptop program is an open-minded willingness and even eagerness to learn these new techniques and exploit– with some risk-taking and some mistake-making and a lot of learning along the way– the new technologies and new techniques of our still-new century and new era in learning.

And in doing so, they are facilitating their students learning and growth in ways above and beyond the particular technologies and techniques. In moments when they actually demonstrate to students they are learning something new as they use a new web 2.0 tool in their teaching, or when they ask students for assistance or advice on a technological tool or website, they are by their modeling promoting our students’ adoption of the growth mindset– as I urge you, as parents, do too.  And this, ultimately, may be as or even more significant to our students’ intellectual and academic growth as the integration of digital tools.