I’ve finished reading Carol Dweck’s seminal book, Mindsets. Dweck dedicates half of Chapter 7 to exploring what makes a great teacher. It’s powerful reading because it illustrates how pervasive the messages students receive in classrooms are in reinforcing ‘fixed’ mindsets about intelligence. Dweck writes “great teachers believe in the growth of intellect and talent, and they are fascinated with the process of learning.”
John Hattie makes reference to Dweck in his work and expands on the notion of mindsets, which should underpin all decision making at schools. In Visible Learning for Teachers, Hattie presents eight for teachers/leaders.
Dweck admits that teachers who have fixed mindsets create ‘an atmosphere of judging’ – they decide very early on who is worth the effort and who isn’t. Growth-minded teachers enable students to reach high standards by identifying strategies and giving feedback. It is a continuous challenge-feedback-learning loop in action.
Dweck astutely captures what great teachers do – they see teaching as a way to learn about themselves, their students, the world. She concedes that fixed minded teachers see themselves as ‘finished products’ whose role is simply to impart knowledge. One is focused on learning, the other on teaching.
Hattie expands on this in Mind Frame #3. He says in relation to professional development, the focus “should be about the impact of our teaching. And while you could argue that this mind frame is a bit strong because of the emphasis I place on learning rather than on teaching – this might suggest we should have learning colleges, not teachers colleges. I want to get away from debates we have about teaching. Not because teaching isn’t important – it’s too strong to say it’s not, of course – but it’s wrong for it to be the one and only focus.”
After reading Dweck and Hattie, I am even more convinced that the industrial model of schooling (and teaching) is based on a fixed mindset. Everything is planned, packaged and pre-judged. There is no space for just in time learning and or improvised teaching. Hattie says we adopt this teacher-centred stance because of what we’ve been taught – create a lesson, plan an activity. This model unfortunately perpetuates the fixed mindset about student intelligence and learning. In theory, a contemporary student-centred model of schooling should be rooted in the growth mindset. And that requires growth-minded teachers and leaders.
Hattie admits that we don’t ask teachers to come into the profession because they are expert problem solvers or apt at improvising, we ask them to teach because they are ‘willing to adopt a traditional mode of teaching. It requires them to have a particular way of thinking about what their job is, and this perspective can actually diminish improvisation and ingenuity.”
The big question is how do we change teachers’ mindsets? How do we move from fixed to growth, from sages to activators?
What Dweck’s research shows is that it is possible to think differently and when we think differently about our students, we are in a stronger position to teach differently. To quote Hattie, “teachers’ beliefs and commitments are the greatest influence on student achievement over which we can have some control.”