My husband and I just finished clearing our 576 square feet of soil that we call our vegetable garden. Until recently, it was full of flourishing, happy, spring time weeds that we just let grow for far too long.
Our vegetable garden is a battle we fight every spring. The Memorial Day weekend rolls around with its beautiful weather, lengthening days, and the promise of growing our own pumpkins for the fall, from seed, gets us right back out there with shovels. We (or maybe just me) become re-inspired by what our enormous, urban garden could become.
Vegetable gardens take a lot of work. Maintenance is required nearly every season of the year, depending on where you live.
So gardening has been on my mind the last few weeks and having just returned from my second year attending the Traverse Conference, hosted by the Watershed School in Boulder, Colorado, I found myself thinking about our roles as school leaders, educators, and "changemakers". We often speak of how we need to cultivate our students’ mindsets for growth and innovation. This is, indeed, true and I believe is becoming more and more crucial every day. However, I believe it is equally important that we develop the same mindsets in the adults we entrust to lead them. The learning environments we create, and the instruction we design, promote a culture of thinking and a growth mindset that can be prolific.
I wondered: How might we cultivate a growth mindset in our teachers?
Identifying a growth mindset teacher
First, I think we must know how to identify a teacher with a propensity for innovation. Any person in a position of fostering cultural transformation within a school could identify a teacher with a growth mindset by observing the following characteristics:
Producing the most yield
Growth mindset teachers are the seeds of transformation and they will help grow the instructional landscape in your school, so it is vital to nurture them well. By following a few simple steps, you can help ensure that the characteristics of a growth mindset teacher take hold of your school culture with deep, healthy roots.
1. Help them find spaces to flourish.
Growth mindset teachers need new roles, new professional relationships, new experiences, and new connections to thrive. Remember, they’re sending out runners and you can help them by introducing them to other people and places that are doing the same.
2. Honor their “Yes, and” mindset and resist saying “Yes, but” to their ideas.
This certainly doesn’t mean letting a teacher go rogue, implementing whatever he or she pleases. However, growth mindset teachers believe that every idea is worth pursuing even in small increments. In fact, when a growth mindset teacher hears, “Yes, but” he may instinctively withdraw from conversations. “Yes, but” is a signal that another person may be functioning according to constraints, rather than possibilities. Instead say, “Yes, and as you develop that idea, here are the constraints you may need to consider.”
They also believe their ideas can be better, so bring them your feedback and ideas, frequently.
3. Intentionally connect them to the larger structure of the institution.
These folks are not likely in a position of formal leadership, and yet they’re seen as trailblazers, pioneers and yes, tragically, even disturbers of the status quo. They will often times feel unsure whether their actions and ideology still match up with the greater mission of the institution.
Make sure they are strongly connected to the lattice work and trellises of the institution so they have something intentional upon which to grow. Share your joys, concerns (when appropriate), questions, ideas - your vision - regularly, so they know they’re growing along-side larger goals.
Plans for our family vegetable garden continue to take shape. Each day the potential for what we could do in that space changes and evolves. Today, it's just vegetables, but tomorrow, or next year, we may add a chicken coop. Either way, for me, it's a space to practice continual redesign, imagine limitless potential, and explore the boundaries of mastery. Our educators, and our schools, should be too.