Teachers and Mindsets

I begin this post with three stories: First, I had an hour-long conversation with a teacher (while waiting for my son at the airport). He complained about students; he complained a lot. That is not unusual; all teachers have always complained about students, but this was different. He appeared to be blaming students for all of their failures (or their actions that he perceived to be failures).

Second, I logged on to review some work that has been submitted for publication. It needs some work; no, it needs lots of work. The concept is sound, the author (or authors) have something valuable to contribute, but the chapter lacks organization and detail. I have a significant task ahead of me to fulfil my duties as a reviewer.

Third, a tenured professor tweeted his appreciation for the reviewer who made almost 50 recommendations to improve his submission.

We are all familiar with the growth mindset, the concept usually credited to Carol Dweck and her colleagues. According to this idea, students who perceive intelligence as something that is developed through practice are better learners. In these three events, I see the growth mindset. I see the growth mindset not from the students’ point of view, but from the teachers’ point of view. If teachers perceive intelligence (whatever it is or however it is manifest in any particular situation) to be fixed, it matters little how students perceive it.

I wonder how the complaining teacher’s students would have performed if he had a growth mindset. Might his students have improved over time, giving him less about which to complain? I think so.

I am hopeful that my review, which will be long and full of criticism, will be written with the intended tone of “this is good work, but it needs improvement.” (I need to remind myself to reread the review before I submit it, so that I am true to my goal.)

I am glad that my social network includes tenured professors who perceive their own work with a growth mindset. He sets an example for me and, I expect, for his students as well.

What faculty believes about learning and learning matters. It affects their decisions about goals, feedback and evaluation (I refuse to use the word assessment), instruction, and (most importantly) interaction with students. As an instructional leader, I need to incorporate productive beliefs about learners and learning into my work.