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Develop a growth mindset to turn tech frustrations into tech opportunities

By Team ISTE
September 9, 2015
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There’s a graphic on the concept known as “growth mindset” that’s zipping around the internet. This popular chart provides suggestions for how students might use self-talk to redirect their thinking when the learning gets hard.

Instead of thinking “I’m not good at this,” switch to “What am I missing,” the graphic recommends. Replace “I give up,” with “I’ll use some of the strategies we’ve learned.” Go from “I just can’t do math,” to “I’m going to train my brain in math.”

The various versions of this chart provide nearly a dozen ways to reframe a “fixed mindset,” the idea that intelligence is an inborn trait. According to research by Stanford University psychology professor and author Carol Dweck, those in a fixed mindset are more likely to sacrifice important learning opportunities to focus on looking smart. In a fixed mindset, status quo, especially if it is praiseworthy, is good enough.

On the other hand, those who exhibit a growth mindset understand success is based on learning, persistence and hard work. They believe intelligence can be developed or grown by accepting challenges, facing setbacks with persistence,  and being determined to reach a goal or find a solution.

Which got us thinking. Teachers can also benefit from this approach to learning that the education community is asking students to embrace.

Tracey Knerr, K-12 supervisor of mathematics for Hillsborough Township Public Schools in Hillsborough, New Jersey, says her district is coupling growth mindset with the concepts of failing forward and productive struggle for both adults and students. “We’ve fostered the idea that our 1:1 tech initiative was going to be a little messy, you will make mistakes and that’s OK. We expect you to try, to fail, to learn from it and move on.”

As Knerr describes it, district leadership is modeling the growth mindset they’d like teachers to encourage with students.

Cindy Etherton, technology development coordinator for Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Salem, Oregon, finds that people fall into two camps when the growth mindset is applied to technology: those who believe technology is something they can break, and those who can dismiss the fear of damaging a tool and decide, “I’m going to do whatever needs to be done.”

When Etherton works with teachers who are struggling with technology or are fearful, she steps back and starts asking questions. What are you passionate about? What drives you to do your job well?

“If a teacher tells me, ‘I love reading, and I wish I had more books,’ I recognize where they are and ask, ‘Have you considered XYZ as a technical opportunity for you?’ I try to tap into their natural passion in an area where they want to move forward,” Etherton says.

Both Knerr and Etherton say encouragement to adopt a growth mindset must come from leadership, but it can be nudged along with initiatives like these that help teachers grasp this mode of thinking:

Turnkey training. The progression toward a 1:1 program at Hillsborough Township Public Schools led to the development of a Turnkey Trainers program. They began by providing teachers with courses in Google Apps, flipped classrooms, and web-based tools, such as Edmodo, and the district’s own electronic lesson planner and grade book. The educators who act as trainers get a stipend to deliver the courses to other teachers before or after school.

Now in its third year, and with 1:1 fully implemented, the turnkey program is focusing on uniform courses that support globalizing the curriculum; asynchronous learning; creation, collaboration and publication of digital content; and productivity tools. Teachers who participate in six hours of training during the school year can skip a professional development session held at the end of the year.

Tech coaching. Three years ago, Hillsborough implemented a release assignment for two teachers to become tech coaches. Their sole purpose: providing full-time support of teachers’ adoption of technology by meeting with them one on one or in small groups. Two additional teachers were selected the following year, expanding the expertise and the access to assistance.

Safety net creation. Teachers are accustomed to having a Plan B or Plan C with traditional teaching vehicles, but some fail to take this approach when integrating technology into a lesson. Etherton encourages teachers to consider multiple tech options in case the initial technology they plan to use fails. 

How-to website. In large districts, the growth mindset has to blossom exponentially, beyond the abilities of a single tech mentor. That’s why Etherton created a robust website that helps teachers quickly learn how to implement basic tech tools.

“It’s meant to work when teachers say, ‘I have five minutes and I need to figure this out,’” she says. The website’s simple format makes it easy for teachers to find what they need by clicking icons such as Google Apps, iPads, SMART board or Putting Resources Online.

Mentor programs. In another effort to multiply the tech support, Etherton is building a mentor program that grows exponentially each year. She started last year by awarding 30 technology grants for specific devices to teachers. Those who receive the devices and the professional development to use them for instructional practice agree to act as mentors the following year. This year’s 15 awardees have to choose an additional mentor. “So now I’m up to 46 and that wheel is going to keep on turning. The idea is to move away from thinking there are one or two experts in the district.”

Show and tell. Adam Rogers, CTE technology resource coordinator for Oklahoma City Public Schools in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, takes it upon himself to identify new ed tech products and then share how those products can advance learning and teaching.

Once teachers know the which tools to use and get help understanding how to use them, Rogers finds the objections fade away. “My goal is to show them what’s out there and how to incorporate it into the classroom, and then I offer to come help. It changes their mindset to have someone on their side who is willing to help.

Café training. Expanding the support to larger audiences, Rogers also offers what he calls "café training sessions,"  where teachers can bring their laptops to a training room and get personal assistance. He holds two 2-hour sessions each week, one for middle school teachers and one for high school teachers.