It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but there’s something that I have been mulling over that I really wanted to share.
A few years ago, our school board made a concerted effort to champion growth mindset. I read the book, watched countless videos, and engaged in activities with my students to help them develop an understanding of growth mindset. We endeavoured to give students the language to explain the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset, and to begin to develop that in themselves. Now, I had always prided myself on being someone who took risks and who was adaptable, so I thought that I must have a growth mindset. But the more I thought back on the opportunities I took and the opportunities I turned down, the more I realized just how much of my childhood, adolescence, and even adulthood has been lived with a fixed mindset. Over time, I developed a more nuanced understanding of these mindsets – that you can have fixed mindsets in some areas and at some points in time, but a growth mindset in other circumstances. However, one thing became clear – I did not see mistakes as positive, and because of that, I said no to many instances in which I thought I would fail.
I’m currently working through Jo Boaler’s course “How to Learn Math”, and it’s given me lots of food for thought around how our math program is run, and what I am doing as a teacher to maximize learning opportunities for my students. Recently, Jo Boaler shared a video she and her team produced called Rethinking Giftedness. Though brief, it really brought me back to the struggles and setbacks I experienced as a student in a self-contained gifted program who constantly compared herself with her peers.
I took the gifted test in Grade 3, around the time of my 7th birthday. I remember being told that I was a “borderline” case – that they decided to give me the benefit of the doubt because I was a year younger than my peers. The next academic year, I moved to a new school with a few classmates. Though I was excited by the prospect, I remember being very confused as to why one of my friends, the one we thought was hands down the smartest kid in our class, wasn’t with us. What had happened that we were here and he wasn’t? We had done the same enrichment projects in class (he made a really sweet project cube about the life cycle of frogs, while I made a booklet on dolphins with a terrible cyan-magenta cover, because my printer ran out of ink). He knew the answer to the question “Who invented the lightbulb?” when I surely didn’t (my answer was Benjamin Kennedy…a strange combination of Benjamin Franklin and JFK, who I remembered from my plastic US presidents ruler). What did it mean that someone said we were gifted and he was not?
As I progressed through my elementary and high school years, I moved from being at the top of my class to being “slightly above average”. And so I told myself that my classmates were just way smarter than me and that I shouldn’t even try to reach those same marks. Some of them had a knack for math, science, and business that I couldn’t fathom. So I vowed never to take physics, al/geo or business in high school (a decision that I really regretted when I realized in university how much I enjoy learning about business). They managed to do well in school while also being part of student council and the concert band and volunteering at the hospital. They got invitations to go to OELC and to represent our school at board events. All the while, I wondered to myself, why couldn’t I keep up? Had they been wrong about my label? Did this mean I wasn’t really all that different?
As a teacher, I continued to wrestle with this question. I continue to wrestle with always needing to prove that I am good enough, that I am doing a decent job. I continue to wrestle with the voice that tells me that I have to get it right the first time or I am failure. Reflecting on this has also caused me to question some of the labels that we give students – or that we give ourselves – and the ways they limit potential and cause us to see ourselves as “less than”. It has pushed me to realize how I often don’t take professional risks when I think it might not turn out well.
I am continually chipping away at the parts of me that will not accept failure as an option, and I hope that one day soon, I will let go enough to just try without fear of the results.
(cross-posted from Scribbling on the Walls)
Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to be part of a Japanese-style Lesson Study cycle centred around Algebraic Thinking. I’ve enjoyed it for a number of reasons:
- Having time to consider big picture questions as opposed to putting out everyday fires
- Delving deep with my colleagues on a topic of interest
- Observing my peers in their classrooms and having structured debriefs afterwards
- Being required to reflect
At our very first group meeting, we read an article that introduced us to the Japanese lesson study model. One sentence stuck with me: “Lesson study can also strengthen the belief that improvement in teaching is possible.” It seems simple at first, but I found the sentence profound, because it also implies that there are specific steps that can be taking to improve your instruction and pedagogy. You may have heard that people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in 5. By considering and implementing a targeted, continual improvement plan, we really should be able to see tangible changes in our teaching practice.
That same article also encouraged us to think beyond the curriculum and what we are expected to teach. It opened up the conversation to questions like “What kind of people do we hope our students will become?”, and how do we support that in the way that we teach. It gives us a chance to reframe our limitations and responsibilities to better align ourselves with the goal of education, not just schooling.
As the Lesson Study draws to a close, I find myself pondering how this experience will change my practice. Without a doubt, it has solidified some collegial bridges that I’ve built over the last year, and has given me a new structure within which to consider my professional development. I can only hope for more great things to come in the future.
This last month of blogging (almost) daily has been a time of great reflection for me, but it’s also been a time of great discomfort – of seeing gaps in my teaching and sometimes feeling at a loss to close those gaps. Something that I have enjoyed immensely over the last few weeks has been the connections that I’ve made and the people that I’ve discovered who share my passions and interests. It really helps that most of those people are further along in the process of constructing their ideal classroom environments than I am.
Yesterday, in the #ONedMentors radio show, there was some discussion about this notion of the curriculum, and whether the curriculum supports or hinders student learning. In conversation with a fellow teacher in our building, it’s become clear to me that I need to rethink the curriculum and what its application looks like in my classroom. He has encouraged me to frame everything I do around something that I’m passionate about (design) – the lens (or lenses) through which I see the world – and to help my students develop the schema and language around creativity that will reach across disciplines and fields. As I embark on this journey, with some reading material from him, and some modules from the lovely folks over at the MIT media lab, I have hope. Hope that students’ imaginations will be sparked. Hope that connections will be made. And hope that our classroom and school will become a place where students are constantly learning.
A few weeks ago, I had the chance to talk briefly with Shauna Pollock (@misspollock), author of Creating Classroom Magic. I got the book in the mail just before March Break and I’ve been loving it so far. I have always had an affinity for all things Disney, though I didn’t appreciate his knack for dreaming and experimentation until I was quite a bit older.
Something that Shauna wrote in Chapter 2 really resonated with me:
…teachers need to have confidence in their ideas and follow their passions even more than they care about what others think or say…Sell your dreams and make them come true.
I have always been a bit of a people-pleaser, and by the sounds of it, it’s not uncommon for teachers to allow others’ opinions or perspectives to affect our confidence in our pedagogical choices. As I continue to grow as a teacher, this is something that I find happens to me a lot. I spend time making certain decisions or changes, but can very easily doubt my choices when I receive pushback or questions from others.
I wonder – what will it take, and what does it look like for me to build confidence in my ideas and passions?
My husband and I really enjoy watching “The Mind of a Chef”. The season we are currently watching features Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef and owner of Prune, a restaurant in NYC. Something that I love about watching chef/foodie shows is seeing each chef’s dedication to food and mastery of their craft. I am mesmerized by watching Rene Redzepi in his food lab or out foraging for ingredients. I am equally enthralled by Jiro Ono’s precise handling of fresh fish in his three Michelin star restaurant in a Tokyo subway station. There’s a philosophy and technique that chefs develop with time, and seasoned chefs have a signature that they can stand behind.
This causes me to wonder – does this translate to teaching? What does it mean to master the art of teaching? Is that even possible? What are master teachers doing? Do they even exist? As I reflect upon best practice and continual teacher improvement, I find myself pondering what I need to put in place to systematically improve my practice. How do I stay true to my philosophy of teaching while crafting the best learning experience possible for my students?
And what about hard work? Gabrielle Hamilton didn’t start out wanting to cook. She wanted to be a writer, and took food-related jobs on so that she could make ends meet. She talked about putting long hours in at the restaurant and feeling too exhausted at the end of the day to go home and pursue her writing (She mentioned 20+ hour work days. How is that humanly possible?) In the end, she did manage to do both. As awestruck as I was, this also made me feel supremely guilty about the complaints I sometimes make about the amounts of work I take home. If anyone knows what it means to work hard, it’s a line cook.
As I learn more about other professions, I am constantly amazed by the parallels I can draw between other fields and teaching. To all the chefs out there, you inspire me.
During the #ONEdMentors radio show tonight, @jkervs (who happens to have been my grade 8 teacher!) mentioned how using rubrics can sometimes impede on creativity. It’s ironic, though, because – for some reason – many think of rubrics as this golden assessment tool that can do no wrong. How timely this conversation was, as I just assigned a summative project today…with a rubric on the back.
There are many advantages of using a rubric. Students can see clearly what the teacher is looking for, and can compare the rubric with their own product. They are also easy to mark, because the descriptions are already built into the rubric.
There are also some disadvantages of using a rubric: You can see exactly what the teacher is looking for…so you’re not encouraged to think outside the box. Or perhaps the student does something amazing, but it’s not fully correlated with a component of the project so doesn’t command any evaluative significance.
I wonder – when have you used rubrics? When have you intentionally chosen not to?