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The Importance of a Teacher’s Mindset

As a teacher, I focus a lot of my energy on helping students learn to employ a growth mindset in and out of the classroom.  I want the students to be able to question the world around them and have the flexibility to solve problems in new and unique ways.  I want the students to have the ability to overcome adversity because they see the benefits involved.  I want the students to be able to go with the flow when learning and overcoming challenges.  So many of our students come to us with fixed mindsets.  My goal, throughout the year, is to challenge the students to break out of that mold of “I can’t” and move into the “I can” frame of mind.  While it can be a difficult journey for some, it is possible for all students to utilize a growth mindset.  

Ironically, I sometimes find myself getting stuck in a fixed mindset.  When I predict the way in which certain lessons will transpire or the way certain students will react to an activity or lesson, I become focused on that and allow it to come to fruition because I predicted it was going to happen anyway.  I don’t allow things to unfold in their own way.  I become fixed on my way of thinking and sometimes pigeonhole students or lessons.  Like many of my students at the start of the school year, I need to be flexible and possess a growth mindset.  I need to challenge my own thoughts and allow the world to work in its own way.  I can’t control much of anything and I need to accept that fact.  When I do, things will work the way they are supposed to work.  I need to be understanding and embrace flexibility.  Until I do that, I am doing a disservice to my students and my role as a teacher.

Today in Humanities class we read and discussed the phenomenal poem Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll.  Following our discussion, the students crafted their own poem using Jabberwocky as inspiration.  Going into today’s lesson I was so excited.  I knew it was going to be fun.  I wanted it to be fun and so it was going to be fun.  The kids were going to love the nonsensical nature of the poem and be inspired to write their own epic pieces.  I thought it and so therefore it was going to become a reality.  Of course, like any game of chance, the lesson did not go as I had predicted it would.  After hearing the poem read aloud, the students were confused and so they disliked it.  They wanted no part of discussing it because they couldn’t see beyond the made up words that made no sense to them.  I called on volunteers and asked new guiding questions.  I read the poem aloud a second time with gusto and emotion.  Still, they hated it.  I was devastated.  They hated the poem.  Halfway through the class during a short break time, I become a bit downtrodden.  I thought for sure they were going to eat this lesson up like ants on chocolate cake.  I was wrong.  I couldn’t get out of my own mind though.  I was so stuck in my own misery that I was unable to see the reality staring me directly in the face.  

Jabberwocky is a difficult poem to read, process, and comprehend.  My sixth grade students needed time to fully understand the magnitude of this piece.  They needed the 20 minute break period to allow our earlier discussion on the poem to sink in.  When we returned from break we talked about the characteristics of the poem and how we might emulate it.  The students pulled out some great ideas.  The magic happened when they began crafting their own poems based on Jabberwocky.  It was amazing.  Their poems were brilliant.  They were crafting rhythmic, poetic, beautiful lines of poetry that told brilliant stories using nonsensical words.  They were taking risks in their writing and putting together unique word combinations that created an appropriate atmosphere.  I was blown away.  I had no idea they took all of this away from the poem we read the period before.  Why were they not able to talk about the poem during third period?  Why did they seem confused by the poem when we discussed it?  What lead to this engagement I was seeing through their original poems?  

That’s when I realized, I was the one with the fixed mindset.  I needed to realize that the students just needed time to allow everything to sink in.  I wasn’t able to see this because I was stuck questioning why they didn’t love the poem the same way I did.  Had I been flexible and thought about how the students might react, I could have capitalized on that a bit more during the discussion.  I was so mesmerized by their brilliant poems that I couldn’t see what had really happened.  The students needed think time.  They don’t absorb or process material the same way we as adults do.  Generally I am cognizant of that when teaching; however, today I was not.  My perception was clouded by my ego and ignorance.  I need to more frequently make use of a growth mindset when teaching so that I can embrace every teachable moment and awesome experience.  Sometimes I feel like I learn more from my students than they learn from me.  Learning really is a fun-filled adventure.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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