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A Principal Learns With Staff and Brings Growth Mindset Practices to Students
One of the greatest challenges any educational leader can model for her staff is her own vulnerabilities – that is publicly sharing what one doesn't know. This willingness to not only share in the struggle and confusion that comes with learning, but to actually foist it into the spotlight at a staff meeting takes a great deal of courage.
Karen Barker took such a tenuous leadership proposition and turned it into an opportunity to lead - in her first year as principal no less.
Barker is the leader of three schools within the Dickinson Elementary School building in Lake Washington School District just north of Seattle, Washington. In addition to the elementary school there is a pre-school and a community school. At the time of her appointment four years ago, Barker was the fourth leader in three years when she moved from the teaching ranks into the principal's office. She found a fractured school culture.
"I was eager to build a really healthy school," she said. "And success is rooted in the teachers. They're the ones who are behind initiatives and who run with them. Change cannot be driven by the principal only."
"The key variables in getting better at something are effort and time." –Ben Marcowitz, CEO, Sci Academy of New Orleans
Sci Academy is a high school in New Orleans, LA, that exemplifies a growth mindset school culture. At Sci Academy, everyone is learning every day and student growth is valued and celebrated en masse. Teach For All made a series of videos highlighting their work, and this video specifically about promoting a growth mindset – applying effective effort will grow my intelligence - in students and educators alike. One student says, "That's the thing about Sci Academy, it's not easy. It's up to you to take that extra step..."
About Mindset Works
Mindset Works was co-founded by one of the world's leading researchers in the field of motivation, Stanford University professor Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. and K-12 mindset expert Lisa S. Blackwell, Ph.D. The company translates psychological research into practical products and services to help students and educators increase their motivation and achievement. For more information, visit http://www.mindsetworks.com.
We lead because we have a passion for our work. But leading in a complex system can get confusing, overwhelming, and discouraging sometimes. Rather than resort to seductively easy ways to manage there are times we can choose to truly lead, capture people's hearts, and reignite passion!
I guest-teach in an intervention class twice a week and my partner always tells the students: "You can choose the behavior, but what you cannot choose is the consequences of that behavior." This absolutely applies to leaders as well. In school improvement, decision-making that results in change is very challenging to execute. Plus, that challenge is compounded by the sheer number of decisions that we must make every day.
Understandably, sometimes we aren't making the most growth-minded choices. After all, we still have to get the work done! Leaders often have to make strategic choices in managing and leading because decisions need to be made, deadlines met, and students placed in classes. At the same time, it is important to know the consequences of those choices. If leaders are hyper-aware of the likely consequences of their decisions, then a fixed-minded choice can be turned in to a growth minded one at a later date, upon reflection, and with a cooler head.
In this piece, excerpted from the Harvard Business Review (HBR) podcast, The Right Mindset for Success, Sarah Green interviews Carol Dweck about the leadership qualities that lead to successful efforts.
Benjamin Marcovitz, Principal of Sci Academy and CEO of Collegiate Academies in New Orleans, LA, on what he does to assess teachers' mindsets when hiring
“This school is designed to move ninth graders, who average a fourth-grade level performance coming in, to the college level by graduation. We’re going to be asking them to grow at a rate you’ve probably never been asked to yourself. There’s no way we’re going to get away with this without being obsessed with our own growth as educators.”
In establishing a growth mindset at Sci Academy, I’ve found that being all about the kids means being all about the teachers. So I say the above to teacher applicants in their first interview. In doing so, we hope to ignite an application process that screens in the adults with the greatest growth-mindsets, increases that mindset, and politely shows the exit sign to those without it. Teachers need to view teaching as a process of constant improvement, and I find this tragically rare in a field where, if you’re not amazing at something in 2-3 years, you figure you should probably stop doing it. This is the opposite of what works at our school. Teachers at Sci Academy discover new avenues for great performance every day. They use them. The kids see this. They do the same.
So here’s our application process.