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Learning Out Loud

Learning Out Loud

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."

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The Steepest Slopes

The Steepest Slopes

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.

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