It’s About Our Mindset

Nothing will change if we do not change.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the environment in which we work and learn together, and two recent experiences have really resonated with me this week.

First, an opportunity to learn with several of my colleagues as we gathered together to discuss The Thinking Classroom with Peter Liljedahl @pgliljedahl. Peter invited us to think and talk about the research he presented, research that indicates that students are not thinking very much in school. They may be doing plenty, but doing and thinking are not synonymous, and as he said, you cannot learn without thinking. This struck a chord with me and had me wondering about what our students are learning versus what our students are doing.

Part of the discussion centered around the learning environment, and Peter talked about things like vertical surfaces (i.e. erasable surfaces on the walls) and de-fronting the classroom and strategies like visibly random groups. Everything he talked about made sense, and everything we did at our PD had an impact. Through all of this, however, was one thought that kept coming back to me. One thought that, in my opinion, was the lynch pin to all of this. One thought that I will share after my second story.

The second thing that nudged my thinking on this topic this week occurred during a visit from our school superintendent, Brad Nichol @b_rad527 . Prior to his visit he invited me to think about somethings I’d like him to look for as we did our morning walk-about. Brad does something that I really appreciate, he sets the stage for his visits, they are not random pop-ins, they are meaningful. What I like about this is the opportunity to share with him some of the great things going on in our building, but more importantly, some of the things I’m wrestling with. This allows us to have a conversation that is intended to move learning forward.

On this particular visit, Brad indicated he was curious how many classrooms in our school were de-fronted. He asked about times when I’ve walked into classrooms and thought, “hey, where is the teacher?” only to notice he/she is sitting beside a student, blending into the learning. We did our morning walk-about through our school, popping into every classroom, speaking with kids and speaking with teachers…after we found them! As we were doing this, that thought I talked about earlier kept flashing over and over in my head.

We can have all the strategies, research, and resources in the world, but our impact will not be maximized without the willingness of our adults to have a flexible, growth mindset.

By this, I mean, the adults that are working with our students need to believe, if they do not learn how I teach, I need to change how I teach. In the past, the onus was on the students to change how they learn to match the teaching style of the sage on the stage. I was a victim of this as a student. I suffered through classes where notes were dictated, followed by questions that were not intended to invite me to think, but to remember what was dictated earlier.

We can de-front our rooms, add couches, carpets, pillows, plants, vertical surfaces, and flexible seating arrangements. We can Tweet, use See-Saw, Class Dojo, FreshGrade, and Instagram…BUT…if we, the adults, do not change, nothing will change. It is a mindset, it is about letting go of the control, it is about putting the student at the center.

And it is very difficult!

So, what do YOU think?

  • Because this is such complex, demanding work, what do you do or what have you seen that works?
  • what does a de-fronted classroom mean to you?
  • can a classroom with straight rows be a student centered classroom?
  • why do so many teachers, with incredible intentions, try, but revert back to old practices?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let’s keep the conversation going!

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About the Author: Bruce Mellesmoen

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