How Teachers Can Effectively Shift Their Learning Mindset

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) demand a 21st-century approach to learning. They ask more of our children, and in turn, more of our instruction and assessment. But more doesn’t mean quantity. It means setting our sights on in-depth studies that provide opportunities for our students to apply skills to new and sometimes indistinguishable situations.

The standards push students to dig deeper, and in turn, ask our educators to reflect, review and revise the way we do business. Our mission is to prepare all students for college and career from the moment their tiny little feet step foot into our schools, at the earliest of age, in those most dynamic ways.

Interdisciplinary approach is necessary

Nearly all state assessments and educator evaluations have aligned with CCSS and place a responsibility on our educators that calls for an interdisciplinary approach to instruction, where purposeful reading and writing is found across curriculum areas as students defend, argue and justify their positions.

Mathematical concepts are thoughtfully applied to real-world problems where speaking and listening skills count for just as much. But the CCSS is not a curriculum – instead it is a set of knowledge and skills. The educator brings these sets of knowledge and skills to life. Educators now have the autonomy to become the facilitator of the learning process rather than the guru of content, according to a talk by Derek S. Mitchell of Partners in School Innovation.

How will teachers transform their own thinking about their role as educator?

A careful metacognitive reflection of one’s current state of mind may be a good start. If we are to stimulate effective collaborators, communicators and problem-solvers, we may ask if we ourselves are in tune with what our teaching practices elicit in our students. Does our craft encourage curiosity and thinking that may be different from our own?

Mitchell noted three ideas that educators might contemplate when considering a shift to the CCSS classroom.

  • Unleashing rather than controlling student energy.
  • Encouraging student learning from one another rather than only from adults.
  • Facilitating the right way of thinking rather than thinking about the right answer.

How can teachers effectively alter their mindset to teach toward the new CCSS?

Brain research, more specifically, the work of Carol Dweck, tells us that a belief in student success coupled with the use of particular types of praise can make a marked difference in student performance. Cindy Bryant illustrated Dweck’s research on fixed versus growth mindsets. She noted that when an educator assures his or her students that their intellectual abilities can develop and grow through application and instruction, their grades and study skills improve considerably.

Additionally, this same mindset applies to the use of praise to compliment the way in which students process their learning. The use of personal praise appears to place a student in a fixed mindset, while praising the effort or procedure encourages a growth mindset.

Educators hold a great deal of responsibility in their profession. With this responsibility comes a great deal of autonomy in not only what they teach, but also in how they teach. For some, making sure all students can demonstrate their acquisition of CCSS will set the stage for reflective practices that conjure up deep and thoughtful retrospection, ask us to collaborate with one another around best practices, and ultimately fulfill the need for growth mindsets.

On our road to CCSS, isn’t this just what we’re asking our students to do after all?

Dr. Debra J. Lay is a HotChalk mentor to online instructional faculty who guides a professional learning community of approximately 20 part-time online instructors in weekly professional development sessions. She helps guide educator-leaders through the foundational principles of 21st century education.

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