Growth Mindset: an Essential Tool of Positive Leadership

This past weekend, I was pleased to receive an invitation to help @LeeAraoz prepare for a presentation by sharing my experience with growth mindset. I was asked to post a video on his growth mindset Flipgrid.

Because of a combination of not figuring out how to post my video on his Flipgrid, and the distraction of yet another in a long series of remodeling problems on our home, I missed my opportunity. Given my belief in the importance of a growth mindset, I will share my thoughts, here.

When I first heard the term “growth mindset, I had to stop and think about what it meant. After a little research, I was excited to discover that I have been talking about and teaching the concept for decades. In my leadership consulting practice, I referred to the concept of learning continuously as striving for “relentless improvement.”

I much prefer the more apt and elegant descriptor, “growth mindset.”

I have long believed that this focus on relentless improvement, growth, and learning is an essential tool of positive leadership, whether as a manager or supervisor in a business organization, a principal of a school, or a teacher in the classroom. We must always strive to pry open our minds to growth. We must be willing to challenge our assumptions at any point in time as we work to be better at what we do and produce better outcomes.

Change and growth are an essential part of life for both people and organizations. When the outcomes we produce tell us something is not working, doing nothing is irresponsible. It is a silly analogy, I know, but imagine changing the decorations on a cake but never baking a new cake. Sooner or later you’ll have a mess on your hands.

Someone, many years ago, shared with me the advice of a ski instructor, who said:

“if you are not falling down once in a while, you are not really skiing.”

When we extend ourselves to the cusp of our knowledge and experience, we fall down. It’s what we all do; it is how we learn. The best advice I can give people is “don’t sweat the mistakes we make, celebrate them.”

“Stop complaining,” is another challenge I offer to current or aspiring positive leaders. Complaints are the province of the weak and powerless. When unhappy about some aspect of your life, job, or organization, instead of complaining, offer a better idea or solution. If you do not have a better idea or alternate approach of your own, become a positive advocate for someone else’s proposal for change. If no one has a better idea, put your heads together and discover one.

There will always be a better way if we take the time and teach ourselves how to search for it. Train your mind to push the boundaries of your imagination, to reject complacency, to ask tough questions, and challenge your assumptions. Nothing hampers a growth mindset like complacency and inertia.

My mission in life, for the past decade, has been to stop the failure of disadvantaged kids. These kids are not destined to fail, and they do not struggle because they are incapable of learning, or because they have bad teachers and bad schools. If we listen to these kids, and observe their behavior, it becomes apparent that they are “street smart.” They learn what is important to them and they learn what works for them in their unique environments. The only way to convince them that what we are striving to teach them is important is by convincing them, through our words and actions, that they are important.

Growth mindset is an essential tool of positive leadership.

When disadvantaged kids struggle and fail in school it is because the education process in which their teachers are expected to teach does not allow them to give every student the time, support, and attention they need to overcome their disadvantages. Those disadvantages, un-remediated, leave young people at the mercy of discrimination.

Until teachers give up, themselves, and leave the profession they chose with such high hopes and aspirations, I can assure you they do everything they can to give kids the time and attention they need to learn. The education process in which teachers are expected to work, however,  is not structured to support them in that effort. The education process at work in American schools, both public and private, has become brittle and unresponsive to the changes taking place in the world in which their students must live and teachers must work.

The moment a process, product, service, or idea can no longer be improved is the point at which it becomes obsolete.

That’s why I developed The Hawkins Model©. It offers an education process that has been designed to serve teachers and students as they do their important work, not the other way around. It’s a simple question of “who exists to serve whom?”

Never underestimate your power to influence to the world around you. Cultivate a growth mindset for yourselves and create an environment that fosters relentless growth and learning for the people around you.

Are students who fail, quitters?

It was suggested to me, recently, that there is no failure, there is only quitting. I must respectfully disagree.

No doubt the educator who suggested that failing students have quit trying is speaking from personal experience with kids in his classroom. When a student has given up, it is easy to conclude that they have just quit. Unless one has made the effort to go back and assess that student’s home environment and their academic record, beginning with his or her first day of school, such conclusions are rarely justified. I suggest that such conclusions are dangerous assumptions that have tragic, life-long consequences for millions of young people.

Certainly, there are students who do just quit because they don’t care but they are not the whole story. There are millions of students who quit because they have learned to quit in the face of difficult challenges; challenges that require extra effort. It is my belief that these kids quit because they have lost hope. They have lost hope because the education process at work in our schools, both public schools and private, has set them up for failure. Please note that I said the education process has set them up for failure, not their teachers.

The education process sets them up for failure because, repeatedly, they are not given sufficient time to master subject matter before they are pushed ahead to new lessons that often require that they apply what they were expected to learn on previous lessons. Learning from one’s mistakes is a critical part of the learning process, but it only works when we have time to utilize the lessons from those mistakes to produce successful outcomes. Time is an essential variable. If we are not given sufficient time to apply those lessons, successfully, we will not experience that “Aha!” moment when it clicks in our minds and it all makes sense.

The learning process requires success, not just one success but a series of successes, each built upon previous successes. What happens to us when we are expected to learn to perform complex functions but are told to stop before we can perform those complex functions, successfully? We become frustrated and discouraged. If we are, then, asked to learn to perform an even more complex function, one that depends on our acquired proficiency in performing pre-requisite functions, our probability of success has dropped while our frustration and discouragement have increased. Repeat this process on increasingly more complex lessons and it will not take long before people of any age will begin to give up and stop trying.

By denying someone the opportunity to experience success we are teaching them that success is improbable, and the more improbable success becomes the greater the odds that he or she will quit and stop trying. The younger the student the more fragile their self-esteem and the more likely they will be to stop trying; not because they are quitters rather because they have lost hope.

Disadvantaged kids are particularly susceptible to this phenomenon because almost all of them arrive for their first day of school behind with respect to academic standards and often with respect to some of their classmates. Academic standards are the expectations that have been established for students, teachers, schools, and school districts.

If the purpose of public education is to ensure that children learn as much as they are able at their own best speed, it would not matter whether students start from behind. The objective would be to help them advance through the syllabus that the standards represent, beginning at their unique point of embarkation and progressing as far and as fast as they are able, building on their successes.

Unfortunately for these youngsters, a disproportionate percentage of whom are black and other minorities, our public education process is structured more like a competition in which students are guided through the standards according to a predetermined schedule. Students who perform well and keep pace with the standards are labeled as “A” and “B” or “honors” students and their success is celebrated. Boys and girls who struggle to keep up are given “Cs,” “Ds”, and “Fs,” or their equivalent and rarely have an opportunity to celebrate success.

Yes, I understand that teachers work hard to give struggling students the extra time, attention, and resources they need to be successful. A teacher’s ability to provide that extra assistance, however, is compromised by the number of struggling students with whom he or she must work. It is one thing to help one, two, or three struggling students and quite another thing when 25, 50, 75 percent or more of their students need that extra attention. Teachers are under relentless pressure to keep their classes moving at a pace that is dictated not by the individual needs of children, but by state-wide expectations. They have only so much time to devote to their struggling students and, always, state competency exams that are used to hold teachers, schools, and school districts accountable, loom in the future.

Because we resent that we are required to administer competency examinations (high stakes, standardized testing), we tend to reject the results from such exams. Because we reject the results, we do not apply what can be learned from them. What those results would teach us, if we would take the time to understand them, is that what we are doing is not working and that a percentage of our students are not learning. The data should prompt us to challenge all our assumptions about what we do and why. Instead, our displeasure with the idea of competency testing and the data they produce pushes us into denial.

Children who are failing are victims of an obsolete education process that was established generations ago and that has changed little even though the world in which our nation’s children must live and learn has changed exponentially. I don’t care what you want to call it, but this is failure, pure and simple.

It is not the children who have failed even though they are the ones who suffer the consequences of that failure. Neither is it our teachers who have failed. The culpability of teachers is that they know what they are being asked to do does not work for many of their students and yet they endure the unacceptable outcomes, passively, as if they are powerless to speak out.

Our education leaders and policy makers are the ones who are failing because they have a responsibility to reject unacceptable outcomes and be powerful advocates for change on behalf of their students, teachers, and communities. Instead, far too many of them continue, resolutely, to march down the same path as if there is no other way for them to go.

How can we continue sending young men and women out into the world without meaningful choices of what to do with their lives? It is a human tragedy of incalculable scope and scale and the consequences of it are, without doubt, at the root of most our nation’s ills.

If we want better outcomes, we must go back to the drawing board and reinvent the education process to give every child an academic path tailored to their unique requirements. We must then give them whatever time, attention, and resources they need to learn from one success to another so that they leave school with meaningful choices in life.

Bringing an end to the failure requires that we “think outside the box” because the solution lies outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom. We cannot get where we need to go by making incremental changes. If we want every child to learn we must challenge all assumptions about what we do and why.

I have developed an education model that I offer as a starting point and I challenge educators, at every level, to examine the model to understand how it might work rather than looking for reasons why it might not. I believe, absolutely, that my model will work but you are invited to come up with a better approach if you can.

Please examine my model and white paper at http://bit.ly/2k53li3

The Pathology of Secondary Agendas in Public Education!

Over the years in teaching, like so many jobs people do, our core purpose has become obscured by secondary agendas. It might help to look at a simple example from another venue.

In a government organization for which I do some part-time testing, reduction of spending to avoid exceeding one’s budget has become a top priority. Someone in the command structure decided to eliminate overtime as this was a big contributor to over-spending. Overtime now requires prior approval by top leadership.

It was fascinating to observe how quickly the “no-overtime mandate” became more important than saving money. This problem occurs anytime multiple testing assignments are scheduled on the same day in my immediate geographical area. When this happens, my organization’s solution is to send someone from an hour or two away to handle one of those assignments; thus obviating the need to pay me 4 or 5 hours of overtime.

The practice makes sense until one compares the actual expenditures for the two test sessions. On close examination, one would find that bringing in another test administrator from an hour or two away more than doubles the cost of paying me between 4 or 5 hours of overtime. Not only must they pay the second test administrator’s testing time, they must also pay that person’s two to four hours of round trip travel time, plus $0.535 per mile in travel reimbursement.

The end result is that adherence to the overtime policy, instituted to reduce expenditures, has become more important than saving money. In just one of these examples they spend about $250 to avoid paying me an extra $100 of overtime. So much for saving tax dollars.

This is what happens, often, when our core purpose becomes obscured by secondary agendas.

In thinking about the core purpose of public education, at one time homework and classroom work in preparation for a quiz or test, were intended to be viewed as practice. Their purpose was to give teachers an opportunity to use the mistakes students make to, first, identify where their students need help and, secondly, to help those kids learn from mistakes. The same is true for mistakes on quizzes and tests. In many classrooms, the scores of practice assignments are recorded in a gradebook and are factored into computation of grades. Practice assignments, and especially quizzes and tests often signal the end of a given lesson and time to move on to a new lesson.

Compare practices and performances of a band, choir, or athletic team. Practices in preparation for a concert or game are to help improve performances in the concerts or games and are rarely graded. Even mistakes that occur during the performance are singled out so the performer or athlete can continue to work on those areas in which their performance is weak and rarely for grading purposes. While level of performance throughout a semester may influence grades, individual mistakes are rarely tallied for record-keeping purposes. Mastering the skills are the clear objective.

In the academic arena, grading and then recording scores of students’ homework, classroom work, quizzes and tests often seem to have become more important than using a student’s mistakes to help them learn and master the academic material.

Grading practice assignments, quizzes and tests that were originally intended to signal that there is more work to be done seems to have become an end, in and of themselves. It signals that work on one lesson is completed and that it is time to move on to a next lesson, grading period, semester, or school year.

In today’s education environment, schools and teachers are under tremendous pressure to keep their students and classrooms on pace, per their state’s academic standards and in preparation for statewide competency exams. The unintended consequence is that the original mission of schools and teachers, which was to help children learn, has become obscured.

There is no way to pinpoint when this change occurred and it is not the fault of any one person. It is simply one of the pressures to which any logical process can be subjected. It happens all the time in production-, assembly-, and service-delivery processes in private enterprise but the effect on product or service quality almost always results in a quick reduction in customer satisfaction. Many business failures occur because producers of goods and services do not monitor customer satisfaction closely. Successful producers are always listening to their customers and are able to take immediate corrective action.

In public education, customers such as employers and the military have been expressing dissatisfaction for decades and they are not the only ones. I have heard any number of college professors who teach freshman and sophomore classes complain about the lack of academic preparedness and self-discipline of many of their students.

Understand that this is not the fault of teachers who are doing what they are being directed to do. Making sure their schools are not diverted from their core purpose is the responsibility of leadership, however, starting with principals and ending where the buck stops in any public school corporation.

It is incredibly difficult for leaders, in any venue, to admit that what they are doing is not working and is producing unacceptable outcomes and the further removed they are from their end customers, the more difficult it is. High level administrators of public school corporations, along with their advocates, must be challenged to recognize that the education reform movement, misguided though it may be, is motivated by the same type of customer dissatisfaction as a struggling business entity. What distinguishes public education from producers of consumer goods and services is what is at stake.

In public schools, our nation’s children are suffering, especially disadvantaged students, and this is having an adverse impact on every aspect of life in American society.

Somehow the superintendents and governing bodies of local school corporations; along with teachers, both individually and collectively; must find the courage to accept responsibility for the problems in our public schools. It is not until we accept responsibility for our problems that we begin to acquire the power to solve them. And, it is not until educators accept responsibility that the failure of disadvantaged students will cease.

Please check out my Education Model and White Paper
I also want to introduce a few new blogs I have found:

https://shanephipps/wordpress.com/
http://www.justintarte.com/
www.davidgeurin.com
www.tsschmidty.blogspot.com
www.marlenagrosstaylor.com/blog
www.brentclarkson.com/blog