How do you create a growth mindset within yourself, your staff, and your students?
Growth implies change and change is difficult for most of us to accept. Years ago, I picked up a simple formula that has helped me remember the necessary balance of ingredients for change to occur. Simply put: N+V+A > or = C + P. In short, the Need + Vision + Ability has to be greater than or equal to the Cost and Pain of the Change or it isn’t going to happen. Let’s take this formula for change apart.
It starts with a deep understanding and acknowledgement of what NEEDS to change. It’s perhaps easy to point the finger at achievement gaps in schools and districts who, perhaps due to their demographics, may be challenged to perform well on traditional high stakes tests. It is less easy for schools when on the surface, everything looks fine. I’ve often contended that high performing schools “may not be broken enough” to honestly look at what they can and should address in school improvement planning processes, especially around issues of meeting the needs of each individual student. No need to rock the boat when everything is rolling along smoothly, right? Data helps, but it requires an open mind willing and ready to have some honest conversation about the current state of affairs.
That brings me to the concept of VISION. If you are a teacher, what do you want your classroom to look like next year, 3 years from now, 5 years from now? Similarly, as an administrator, what would the building or district look like at each of those increments if it was truly living out its core mission? We’ve had some success in a district action research project with leading teachers through guided imagery exercises that invites them to paint a sensory laden picture of what it will look like and sound like in the future when they have implemented -- with fidelity -- a particular instructional strategy. It’s just as important to pin down the vision so the target is clear. Once that’s done, a gap analysis that helps to clarify the Need is much easier.
You may have a clear VISION and understand what NEEDs to change, but you are not yet home free. ABILITY or CAPACITY to implement the change is the third important ingredient. Has there been appropriate professional development and follow-up coaching? Are there allocated resources of time, money, people, technology, and space to support the change? Is there a confidence in moving forward with the initiative because of these supports? Are there plans for sustaining this support over the long term or is it just in year one? In my opinion, many change initiatives fall apart when leaders leave and no thought has been given to sustainability over time. The new guy comes in with his new team and new set of “initiatives” and what was in the works is now backburnered. It’s an unforgivable waste of energy, resources, and ultimately we should not be surprised when morale takes a hit. As we all know, the changing landscape of state boards of education is not immune to this problem either.
So, to summarize, if we don’t focus on the left side of this equation (Need + Vision + Ability), then we have no hope of counterbalancing the other side of the equal sign. The cost of changing whether measured in dollars, hours, emotions, or energy can be overwhelming. When growth necessitates a giving up of what’s been done for years, there is a loss that must be acknowledged. People grieve; they long for the way it used to be when they were young educators. We have all witnessed the almost comical idealization of “days gone by” as people are coming to grips with changes they are being asked to make. That is why it is so important to pay attention to making sure all understand where we are going, why, and how they will be assisted or supported on that journey.
Dr. Barbara dill-Varga, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction at Maine Township High School District 207