Monthly Archives: December 2012

Growth Mindset and Technology Integration

I was fortunate enough to spend a few days at the ‘Learning Forward’ conference in Boston. One of the recurring themes in the sessions and lectures I attended was that of ‘Mindset’ and, more specifically, the implications of a fixed and growth mindset. This work originates in Carol Dweck’s book and has become very popular in education and leadership. I have always liked the graphic below as a simple representation of some of the central theory to this work.


Taken from Stanford Alumni Magazine, 2007

As I reflect on our work supporting the use of technology across the 78 schools in our school district, and the challenges that this presents, the concept of mindset is very relevant, although not in terms of ‘intelligence’ as much as how we deal with new situations.

In schools where the use of technology is prevalent and effective, I invariably encounter teachers who display evidence of a growth mindset. To expand the terms in the graphic, they embrace challenge, they persist in the face of inevitable setbacks, and they learn with and from others. In schools where there are more challenges when using technology to support learning, there is often evidence of a fixed mindset as outlined in the graphic – people who avoid the challenge, give up at the first sign of difficulty, and are intimidated by the success of others rather than inspired by it.

Think about some of these commonly heard quotes when integrating technology. Are they from a fixed or growth mindset? Do they require an outsider to help or can a change in approach and mindset make that vital difference?

“The network is always down”

“I wonder how my students will respond if I deliver the content this way?”

“What if the students go to a website they aren’t supposed to?”

“What if the laptop breaks?”

“I don’t need a 1:1 ratio to make effective use of what we have”

“My students could never do that”

“Where does that fit in my lesson?”

“I can explore this myself”

“I can figure out how to change my classroom to embrace this change”

“But we don’t have enough technology to go around”

“I haven’t been trained”

“I tried that before but it didn’t work so I wasted my time”

“My students were able to show me what to do when that error shows up”

“I saw amazing things in the classroom I visited and know that I can do that, too!”

As you consider your own use of technology in the classroom, consider your own mindset, approach and expectations. Perhaps more importantly, consider what you will do if things are not as easy or don’t go as well as you want them to. The keys to successful learning in the area of technology integration for teachers are founded in the concepts of the positive mindset – embrace the challenge, persist, see the value in all of your efforts, take on board the feedback from your students, and be inspired and learn with those around you. It is only a matter of time before you are the inspiration for someone else.

Schools as a Monopoly

During my time the Learning Forward annual conference in Boston, I was fortunate enough to attend a ‘Thought Leader Lecture’ session by Dr. Richard Elmore.

The lecture was provocative and somewhat controversial, although I found myself in agreement with many of the ideals being presented. Central to the argument put forth by Dr. Elmore is the notion that schools and educational organizations have essentially developed, and continue to protect, a self-serving monopoly on learning. Elmore believes that learning is no longer (and never was) something that happens only at school and that the teacher is no longer (and never was) the only person students can learn from. The difference now is the abundance of information (learning) available from non-traditional sources away from the classroom (technology). Dr. Elmore believes that our traditional view of education must change to embrace the learning students do outside of the classroom and outside of the curriculum. He also believes this learning comes from things that matter to the learner and that they are invested in, not from topics demanded by the teacher/curriculum.

Much of this we agree upon (see my recent post on student curiosity). However, I had questions on some of the things that are being done in schools around these ideas. Fortunately, I was able to get five minutes after the session to discuss these with Dr. Elmore.

Firstly, I asked him about how the concept of the ‘flipped classroom‘ fit with his ideas on schools as monopolies (in the interest of full disclosure, although I see merit in some of the flipped classroom work and models, I am more inclined to side with the views of Gary Stager expressed in a recent Twitter debate and his overall summary that the “flipped classroom is a preposterous unsustainable trend, masquerading as education reform, in which kids are forced to work a second unpaid shift because adults refuse to edit a morbidly obese curriculum”). It was not surprising that Elmore felt the attempts to institutionalize and control the learning being done by the student away from the school building was another example of the education sector trying to protect its monopoly on student learning.

Secondly, I asked Dr. Elmore what education looked like when the institutional monopoly on learning was removed, or what a compromise looked like. He mentioned high-schools in Victoria, Australia, where students are scheduled significant ‘free’ time during the instructional day. This time is self-directed, with the outline that the students can explore and learn about anything they wish, in any way they want, and represent this learning in any way they choose. I am sure that the teacher has a strong facilitation/guidance/mentoring role in this, but the learning, and the sources of learning, are controlled by the student.

Elmore believes that removing the institutional monopolies that have been developed in the education system is the future of learning. What is the role of the teacher in this context? It certainly isn’t the same as it was ten years ago. Whatever it is today, I am certain it will look different again ten years from now. The common thread through this is the exponential increase in access our students have to information and learning outside of the classroom that was not available when our school system was designed. As teachers we need to be redesigning our classrooms and evolving our practice to match this changing circumstance. If we work in the future as we did ten years ago, the result will be students who struggle to see the relevance of school and who learn more away from the classroom than in it.