Sunday, September 24, 2017

How I Keep A Growth Mindset As An Educator

It's the final week of September, which means we're wrapping up Growth Mindset Month here on Taxis, Tots & Polka Dots. We've already covered what Growth Mindset is, why it's important, and how I teach it to young children and young women.

Unfortunately, I haven't had enough experience teaching it to young men to write a post about it (thankfully, all the men in my life have an even better growth mindset than I do), but I can think of a particular group of people I haven't touched on, yet. One I have a lot of experience with. One that spends all day talking about the importance of growth mindset while rarely ever using it themselves. Perhaps, you could say, it is a group of people who need it most.

Teachers.


I will never forget the night I came home crying while student teaching. I felt like so much of a failure that, for the first time ever, I was questioning if teaching was really what God had made me to do. And Dylan comforted me to the best of his ability via FaceTime (we were long distance back then, and yes, it totally sucked) until he finally asked, "Bethany... Picture yourself 20 years from now. In a time where you've been teaching so long it's second nature. And if you could go back and talk to yourself in this moment, what do you think you would tell yourself?"

I considered this for a moment. "I'd probably tell myself that it was okay to be a beginner."

Even he sounded surprised that he didn't have to prompt me any more to get me to that conclusion. "I think that's very good advice."

And it was. ...for a moment. Until I realized that teachers don't get that luxury. Musicians and artists can be beginners. They will excel with practice and rehearsal. Fashion designers and book publishers can be beginners. They will gain success as they climb in their company. Salesmen and beauty consultants can be beginners. They will make more money as their product begins to sell. But teachers, social workers, and healthcare professionals don't get to be beginners. Why?

Because our product is people. Someone's daughter. Someone's brother. Someone's niece, or nephew, or twin, or wife, or father. We do not get the chance to screw up and try again next time, because we won't just mess up a sale. Our mistakes have the potential to mess up another life.


The Art Is Never Truly Mastered 
It took me a long time to realize this, so let's just get this out of the way. Standardized exams are not effective, and education is not equal. Why? Because people are not standardized. And people are not equal. And if our product is people, and people are not standardized or equal, then standard and equal education does not work.

People change. People grow. People live in new worlds with every generation that comes to pass. So education is ever changing. Teachers never really get it down. Sometimes we make big improvements. Sometimes, we try things and they don't work. Sometimes, we try things and they do. Sometimes, we even try things we know won't work just to prove to someone in the district that we were right.

So when times are tough and I'm feeling blue, or I feel overwhelmed and completely ineffective at what I do, I have to remind myself... Your job changes every second, of every day, of every week, of every day. Yes, the teachers celebrating their 25th work anniversary have a lot of skill on a first year teacher. But if you are a brand new teacher, you have brand new ideas and an updated education for an updated generation. Your fire has not burnt out yet. You are passionate, and you are young. You are closer to the generation you are teaching. You relate better to them. So while you may not feel as good or effective as the old woman across the hall who's in her 50th year teaching kindergarten (true story... I know one of those), you have an advantage that they do not. you get this generation of kid. And that gift alone can make you just as effective.

And remember: people are not standardized, which means that teachers are not either. There is no one successful model. You each have a different teaching style and philosophy and daily routine, and they're all exactly what some kid needs. So you do you, and keep on keepin' on, because you have one of the most important jobs in the world, and if you get discouraged, the job won't get done.


You Can Be A Teacher And A Student
In fact, the best teachers still are students. The best teachers are the ones who are constantly seeking help. They're always attending collaborative meetings, searching Pinterest for the hottest new phonics games, and are working overtime so they can remain as a top performer in their craft. They might be required by the district to attend professional development trainings, but the best teachers are voluntarily offering more to their job.

So when it's 8:30 p.m. and you're still at school even though you were supposed to be home to join your boyfriend for dinner at 6:30 (it's like I'm speaking from experience or something...), remind yourself that it's because you are dedicated to what you do. If you keep learning new ways to become a great teacher, you will become a great teacher. In fact, that already makes you a great teacher. So looking for extra resources and asking for help is never a bad thing. It just means you are still learning. And by personal opinion, if you're doing this teaching thing right... you are always still learning.


Broken Crayons Still Color
"Miss Harper!" the distraught wail came from the back table, "She broke my crayon!!!"

Oh lord, the mutter escaped my mouth. It was Friday. Come on, people. Get through it with me... We're almost there. But no. Instead, we're going to break other people's crayons and fight about it.

And then, like an angel, the quiet voice from a sweet little kinder boy said, "Don't worry, Miss Harper, I've got it."

The boy proceeded to stand up, retrieve the tape dispenser from the class supply area, and carry it over to the girl with the severed crayon. He took it from her hands, lined it up carefully, and taped it back together. It was as if he'd been a crayon doctor all his life. He was so prepared in that moment, you'd think that's what God had made him for: to fix that poor girl's crayon.

He handed it back to her gently. "I know it's not as pretty anymore," he told her, "but that's okay. Broken crayons still color."

I was sure I'd felt my jaw hit the floor. Tears were in my eyes instantly. How many times have we felt like that? "I'm ugly, I'm broken, I'm useless." But that couldn't be further from the truth.

The reality is, we're all crayons, and we've all been broken. We've had our wrappers ripped off, our ends dented up, and some of us have literally been snapped in half. But it doesn't really matter whether you're all worn down or fresh out of the box...

All that matters is that you still color.

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