Implementation stories - Working with teacher teams

Below, Ann Szekely, Director of the 8/9 Teacher Network, shares her experience working with Chicago Public School teachers to help them learn about academic mindsets and implement mindset practices in their classrooms. The 8/9 Teacher Network project grew out of the seminal report - Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners - published by the The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.

What challenge did you face getting started?

Teachers needed help seeing they had the power to influence students' mindsets.

What we found was that teachers were open to talking about influencing the mindsets of their students, but they felt it was not really a possibility. Many of the teachers were suffering from change overload. Programs or procedures were being implemented or adjusted at their schools all at once: new curriculum, new teacher evaluation systems, new grading procedures, and new (and more frequent) standardized tests. Many felt they had a long and exhaustive to-do list, and teaching kids to have a growth mindset seemed to belong at the end of it. They were consumed with trying to keep up and didn't see initially that changing students mindsets would actually help them fulfill these other requirements. They felt defeated.

So, our first goal was to help change teacher mindsets. We engaged in a number of discussions and did a variety of activities that allowed teachers to surface their own mindsets. We presented a variety of research information so teachers could learn what new ideas were out there. We also shared some examples of schools that were able to address growth mindsets everyday and accomplish all of the goals set for them. We even visited a few of these schools. They needed help seeing the immense power they have to create a classroom environment that is infused with growth mindset practices and language.

In addition to visiting other schools, we also asked the administration, staff, and students from one local school, Polaris Charter Academy, to come talk to the teachers about how they did their work. This was very helpful because teachers could ask their questions directly. So they could say, “You know, I hate to be a skeptic, but…” I think being able to get answers directly from people doing it was really powerful.

What questions did teachers ask the team from Polaris?

Teachers' biggest concerns were about test scores and time.

Number one was test scores. What are your test scores like? Their thinking was, “If I’m not working on teaching the content (math, grammar, or history, et cetera) how will my students ever learn, and how are they ever going to get good test scores?” And of course, the answer was that their students’ test scores were above and beyond all the schools in their neighborhood. When our teachers heard this, it really got their attention.

Their second question was time. How do you do this? What does your day look like? How do students structure their time? How do teachers structure their time? When they found out that it didn’t require major changes to the structure of the school, it didn’t cost millions of dollars (cost was another concern), and that all it really required was making some smart choices, the skeptics came around.

What else did you find was most helpful for teachers?

Teachers needed time to reflect on their practices.

Schools don’t often have protected time for teachers to stop and think about their practice. Many teachers shared with us that they reflected regularly on the content of the lessons they taught and what adjustments they would make, but there weren’t many who contemplated things like the way they framed an activity, or how they gave praise—things that can really influence students' motivation. Reflecting seemed to be a missing piece in their practice; one that is important if taking on mindset work. In order to change student mindsets, teachers have to be aware of their own mindsets. So we worked with our teachers to create a reflection practice that was not cumbersome, yet allowed them to think deeply on what they did as a teacher and what they could learn about themselves that would influence how they taught.

Seeing models was very helpful.

We also spent a lot of time looking at models of practices that create a general environment that invites growth mindset. We looked at Expeditionary Learning videos and videos of other schools using project based learning such as schools in the Deeper Learning Network because we found that a lot of the classrooms that were using project based learning have tons of these mindset practices.

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