Saturday, February 20, 2016

Trends or Fads: The Bandwagon Beckons?

Not too long ago I got to do a workshop on trends in educational technology. We talked about virtual reality (going somewhere), augmented reality (will be shoved aside by VR), QR codes (have seen a resurgence and seem to have some staying power), and more. Growth mindset is one of the many, many, many movements careening through the education space as administrators, teachers, and parents desperately seek solutions.

So here's my question: What, exactly, is the problem?

No, I'm not being facetious. Let me offer some context. In his recent blog post, Dr. Howie Koff addressed two of the mindfulness movement "programs," though I'm hesitant to call them actual programs. More on that in a bit. Dr. Koff attacks the research methodology as much as the programs and I credit that. In a prior post he'd focused on two other programs, including the work of Dr. John Hattie.

Now in my workshop I didn't talk about these programs though I did reference the whirlwind of attention garnered by Dr. Angela Duckworth and the resultant flurry of activity as people adopted growth mindset as part and parcel of their school culture. Dr. Dweck became a familiar name in school settings and I've no doubt she sold a bunch more books. I also didn't talk about Hattie's visible learning research and findings. If you're not familiar with visible learning, you can find out more at their web site.

I'd like to point out that what Dweck and Hattie say is not revolutionary. The basic tenets of growth mindset is that we encourage kids and give them hope. As stated on the growth mindset web site, "In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities." I might note that this philosophy is echoed in the Common Core and especially in the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice. Just sayin.

At the home of Brainology, growth mindset is reinforced as a philosophy, a mindset, of way of interacting with and thinking about kids that can change not only the way we think about students, but the way students think about themselves. This is not a bad thing. Is it a program? Not really, but asking teachers to think differently about their students and to act accordingly is an important reflection of a school's or district's culture.

Hattie's work operates on the following premise: "Visible Learning and Teaching occurs when teachers see learning through the eyes of students and help them become their own teachers" (http://visible-learning.org/). Okay, teachers are asked to reflect on how the teaching and learning experience sounds, looks, and feels from the perspective of the student; to, in effect, sit for a while in the student's seat. A lot of what Hattie talks about is feedback and how teachers can ensure their feedback is effective and useful for the students.

 As is the case for so much of the work published about feedback, assessment, classroom management, and more, Hattie is build on his years of experience and that of his colleagues to reflect on could make a difference. Again, nothing revolutionary but a solid reminder.

This is why I hesitate to call these programs. When I do talk about growth mindset or visible learning, I see looks of recognition and heads nodding. I hear comments that evidence reflection and realization that of all the things teachers have to carry and remember, these are things that get easy to drop, set aside, or forget. When administrators and teacher leader model and remind each other of the fundamentals of growth mindset and/or visible learning--whether they call it that or something else--and when these approaches and concepts become a part of the culture, then change can and will happen.

I've been in struggling schools in which teachers and administrators have a similar perspective of their students: bright or capable but unwilling to try. Too often I hear "these kids." Yea, I get that. And I understand tired teachers who feel like they are just beating their heads against the wall. The frustration, however, has a debilitating effect and when kids don't get useful feedback, when they feel like they're just being tolerated, when they aren't encouraged for even the smallest success, they give up on themselves. It's hard to pull them back from the edge of that abyss.

I posted before about Angela Maiers and her Choose2Matter movement. That could be placed in same category as these other trendy movements; in fact, it may seem too touchy-feely for some. What I like about Choose2Matter is that it reminds students that they have a choice in how they are perceived and how they behave. It's not just on the teachers, administrators, and parents to see the students differently. Choose2Matter is going through the growing pains to become a program, and this is where I agree with Dr. Koff in that schools need to be intentional and purposeful about any programs they adopt, no matter how they choose to adapt.

No school should adopt a movement or a program based only on anecdotal evidence, and not just because every school and district is different though that's a major reason. More importantly, programs of any kind should not be adopted without some focused and clarifying thinking on what problem, even problems, may be solved. No program should be adopted without some level of understanding of what the outcomes could be and how those might be reported, even measured. No program should be adopted and implemented without knowing what kind of support is going to be offered. If the presentation is an one and done, just say no. No program should be implemented unless the implementation includes at least one planning meeting with the appropriate collection of principal or assistant principal(s), curriculum director, instructional services director, and teachers leaders to construct a plan with thorough thinking about "what if?" and a clear articulation and understanding of the goal(s). That implementation plan should include targeted benchmarks and subsequent plan review dates, at the very least.

Administrators help define the culture of their districts and their schools. A school reflects the personalities of its administrators and its teachers. Those individuals should know the heartbeat of their building as well as their own. Those individuals should know when something somewhere is going sideways. Those individuals should know which programs and which initiatives are intended to do what with a clear sense of when, where, and how. Those individuals should review those programs and initiatives periodically to make sure there aren't any weird or uncomfortable conflicts. Those individuals should be able to articulate at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the year the problems they were seeking to solve or resolve, and how they'd hoped to do it.

Problems will morph. Some solutions may become less effective over time due to the solutions themselves or because of the lack of diligence to oversee or manage them.
Change can be hard. Changing cultures can be really hard. But educators who are committed to their students' success will not jump on the latest and greatest bandwagon or pant over the newest fad. They will do their homework and examine options in light of their culture and in light of their knowledge and understanding of the specific problems at hand. They will coordinate with their teams and bring in appropriate outside objective others to consult.

Most importantly, the bandwagon will have little allure for them because they will know the question(s) for which they are seeking an answer.

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