This New Year, Resolve to Develop a Growth Mindset and Build an Instructional Identity

Guest post by Justin Cameron

Resolutions. Most of us make them. Personal resolutions and professional resolutions are too often prey to self-fulfilling prophecy resulting from a mindset that the resolution will be broken. Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth, architects of growth mindset and grit, can help shift that thinking. Their extensive work is worth exploring.

Before that shift happens, resolve to build a better professional resolution. For an educational leader, the development of a professional goal should include a measurable progress indicator that leads a goal through the entire process continuum, from planning through outcomes. A resolution or goal that comes from a place of grit and growth mindset can lead toward a path of great impact.

Studies have shown that grit and growth mindset are the only research tenets that have given individuals and groups a better capacity in gaining the confidence to try, persevere, and overcome. So often schools are paralyzed by what to do when a child comes from a difficult home life; the work Duckworth has done puts forth evidence that teaching grit and a growth mindset to that child can help him or her overcome. When an educational leader models and teaches grit, a growth mindset, and the power of the word “yet,” it’s a gift that keeps giving an infinite number of times.

The first day of every academic year at my school, the seventh and eighth grades greet the sixth grade with a standing ovation at an all-school assembly with Michael Bublé’s “Haven’t Met You Yet” playing loudly over the sound system. While many believe the song fits the context because most people in our school have literally not yet met the sixth-grade students, it is the song’s figurative message that resonates strongly with me—which I share with the student body at the start of the assembly. If I take the lyrics of the song and put them in a word cloud in my mind, I see the word “yet” in about a 22-point, boldface font.

How many educators hold a fixed mindset for technology? How about math? The vulnerability for these two areas that a teacher or an administorator shows—particularly with technology—is astonishing, and it impacts the culture of a school. A blog written by Jeff Heyck-Williams of the Two Rivers Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., shares an empowerment initiative he led throughout his school that almost makes it taboo for any adult in the building to say they are not “a math person” or they were “never really any good at math.” Instead, all adults at Two Rivers model a more positive response communicating that, through hard work, an attempt at the right answer is possible. That culture shift has led to an increase in math scores at Two Rivers.

Principals are shepherds of a building’s culture. Many believe that culture is the social and emotional heath of the organization. In schools, those who lead the learning need to create an instructional identity as much as fostering a safe and caring community.

In 2017, how will you create an instructional identity within your school that occupies the space between growth mindset and grit that will shift the culture and thinking of your students and staff?

Justin Cameron is the principal of Frederick W. Hartnett Middle School in Blackstone, MA, and the 2016 Massachusetts Middle School Principal of the Year. The Hartnett Middle School has been chronicled by NPR for its efforts of building an instructional identity through an eight-week reading project that takes the model of fantasy sports and applies it to the independent reading every staff member and student does at the school.

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