21C Learning…It’s ALL About Your Mindset! OR…What Kind of Boat Are You Building?!

Right now, I consider myself one of the most fortunate people on earth…amazing and healthy family, great health for myself and my loved ones, warm home and no worries about my next meal, exciting and purposeful job that focuses on growth of self and others, a spirituality of faith and significance in the world, a life in a country founded in freedom…and the list goes on! And for the proverbial “cherry on top,” I am serving a sabbatical to advance my work and interest on the topic of “The Future of Schools and Schools of the Future.” I imagine I am enough to make even the extreme optimists marginal. I am learning and I am growing. I am not yet the educational leader I will learn to be, but I have every advantage and the mindset I need to get there.

Since March 22, I have been in “phase II” of my sabbatical. Phase I involved a two-week internship at Unboundary, recent subject of a Huffington Post. [Search this blog for “Unboundary” to see related posts here.] Phase II is concentrated on school visits, a conference, and a few “random and invaluable” opportunities. Here is a snapshot of what phase II has involved:

  • March 22 – student-shadow visit and meeting with Laura Deisley (@Deacs84) at The Lovett School, Atlanta, GA. (a few tweets @boadams1, find date)
  • [March 22 – attended Jeff Small’s (@jeffreysmalljr) launch of novel The Breath of God.] (a few tweets @boadams1, find date)
  • [March 23 – Morris Brandon Primary, Kindergarten field trip to Yellow River Game Ranch.]
  • March 24 – sixth-grade visit to Trinity School, Atlanta, GA, and Megan Howard (@mmhoward). (a few tweets @boadams1, find date)
  • March 25 – meeting with Gever Tulley (@Gever), co-founding Brightworks, a new school, San Francisco, CA. (a few tweets @boadams1, find date)
  • March 25-28 – ASCD Annual Conference 2011 (@ASCD and #ASCD11…many tweets at this hashtag)
  • March 26 – dinner with Jill Gough (@jgough) and Grant Lichtman (soon to be on Twitter!), author of The Falconer and C.O.O. of Francis Parker School, San Diego, CA.
  • At ASCD conference, numerous informal meals and great conversations with Jill Gough, Bob Ryshke (@centerteach), and Barbara Preuss (Drew Charter School).
  • March 27 – meeting with Jill, Bob, Grant, and Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) – The Tempered Radical, Solution Tree award-winning author, and NC teacher.
  • March 27 – dinner with Jill, Bob, and Grant.
  • March 28 – Solution Tree (@solutiontree) breakfast about PLCs (professional learning communities).
  • March 29 – visit to The Bay School, San Francisco, CA. (tweets at #bayviz)
  • March 30 – meetings with Jonathan Martin (@jonathanemartin) and visit to St. Gregory School, Tucson, AZ. (tweets at #gregviz)

From all of those bullet-points – mere place-holders-in-pixels for absolutely invaluable real-life experiences – I am building a mind-map. Here is the start, and it will undergo countless changes as I reflect and synthesize…evaluate and analyze…collaborate and amplify. What is here now is only a rough beginning…a starting place.

What I am realizing already is this:

The single-most important attribute in 21st century teaching and learning is THE GROWTH MINDSET!

  1. Carol Ann Tomlinson said it directly at the ASCD conference. She talked of Dweck specifically.
  2. Heidi Hayes Jacobs alluded to it as she talked about “upgrades.” You cannot upgrade if you don’t believe in growth or fear change.
  3. Chip Heath indicated that mindset is a fundamental thread in directing the rider, motivating the elephant, and shaping the path. He talked of Dweck’s game-changing work.
  4. Peter Reynolds demonstrated the critical nature of a growth mindset as he read The Dot and Ish, and as he showed He Was Me (video below). Creativity necessitates a mindset steeped in growth orientation.
  5. Linda Darling-Hammond mentioned it by name and all but demanded it for our national education policy.
  6. John Hattie, after years of a meta-analysis of 800 meta-analyses (200,000,000 subjects) made it clear – the growth mindset is THE most influential factor in student and teacher success.
  7. My individual sessions all touched on the growth mindset in one way or another. The session on the 3rd Rail: Grading emphasized the possibility that arcane and unexamined grading practices undermine learning and promote a fixed mindset.
  8. 10,000 educators were at ASCD to learn and grow, too.
  9. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot spoke about the third chapter of life, ages 50-75, and the need for renewed spirit aimed at growth and further development. Don’t stand still!
  10. The teachers at Lovett, Trinity, Bay, and St. Gregory who are striving to learn and grow are the teachers who are advancing the schools and earning the distinctions among the student learners.
  11. Gever Tulley is founding a school on the entire idea as represented in the philosophy and pedagogy of “learning arcs.”
  12. Grant Lichtman wrote a foundational work on the power of questioning and seeking growth as a learner and system understander of our world and thinking.
  13. Bill Ferriter promotes the connected life of Twitter and other social networking – not just to understand the iGeneration – but to share one’s resources and gain access to the resources of others for the benefit and possibility for growth and new learning.
  14. Jonathan Martin showcased Steve Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From” RSA video to make the point that connectivity and coffee-housing create the opportunities for enriched thinking and enlightened growth as a collective efforts weave together for better ideas and a better world.

And then this morning, I read a blog post of someone I met on Twitter at ASCD. I have never met the person face-to-face, but I am learning immeasurably from adding Jeff Delp (@azjd) to my Google Reader. Here is one of the quotes he chose to begin a post:

Never be afraid to do something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark; professionals built the Titanic. – Author unknown.

21st century learning…it’s ALL about your mindset. The waters of educational change are rising. What kind of boat are you building? With whom are you building it?

A Moment of Weakness…Rethought

From March 25-28, I attended the ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) Annual Conference in San Francisco, CA. The theme was “Bold Actions for Complex Challenges.” On Monday, as I entered the general session arena and prepared for another keynote, I sunk in spirit. I thought, “I just cannot sit-n-get one more time at a conference touting itself as a professional development opportunity for the 21st century.” Because of my bad attitude during this one general session among several general sessions and hundreds of specialized sessions, I missed most of what the speaker had to say. Luckily, I had heard this speaker before…give the EXACT same speech, read from the same set of pages. Later, though, I checked myself. I was wrong. The conference was excellent and it did model the following 21st century attributes:

  1. The 9700-10,000 attendees CHOSE to be there. We were not required to be there. We attended on our own free will and desire. It was our choice to learn at ASCD. I got to choose to attend the conference.
  2. ASCD provided alternate sessions during the general sessions. I did NOT have to be in the general session; I could have attended another session in another room of the conference center. ASCD had provided for the possibility that I would not choose to listen to this general session speaker. I failed to exercise my ability to be elsewhere. I got to choose to attend this general session.
  3. ASCD recommended a common hashtag for Twitter (#ASCD11), so participants could use the backchannel for questioning, exchange of notes and ideas, discussion and commentary. I choose to participate in this backchannel throughout the conference, and I used this backchannel to learn from others during the general session that I missed because of my bad attitude. Thankfully, I had some alternative learning opportunities through the integration of technology.

What if we gave our students the ability to choose more about what they are learning? ASCD allowed me to be a co-pilot in my learning. I chose my sessions. ASCD provided hundreds and hundreds of sessions, and I got to choose. ASCD set a room with 10,000 chairs in traditional, 20th century rows and columns, and I chose to be in that room on Monday rather than in another session. I failed to take advantage of the Monday general session, but I stilled learned from an alternative choice – the backchannel. Do we encourage the use of backchanneling with our students? Do we make it possible for them to tune in using a different method? Do we create the chance for students to engage with others who are asking questions and processing information without audibly disturbing the principal speaker? I mean, the kids can tune us out, pretend to listen and be millions of other places mentally. With a backchannel, those “mind wanderers” might have a better alternative. Lucky for me, I am a natural-born learner and exercised my creative options to backchannel. What if we gave the kids a “conference and backchannel” opportunity on more days?

Imagine students looking in a catalog of choices for a day (or a week) and deciding where to go to learn…from whom to learn. Imagine that we taught them a proper use of handheld technology to tweet and backchannel. Imagine if the learning was even more up to the learners. Can you imagine that?

Some schools already do such stuff. I am not thinking all that creatively. Some call it an “interim.” Others name it “winterim.” I am sure there are myriad names. Some offer “electives.” Some are in the process of trimming electives. Some offer special programs in the summer. The learners get to chose. Choice is a powerful thing, isn’t it? Free will may be the most powerful motivator there is for humans. I could have chosen a different attitude about the Monday general session. In hindsight, thanks to reflection and a free-will motivation to blog in order to think, I may do better next time. As it is, I am thankful that ASCD understands learners enough to know that we make mistakes and errors. So, they gave me a richer set of options than merely choosing my attitude. Thanks, ASCD.

What will you choose next? It’s about learning to choose and providing choices. Get in the game. Make a choice. It’s about learning.