6 Steps to Developing a Professional GROWTH Mindset for Educators

By: Camile Earle-Dennis

As an SEL Content Specialist, I keep a close pulse on the SEL and trauma-informed needs of the field and within the global SEL community. Over the past several months, I have noticed a trend toward better understanding adult growth mindset and its role in driving performance goals for educators.

Together we will journey through the science-backed reasoning for growth mindset and examples of mindset practices including six unique steps. I developed these steps with the SEL team at the Learning Sciences International (LSI) Applied Research Center. I’ll also cover the social responsibility we all hold to be the change and embrace the new challenges ahead.

 

Why Focus on Growth Mindset?

Through LSI’s field research, I’ve learned that for many educators, the ability to not only survive but also thrive during the last year and a half of global crisis has been largely dependent on one factor: mindset.

The manner in which you face difficulties and the lenses through which you view them determine the extent to which you can innovate, tap into existing strengths, discover new ones, and even exceed your goals in the process.

In the words of Carol Dweck, growth mindset guru, “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” (Dweck, 2015).

At LSI, we have relied on the power of growth mindset to drive our own team of educational experts through the most difficult time of our careers and guide others to do the same. Using scientific research, we developed the following six-step G-R-O-W-T-H mindset approach, which we practice and teach in our current Adult SEL courses.

Within these six steps, I also include quick, digestible tips to help model and mirror growth mindset for those who you are serving and serving alongside.

 

My GROWTH Journey

I have always advocated for the transformational lenses often developed through growth mindset.

This last year – with the heightened context of trauma and equity issues coming to the forefront – has made me realize we have an even greater need to authenticate growth mindset and its effects.

Our social misson at Learning Sciences International is to strengthen core instruction and equip students to break free of generational poverty, ensuring biased results of inequitable academic systems are eliminated entirely.

LSI’s social mission is to strengthen core instruction and equip students to break free of generational poverty, ensuring biased results of inequitable academic systems are eliminated entirely.… Click To Tweet

LSI’s mission is also a personal one for me. As a Jamaican immigrant growing up in poverty, I had teachers, elders, and community allies who advocated for the opportunities that may have otherwise remained hidden from me. Those opportunities gave me a chance to see possibilities that I had never been introduced or exposed to. As a first-generation college graduate and nationally awarded Milken educator, I am now serving alongside the best in the field to help disrupt the same inequitable academic systems that my equity gatekeepers helped me navigate. I will be the change as I serve alongside my teammates to unapologetically break the cycle of generational poverty. This vision keeps me centered on our shared purpose and drives my daily actions and goals.

 

6 Steps to Developing a Professional GROWTH Mindset

Growth Mindset Graphic

 

G: Gatekeepers provide equity opportunities

The first step in our G-R-O-W-T-H journey is recognizing that we serve as equity gatekeepers. We have the power and responsibility to open gates of opportunity to help those whom we are serving and serving alongside learn and grow.

In our Adult SEL courses (A Focus on Agency and Teaching Through Affirming Lenses), we help unpack this concept of the equity gatekeeper by reflecting on our educational and professional journeys. Within these reflections, we remember our experiences with those who served as equity gatekeepers for us, providing opportunities for us to learn personally and professionally.

Just as we were on the receiving end of opportunities, we now have the responsibility to pay it forward and do the same. We can provide opportunities for fellow educators to shine and demonstrate their ability to grow in the process.

For example, at LSI, we serve as equity gatekeepers by centering our actions around our social mission and recognizing that each and every stakeholder brings a unique gift that fuels our collective vision.

Quick tip for: “G: Gatekeepers Provide Equity Opportunity”

Write commitment letters and share them with those you serve alongside. You can write a commitment letter for your teammates, those you serve in schools, and/or your students.
Making a public stance via a letter will help you hold yourself accountable to being an equity gatekeeper for those you serve and serve alongside.

 

I recently revised my commitment letter and shared it with my teammates. It serves as a reminder to me that in the face of difficulty, I must always choose the path of equity. For a sample commitment letter, see mine here.

 

R: Respect where people are in their journey

The second step in our G-R-O-W-T-H journey involves respecting where people are in their journey.

When operating through an “agency lens” – empowering others to develop and manage their own goals – we view our colleagues for who they have the potential of becoming. We focus on what strengths and talents we can help them develop and/or co-develop through mentoring, coaching, and modeling.

This is an intentional shift from spending our time solely highlighting deficiencies that may humiliate and deflate to presenting deficiencies as areas of potential growth where we encourage and uplift.

When we fail to respect where people are in their journey, we are reluctant to support their growth and we are equally prone to engage in behaviors that can dehumanize and debilitate.

 

Try to see your colleagues for who they have the potential of becoming. Mentor, coach, and model. Don’t humiliate or deflate. Use deficiencies as areas of growth. As an “equity gatekeeper,” you have the power to encourage and uplift.… Click To Tweet

 

An esteemed colleague and friend, Gary Hess, shared a favorite quote recently by Haim Ginott, child psychologist and educator:

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or dehumanized” (1972, p. 15).

For years, I shared this quote openly with educators across the country just as it was once shared with me. In trainings, we stood tall together and recited it in unison at the closing of our sessions. It continues to serve as a reminder that as fellow change agents serving in classroom settings, school sites, and district and state educational offices we must continue to celebrate where we are going and work together to pull one another up through challenges as we strive toward achieving our collective mission for children. This is the foundation of what it means to rise by lifting others.

While Ginott’s famous quote depicts the synergy we fuel within classrooms, we must also be mindful of the synergy we fuel within our adult learning environments.

LSI celebrates Ginott’s beliefs through the concept of rising by lifting others. We highlight the fact that we stand on the shoulders of giants. We pave new pathways and fight for equity and access for all stakeholders and their communities.

Quick Tip for “R: Respect Where People are in Their Journey”

Incorporate Ginott’s 3 main points in your daily interactions. Consider the following examples:

    1. My personal approach creates the climate. We are responsible for the energy that we bring into a space. The energy we bring creates a synergy that can fuel positivity or negativity. Give yourself and those around you permission to take a moment to recenter. Sometimes a quick reset is all one needs to positively fuel their shared space.
    2. I can humiliate or heal. There is a saying from Socrates that I use to help me gauge my words: Is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?
      a. Is it true? Engaging in gossip and fueling the negative and divisive effects that come with it can never be healing. Commit to disengaging from gossip and choose to compassionately challenge those who do.
      b. Is it kind? Kindness can be demonstrated in even the most difficult and challenging conversations when fueled by love and compassion. Giving someone difficult feedback to help them improve personally and/or professionally is an empathetic act.
      c. Is it necessary? If it will not uplift or empower, choose to not engage in it. Anything that serves to embarrass, or ridicule will never serve to build the beloved community we need to continue to thrive.
    3. I can choose to humanize or dehumanize. Our actions must be fueled by empathy and compassion. Empathetic actions serve to uplift and empower. This supports interdependence and collective agency.

 

 

O: Open your mind to new possibilities

The third step in our G-R-O-W-T-H journey is to open your mind to new possibilities.

I recently unpacked this step extensively in my blog: 3 Ways Education Leaders Can Reduce Teacher Stress Using The Mirror-Window Effect where I highlighted the roles we play as mirrors, modeling what it means to walk in compassion through empathetic action.

As mirrors, we serve to create new windows of perspectives that fuel transformational change.

There is an undeniable power in the strong foundations that are laid through shared resilience. Undeniably, you have innovated, activated your voices, and activated your strengths. Be mindful that you and your students will rely on supports to help model and mirror how to continue to tap into that foundation of existing resilience to face the new challenges ahead.

Quick Tip for “O: Open Your Mind to New Possibilities”

Much of this concept of opening our minds to new possibilities requires us to accept the fact that we are not going back to a pre-pandemic normal.

That normal will become a distant memory and historical milestone for all of us. Instead, take the opportunity to embrace the upcoming academic school year as an accelerated growth year, whereby you and your teams may build upon the innovative and strength-based foundation that you spent the last year and a half cultivating while surviving and thriving in a global crisis.

 

 

W: Why is the foundation of team

The fourth step in our G-R-O-W-T-H journey is to start with why to lay the foundation of team.

In LSI’s Adult SEL courses, we guide our participants through the process of pinpointing and defining their individual “whys.”

When we identify our individual whys, we help develop our self-awareness, a sense of purpose, and a sense of belonging that Maslow determined as a basic human need.

Once we pinpoint our individual whys, we then identify the strengths that develop and fuel our professional purpose or focused niche area by mapping to our collective mission and vision.

At Learning Sciences International, our social mission is fueled by our collective purpose, which is a culmination of our individual whys and strengths. Together, we serve interdependently within a shared purpose. This centers us as we recognize that we are part of something greater than ourselves, a concept which is supported by research on the psychology of human agency (Bandura, 2006).

When you operate within a realm where you recognize that you are part of something greater than yourself, you help fuel collaboration and agency. In this state, there is no space for selfish gain, ego, or the toxic and debilitating traits that serve only to divide. You cannot afford to be taken off course. There is too much work to do!

Quick Tip for “W: Why is the Foundation of Team”

Write down your individual why and strengths and map them to your school or district’s mission statement. Keep the list close to you in your workspace and reference it when you need some encouragement or a reminder of the importance of your contribution to the educational mission for children.

 

 

T: Take the time to learn one another’s stories

The fifth step in our G-R-O-W-T-H journey is to take the time to share one another’s stories.

Leaders in the psychological field agree that sharing ideas and communicating are important, and so is team spirit. Working together to find innovative solutions builds upon our shared resilience and helps us share stories of what we have done and what we are doing (Neale, 2020).

I’ve found two very effective ways to share stories with colleagues.

The first is Ubuntu Stories. Ubuntu (oo-boon-too) is an African philosophy derived from the Zulu phrase, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” which translates as “I am, because we are” or “Your humanity is tied to mine.” Ubuntu represents the idea that we are all connected. One can only grow and progress through the growth and progression of others. It is a reminder of how we should treat one another (Williams, 2018).

You can share your Ubuntu stories through snapshots of your life to learn more about how your and your colleagues’ varied experiences and perspectives come together to strengthen your bonds as a team and organization.

Consider taking a few minutes at the beginning or end of your in-person or virtual meetings to share Ubuntu stories, or in a more informal setting with colleagues such as during lunch or on a break.

Whenever you make the time to share, Ubuntu stories can fuel your empathetic actions and continuously develop your lenses of compassion.

For example, at LSI, the concept of Ubuntu helps us see that everything we do and every decision we make impacts those around us. We shift into thinking in terms of we to model for the field the power our interconnectedness holds in accelerating change.

Ubunto Journey

The second way I’ve found to effectively share stories with colleagues is through a shared community message space.

For example, at LSI we have a Shout Outs and Celebrations channel in the Microsoft Teams platform where both our full-time staff and independent contractors celebrate individuals and teams for their contributions to LSI’s social mission.

You can recreate the same space in many different platforms, and it’s a great way to share stories even if you’re short on time.

Quick Tip for “T: Take the Time to Learn One Another’s Stories”

Commit to finding ways to celebrate one another throughout the year. Celebrations and shout-outs will help keep you fueled and build the bonds that are critical for thriving through upcoming challenges.

Make the time to celebrate all the skills you sharpened and all the new ones you discovered. Encourage your colleagues to do the same. You may choose to display them in a shared meeting space in the school or district office. As you face new challenges, remind one another that you are learning and growing. Just as you sharpened your skills before and discovered new ones, you will do it again.

 

 

H: Have the courage to embrace the discomfort of change

The sixth and final step in our G-R-O-W-T-H journey is to have the courage to embrace the discomfort of change.

When we embark on the new challenges that lie ahead, we will have countless opportunities to learn and grow. Take advantage of those opportunities. Remind yourselves and your teams that learning and growing is indeed uncomfortable. It is squishy. Celebrate the squishy-ness of change and embrace the discomfort of growth.

Embrace the discomfort of change. When we embark on new challenges, we have countless opportunities to learn and grow. How are you cultivating a professional growth mindset?… Click To Tweet

By relying on the courage we have developed over the last year and a half, we can remind ourselves that the discomfort we feel is shared. This shared experience is one in which we can embrace our existing strengths, discover new ones, and develop our areas of needed growth. It’s an opportunity to strengthen our teams and relationships and fuel safe, equitable learning environments.

Quick Tip for “H: Have the Courage to Embrace the Discomfort of Change”

As you courageously establish equitable learning communities for adults and students, there are some key factors about growth mindset that you must not overlook.

Be mindful of the ways in which you address the needs of those who are entrusted in your care. Ensure that they have every opportunity to do more than just merely survive. Do everything you can to provide the means and measures to ensure all stakeholders thrive.

Don’t be afraid to be truthful and transparent in your journey. Showing the human side of yourself will give those around you permission to do the same.

 

 

Be the Change

Many of us have effectively demonstrated aspects of the six steps of G-R-O-W-T-H mindset over our lifetimes. We have proven to ourselves that, collectively, we have the power to be world-changers.

Educational leaders and leading psychologists agree that in order to create and sustain change, we must build the capacity of our leaders, teachers, and students. We must provide opportunities for all educational stakeholders to thrive (Neale, 2020).

Now is the time to become agents of transformation focused on securing a successful future for our children. This is our social responsibility as educators.

As many of us shift our lenses to view ourselves in this new light, commit to giving yourself what LSI’s visionary leader, Michael Toth, refers to as grace. It takes confidence and courage and a relentless belief in your own capacity, the capacity of those we serve alongside, and the capacity of those we serve in the field.

For us here at LSI, developing a G-R-O-W-T-H mindset means relentlessly staying the course, standing firm against inequity – unapologetically – and serving together as a family to fulfill our social mission.

What does a G-R-O-W-T-H mindset mean for you, your school, or your district? Feel free to share with us in the comments below!

 

 

Join Our Social Mission

 We ask that you join us in our commitment to supporting teachers and students and encourage you to stay connected to us as we strive to meet the SEL and trauma-informed needs of the field.

Join our Facebook Page and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter. Join our followers and listen to our podcast, . Check back regularly to learn more about our SEL offerings and field supports.

Not sure what supports you need? Connect with one of our SEL and trauma-informed experts who will help map your needs to our offerings.

We look forward to seeing you soon in our SEL and trauma-informed courses and hearing more about how our supports are helping to guide you and your staff along your SEL journeys.

Resources

 

References

Bandura, A. (2006). Toward a psychology of human agency. Perspectives on Psychological Science. 1(2), 164-180. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-6916.2006.00011.x

Dweck, C. (2015, September 22). Carol Dweck revisits the “growth mindset.” Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/opinion-carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset/2015/09

Ginott, H. G. (1972). Teacher and child: A book for parents and teachers. The Macmillan Company.

Neale, P. (2020, May 26). Why servant leadership is more important than ever. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2020/05/26/why-servant-leadership-is-more-important-than-ever/?sh=142176d28610

Williams, H. S. (2018, October 19). What is the spirit of Ubuntu? How can we have it in our lives? Global Citizen. https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/ubuntu-south-africa-together-nelson-mandela/?template=next

 

Joys and Affirmations

A special appreciation to our CEO and visionary leader, Michael Toth, whose relentless belief in the capacity of all children fuels this essential work.

A warm appreciation to Taylor Barahona, Editorial Assistant to the CEO, whose enormous investment in our guided research and unwavering commitment to helping us share our findings with the field have been both encouraging and inspiring. Thank you for being such a dynamic thought partner.

A celebration and warm appreciation to Jan Matthews who is retiring from LSI. Thank you for your servant leadership, insight, and keen attention to detail. You will always be a valued member of our SEL team and to our extended LSI Family.

Appreciation to SEL team member, Tammy Quist, whose insight into the name equity gatekeeper helped influence our GROWTH infographic. Welcome to the team, Tammy!

A heartfelt appreciation for our SEL team who I have the honor and privilege of serving alongside. Thank you for serving the field behind the scenes and on the frontlines to support and guide districts and schools with their SEL and trauma-informed needs. You bring joy to this work.

  • Melissa Bloom, VP of Professional Services in Evaluation/SEL
  • Christal Bloomer, Staff Developer
  • Gwen Bryant, Staff Developer
  • Brandi Campisano, Senior Project Manager
  • Gail Charles-Walters, Staff Developer
  • Claire ErwinDistrict Partnership Representative
  • Jackie Gonzalez, Faculty Coach
  • Sabrina Gulyas, Administrative Support Specialist in Evaluation/SEL
  • Gary Hess, Staff Developer
  • Laura Motchenbaugh, Content Operations Manager
  • Lee Manly, Senior Director of District Partnerships – Evaluation/SEL Strategic Partnerships in Sales
  • Shawn Merriweather, Staff Developer
  • Emily Nauman, Director of District Partnerships – Evaluation/SEL Strategic Partnerships in Sales
  • Kathryn Ondrusek, Staff Developer
  • Diane Perley, Fulfillment Operations Manager
  • Rebeccah Potavin, Staff Developer
  • Tammy Quist, Staff Developer
  • Susan Schilsky, Staff Developer
  • Katie Schwab, Fulfillment Specialist
  • Lorie Spadafora, Staff Developer
  • Maria Thomas, Practice Area Operations Manager in Process Improvement
  • Eva Tucker-Nevels, Staff Developer

We would also like to extend our appreciation to our extended LSI Family who help support our SEL team. We appreciate your support and shared commitment to our SEL vision. We cannot drive this essential work without you! Together, we are One LSI. We are One Team. We are LSI Family Strong!

 

 

 

About LSI

Our vision for education is to close the achievement gap. Equip all students with the social, emotional, and cognitive skills they need to thrive in the 21st century. Expand equity by giving every child access to rigorous core instruction that empowers learners to free themselves from generational poverty.

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