Combating Fixed Mindset With Growth Mindset

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Continuing on with his experience of coaching with a growth mindset, instructional coach, Dan Kreiness, dives into the danger of the "comfort zone" and how to combat a fixed mindset.

For more posts by instructional coaches, for instructional coaches, please check out our recent posts from the TeachBoost series entitled: "Your Coaching Toolbox".

Another takeaway from a session I attended at the Leyden Symposium last summer was the term “TTWADI”—That’s The Way (I, We, They have) Always Done It. That level of comfort is dangerous; while everyone likes to feel comfortable, it gets dangerous when it begins to hold people back from succeeding.

The Tragedy of the Comfort Zone

I like to think that we all have three “zones” that represent our willingness to change, or our growth mindset: the comfort zone, the no zone, and the grow zone. As someone becomes comfortable with a practice, they are obviously in their comfort zone. Having to change, however, will require getting to the grow zone by way of the no zone. Like the teachers I work with, many people often need help navigating through the no zone to reach the grow zone. Sometimes they are guided by new classroom management or instructional methods, sometimes by embracing newer technologies, and sometimes just by looking at a situation differently than before.

Unfortunately the comfort zone is often where good ideas go to die. It’s where people tend to get lazy and where once effective teachers lose their magic or mojo. Most unfortunately, the comfort zone is where students cannot learn in ways that resonate with them the most. When teachers stay in their comfort zone it becomes too far removed from students’ comfort zones. Teachers whose comfort zones still include the “drill and kill” style of instruction or the “sage on the stage” philosophy are often not able to relate to current students. Worse, they are not providing content in ways that students will relate to and connect with the best.

Only when teachers embrace change as a means to build better relationships with their students and instruct them in ways that will get them to grow themselves the most, will they truly adopt a growth mindset. I maintain that students at any age are able to tell what a teacher’s mindset is like. Students who are in classes where the teacher has a growth mindset will likely enjoy themselves more and learn better than in classes where the teacher is using instructional methods that should have been thrown out with the chalkboard and overhead projector from my 2006 classroom.

How to Grow Your Mindset

Anyone, no matter how optimistic they are or how much of a growth mindset they possess, can also hold fixed mindsets about things as well. We can all point to times when we have felt that growth or change of any kind has become a task that was insurmountable, where we felt like we were driving through the longest tunnel ever built and could not see the light at the end of it.

In combating this, Summer Howarth, the director of Education Changemakers, an organization whose mission is to unleash teacher-led innovation, once said that “Your why should make you cry.” No one can change just because they are being asked to, they must know why they are changing.

One of the greatest leaders I know is a summer camp owner named Scott Rawls. Scott advises people who work for him at his camps to adopt an attitude that has them replace the words “I don’t have to” with “I get to.” Putting a growth mindset spin on that statement, instead of a teacher saying, “My principal told me I have to start using (insert new tech tool)” they would say “I get to start using (the new tech tool).” Making subtle changes like that, and knowing the why behind the need to change something, makes it a much easier process.

I used these principles when I created a Voxer group last June as a session during Edcamp Voxer. It quickly became one of the most active sessions during that edcamp, going almost nonstop for the nearly three days of the conference. Once the conference was over, not only did many of the group’s participants convince me to continue it, they also remained active in the group. As we continued to discuss the applications of growth mindset to education throughout the rest of the summer and into the new school year, I was even convinced to create the hashtag #growthmindsetedu and turn it into a monthly Twitter chat. While I’m proud of the work we’ve done with the group, when I stand back and reflect on why the group and Twitter chat have such wonderful effects on participants, I can’t help but feel that there is still such a need for it in education.

There will always be so many changes happening in education at any given moment in time. For instance, a while back we had to get used to educating students under the No Child Left Behind legislation, then we had to adapt to Common Core standards. Then last year No Child Left Behind was abandoned for the Every Student Succeeds Act. Right now we are also experiencing many changes within the realm of education technology and personalized learning. Because of all of this change, it is vital that educators have the correct mindset when approaching anything new.

Having a positive attitude and thinking about the best interest of the students help, but why? The next time you or any educator you know, or any at all, is asked to change, start there. Realize the root cause for change. Wrestle with the intended audience and the conflicts they may face. Discover and uncover flaws in the system. That’s all okay, it’s part of the process. But without going through the process, without getting from the comfort zone through the no zone and into the grow zone, change simply will not happen. If you can allow change to occur, and if you make growth happen, then you'll know what it’s like to have your why.

About our Guest Blogger

Dan Kreiness serves the Derby (CT) Public Schools as the middle school instructional coach. Dan holds masters degrees in adolescent education and educational leadership and is currently a doctoral student in the field of educational leadership. Dan is the founder of the successful #growthmindsetEDU Voxer group and monthly Twitter chat. His specific educational interests include leadership, educational technology, and student engagement. He was selected to the 2017 class of ASCD Emerging Leaders.

Find more of Dan's work at or follow him on twitter @dkreiness.

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