working together so learners can flourish

Posts tagged ‘professional learning communities’

“Does Your Staff Have a Growth Mindset?”

Chances are you have heard the term ‘growth mindset’ floating about in educational circles. Perhaps you even use it yourself to describe an attribute of a thriving learner. And it can be – an attribute of a thriving learner, that is – or it can be one of those buzz phrases that people fill with their own meaning. Given the talk about a changing paradigm for teacher professional growth and given that many of you have goals related to professional growth in your school improvement plans, I think the information in the links below is worth considering.

Jackie Gerstein, who has facilitated several workshops on a ‘growth mindset’ for educators, says in her blog post on User-Generated Education:

The faddish or pop culture version of the growth mindset is emerging as: “Have a Growth Mindset.” This smacks of the “Just So No” campaign of the Reagan era.  Catch phrases about a growth mindset will have as much effect on actually developing a growth mindset as just saying no did on curbing drug use.

Carol Dweck’s expresses some concerns about integrating the growth mindset into educational settings: A lot of teachers are saying ‘yes I have a growth mindset’, without doing the work and without making a journey to deeply understand it and to know how to apply it. Even some teachers who genuinely have a growth mindset aren’t understanding how to apply it properly. They are just telling kids to try hard: which I call nagging, not growth mindset. Or they are just saying ‘hey kids, have a growth mindset’.(Carol Dweck)

the-educator-with-a-growth-mindset-29-1024I mirror Dweck’s concern about educators and learners needing to do the work required to develop a growth mindset. It is a deeply reflective process requiring that this process occur often and over time.

As a visual summary, Gerstein offers these diagrams to illustrate what she considers to be a true ‘growth mindset’:

growth-fixedgrowth mindset


Cultivating a Spirit of Celebration

“Celebration is to the culture of a school ‘what the movie is to the script, the concert to the score, and the dance is to the values that are difficult to express in any other way.’”[i]

We all know how important good communication is in a school community. And we know how difficult achieving it can be. We all have the stories. The authors of Learning by Doing suggest that one powerful tool for communication is often overlooked and underutilized. The tool? Celebration – regular public recognition.


To celebrate is to extol, honor, commend, praise, show gratitude or appreciation, remember, or recognize through the use of rites or ceremonies, formal or informal, planned or spontaneous. Recognize comes from the Latin “to know again.” Public recognition reminds the learning community what they value. Engaging in joyful or playful or solemn celebrations has the potential of weaving members of the learning community together around shared purpose and growth toward fulfilling that purpose.


“When admiration and appreciation are repeatedly expressed, organizations create a culture of ongoing regard that sustains effort because such language is “like pumping oxygen into the system.”” [i]


What is celebrated is, in part, context specific. Each learning community must identify their values and common commitments and keep track of progress toward fulfilling them. Public recognition can be a powerful tool for marking and even making progress. Celebrating short-terms wins has the potential of undermining the resistors and “building momentum that turns neutral people into supporters and reluctant supporters into active helpers.”[iii]

Actions, practices, or behaviors related to common commitments regarding student learning should be the primary focus of celebrations. To be effective, it is important to make a clear link between the act of recognizing and what is being recognized. Generic praise is an ineffective communication tool. While there may be appropriate times to recognize individuals, where possible, that individual’s contributions should be linked to team efforts. The learning that we are most concerned with is that of the young people in our learning spaces, but teachers need to be continuous learners as well in order to facilitate student growth. When we celebrate teacher learning it should always be linked to its contribution to student learning.

While school leaders may take the lead in creating space for celebration, they should not be the only ones deciding what to recognize. A positive impact on student growth is the responsibility of the whole community so the whole community should be alert to recognizing and identifying those practices, actions or behaviors that contribute to student growth. Celebration is the responsibility of every member of the learning community.

The ways we can celebrate are only limited by our collective imagination. The point is to keep purpose in mind and to be intentional. Everyone may agree that celebrating is an important tool in building and sustaining a collaborative culture, but it will likely not become an integral part of the way the community works together without a plan. Learning communities need to be intentional about creating space for regular celebrations.


[i] Terrence Deal and Allen Kennedy in Corporate Cultures quoted in “Encouraging a Spirit of Celebration” in “The Learning System” NSDC Vol. 3, No. 8, May 2008, p. 5.

[ii] Kegan & Lahey, 2001, p. 102 as quoted in Learning by doing: a handbook for professional communities at work 2nd edition. Solution Tree Press:Bloominton, IN. P. 37

[iii] Kotter, J. “The eight step process.” quoted in Tools for learning schools, p. 3. Fall 2013, Vol 17, No. 1 Learning Forward: Oxford, OH.


Sources used:

Armstrong, A. “Celebrate professional transitions and successes to drive and sustain implementation” in Tools for learning schools. Fall 2013. Vol.17, No. 1. Learning Forward:Oxford, OH.

DuFour, R.,DuFour, R.,Eaker, R. & Many, T. Learning by doing: a handbook for professional communities at work 2nd edition. Solution Tree Press:Bloominton, IN. P. 37-41.

“Encouraging a Spirit of Celebration” in The Learning System. Vol. 3, No. 8, May 2008, p. 5. NSDC :Oxford, OH. P. 4-5.


elaine brouwer, alta vista

Building a Learner-Centered Collaborative Culture

To date, five of our NWCSI schools have received ‘training’ in Learner-Centered Collaborative practices (otherwise know as professional learning communities) through the partnership of Alta Vista and Seattle Pacific University, supported by a Murdock grant. Those schools include: Lynden, Oak Harbor, Monroe, Everett, and Bellevue. And now, thanks to residual grant funds (the grant expired in August), two more of our schools (Ellensburg and Shoreline) are engaged in an exploration of LCC practices via Edmodo.

A few years ago, Jan Brown (SPU) and I (Elaine Brouwer, Alta Vista), decided to write an online course to enable us to spread learning regarding LCC practices for Christian schools beyond geographical limitations. That ‘course’ is now being piloted with Shoreline and Ellensburg via Edmodo. The pilot is a blended learning experience with five face-to-face meetings and work done online. The learning experience is packaged in 10 modules with activities in each module building to a culminating project, which is a plan to grow a school-wide Learner-Centered Collaborative culture for student growth in their own school. Participants access the modules on Edmodo and use the posting function to reflect on their learning and to dialogue with each other. With the help of Shoreline and Ellensburg, we hope to refine the ‘course’ and consider how we might offer the learning experience to more of our NWCSI schools and perhaps Christian schools across North America (big dreams!).

Here’s the question for us. Since seven of our NWCSI schools have been or are engaged in a learning experience in which they build a common vocabulary and common understanding of the possibilities of using LCC practices to promote mission and vision shaped student growth – How can we leverage this common experience to encourage each other to sustain the work, to learn from each other, and to spread the learning?

There is an incredible opportunity here not to be missed!

elaine brouwer

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