More About Mindsets

Three times this week, I’ve been asked the same question: Are you going to miss New York? It’s a normal question (since I’ll most likely be back in Atlanta next year), but I’ve had a very difficult time forming a coherent answer on each occasion. Of course I’ll miss my life here – my “job” is being a student, most every restaurant serves food that’s picture worthy, Central Park is three blocks from my door, I can see the sunset over the Hudson River from my apartment window, and on top of everything else, the Klingenstein kool-aid tastes delicious! However, while I revel in all things New York, I’m very anxious to get back into a school environment – back into the “real” world where I can begin to apply what I’ve learned and experienced in meaningful ways. I’m aware that I’m in an interesting place….caught between the theoretical and the practical with very few opportunities to marry the two in authentic ways.

As an example, I spent this morning delving into theories of organizational structures with the Klingenstein crowd during my Leadership of Private Schools class. Then, I hopped on the subway and traveled to my internship site (a private, all-boys, inner-city school in the East Village) where I spent five hours continuing previous conversations about writing (which will hopefully lead to a re-vamping/mapping of the 4th – 8th grade writing curriculum – read: my internship project). From there, I traveled back to Columbia for my Literacies and Technologies class to discuss how literacies can be “new” in two ways, ontologically and in their ethos. It was a crazy day, and I had to shift my mindset a number of times. However, in all of the traveling, shifting, and changing gears, I had a bit of an ah-ha moment.

Karen LaBonte, my Literacies and Technologies professor, challenged me with the idea that it’s the “ethos” stuff that can transform education. According to Lankshear and Knobel:

In addition to being made of different ‘technical’ stuff from conventional literacies, new literacies are also made of what we might call different ‘ethos stuff’ from what we typically associate with conventional literacies. For example, they are often more ‘participatory,’ more ‘collaborative,’ and more ‘distributed,’ as well as less ‘published,’ less ‘individuated,’ and less ‘author-centric’ than conventional literacies…The ‘stuff’ of what we think of as new literacies reflects a different mindset from the stuff of which conventional literacies are largely composed. They involve different kind of social and cultural relations, they flow out of different kinds of priorities and values, and so on.

As I continue to ponder ideas of new vs. conventional literacies, it’s also important for me to wrestle with the idea of “ethos.” How can I do the hard work of creating a highly participatory, very collaborative classroom/school where learning/teaching/leading is distributed? What work can I do now to solidify this “ethos” so that I can clearly communicate my new mindset when I enter into a new school environment?

The first thing I need to do is work to define my mindset (fully knowing that it will shift and change based on my experience and new learning). Lankshear and Knobel provides an interesting place to start (Mindset 1/2), but I know that ideas from Dweck and others in my PLN will help to further challenge me over the next few months. It’s one way I can begin to marry the theory with reality.

Education Really Needs an Upgrade

A Preface: Over the past six months, I have had the chance to ponder BIG questions in relation to leadership and education. While I’m incredibly impressed with my experience, I’ve been frustrated with lack of conversation around 21st century literacies and education – especially among our group of aspiring administrators and future heads of schools. This semester, I decided to do something about it. I enrolled in an elective class (Literacies and Technologies in Secondary English Classroom) which is outside of the official  education leadership umbrella (but obviously, not really). Although we’re not even halfway through the semester, I have found this class to be even more challenging than many of my core classes. We’re a diverse group, we’ve been grappling with tough questions having to do with literacy and education, and we’re trying to envision what our classrooms and schools will/should/could look like while we’re in the comfortable cocoon of graduate school. It’s quite a daunting task.

Our small group has been thinking about a number of interesting questions during the first few weeks of class. The following questions are based on Lankshear and Knobels’s ideas from New Literacies, but they echo some of the larger questions that are being considered across our nation/world:

  • Since literacies can be considered “new” in terms of both ontologies and ethos, what does “new literacies” mean? Are ethos/ontology mutually exclusive?
  • What is the connection between a mindset and a new literacy?
  • What are the effects of distinguishing literacies as new? How does this shape our ideas of these literacies – both the “old” and “new”?
  • Given that teachers and curricula form the backbone of the “deep grammar” of school, what implications does this have for educators?

While I wasn’t able to attend Will Richardson’s conversation in person, I’ve been following the aftermath (and will read through the archived Elluminate chat very soon). Will’s session was entitled “The Decoupling of Education and School” and he used ideas from Collins and Halverson’s Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology to start the conversation. While the questions that were created (by 100 people in person and 40+ people online) encompass a much broader sweep of the educational landscape, I think we can add some of these questions to our discussion and more importantly, learn from his approach.

After the weekend at Educon, Richardson created a Google Form with all of the questions and asked others to join the conversation. He called on the members of his incredibly large PLN to whittle the 30 or so questions down to the ten essential questions by crowdsourcing. This is when I got involved. I voted on the ten that were most pressing as did many others. The results, which Richardson extracted after only a few days and numerous tweets, speak for themselves. His blog post on the process (and what the future will bring) is worth reading.

As I think about the small group in our Literacies and Technologies class and the big questions we are wrestling with, I think it’s essential that we do a couple of things. First, in order to bring more voices into the discussion, I think it’s important that we begin to expand our network to include a variety of opinions. I appreciate Will’s approach – especially since he is considered an expert by many in the ed tech world – because it gives a tangible example of networked learning. Second, I think it’s important that we remember that our discussions (while heavily rooted in theory) have real, practical implications. Karen LaBonte suggested this video, and I think it’ll provide an interesting foundation for the issues that we’ll grapple with this week/month/semester. I think it will help remind all of us that our theoretical discussions have realistic implications – the students in this video are asking for something more. They’re asking for us to consider what the world will look like in 5, 10, 20, 30 years. They’re hoping we take risks to provide them with something different. I’m hoping for the same thing.

Learning and Relationships


After finishing the second chapter of Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel’s book entitled New Literacies, I am wrestling with the concept of mindsets and the role our mindset plays in relation to personal and professional learning. While Carol Dweck would rely on the distinction between fixed and growth mindsets, L&K explore the tensions between old and new literacies, physical spaces and cyberspaces, and newcomers (immigrants) and insiders (natives). This week’s excerpt made me think about my life as a teacher and the shift in my mindset over the past ten years.

But first…

I grew up in one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city of Atlanta and spent most of my free time outdoors. My brave and gregarious best friend spent most of her time IN trees (climbing, eating, reading, flirting, and on two occasions, sleeping) and as timid, only-child, I felt much more secure closer to the ground. Sarah would scale trees like a monkey, and I would carefully climb, limb by limb, to the point that was “cool” yet still safe. While my tree-climbing prowess never rivaled Sarah’s, she was the ultimate teacher. She served as a guide, showing me which trees to climb and which limbs to trust. She served as an encourager, always pushing me to take risks (many of which my parents would not have been thrilled about). She served as model, someone who I both respected and envied, for her courage and for her ability to challenge herself even when afraid. Because of our relationship and her willingness to serve as a guide, encourager, and model, I learned a lot about myself and a little bit about life in the trees.

And now…

As I reflect on my experiences with teacher professional development , I am acutely aware of how my mindset has shifted. I actually left my first job because I desperately craved professional growth and challenge. I changed schools and was thrilled to be teaching in a school with an incredible amount of resources for professional development – and I took advantage of every opportunity for personal and professional growth (conferences, workshops, retreats). For a long time, I was operating under what L&K call “Mindset 1” – that “the world is appropriately interpreted, understood, and responded to in broadly physical-industrial terms” (p. 38). When I wanted to learn, I rarely thought about what my personal/professional network had to offer – I wanted to go to the expert, or learn from the authority. I filled out professional development form, waited for my coordinator’s approval, secured a sub, and printed out lesson plans. I traveled to whatever conference, workshop, or retreat offered the richest professional development experience I could find.

Two and a half years ago, this mindset of mine was challenged. And, it happened the minute I found out that all of my sixth graders would be given tablet computers the following school year. I knew that my classroom would look incredibly different and that spurred me to think about how I, as a teacher and learner, needed to think differently. It’s taken me a while to evolve and be able to confidently say that I have shifted mindsets, but after transformational learning experiences as a result of networked learning, I have fully embraced the power of this new way of thinking. And it’s all about relationships.

L&K focus on the following words in their discussion concerning mindsets: production, intelligence, authority, and expertise. While many people pay the big bucks to learn from some of the most famous minds in education, I credit most of my professional learning over the past few years to the people in my PLN. In order for educators (or anyone) to grasp this, they must let go of what’s comfortable and put themselves “out there.” They must redefine what the words production, intelligence, authority, and expertise mean in the context of professional learning. They must “let go of their  ‘industrial’ view of production evident within the first mindset and [adopt] a ‘post-industrial’ view integral to the second mindset.” Additionally, they must recognize two important distinctions:

  • the difference between a focus on intelligence as a quality or possession of individuals and a focus on collective intelligence; and
  • the difference between seeing expertise and authority as ‘located’ within individuals and institutions, as in the case of the first mindset, and seeing them as distributed, collective and hybrid. (p. 41)

As I look back, it’s strange that it took me so long to realize the way I learn best. My experience over the past few years mirrors my experience as a youngster with Sarah and the trees. It’s about risk-taking and individual inquiry, of course. But, it’s also about the relationships. It’s about being challenged and strengthened by others within a collaborative learning environment. It’s about connecting (face to face and online) with people who are passionate about learning. It’s about being the guide, the encourager, and the model and allowing others to adopt those roles as well.

“You Can’t Be Who You Really Are In Someone Else’s Language”

Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of  insiders and outsiders as it relates to education, technology, and the development of the self. While there are definitely three posts brewing in my mind (see below), I’ll save two for another day. But, to be a little more transparent, here’s what I’ve been thinking about…

  • In my Klingenstein Leadership class, I had the chance to examine a case study which initiated conversation around the idea of increasing diversity in independent schools. While I can’t refer to the specifics of the study for confidentiality reasons, it made me think about problems with diversity initiatives – especially those programs which aim to increase the “outsiders” within certain communities without proper preparation and planning. It made me frustrated and sad for the many students who have difficult (and often detrimental) experiences as “outsiders” in schools. [I’ll hopefully find time to post about this later in the week.]
  • Yesterday, a tweet directed me to a blog post that addressed the experience of an ELL (English Language Learner) in a Georgia classroom. The tweet said, “if you only read one thing today, read the posts/comments.” I would argue that if you only read one thing this week, make sure to put this post at the top of your list. I was profoundly affected, as it encompasses what’s been on my heart and mind recently. Rocio, the student featured in the post, beautifully describes her experience as an ELL student – an outsider – within the context of a school classroom. “We don’t have a personality until we own the language the people around us use to communicate,” she explains. The statement of “you can’t be who you really are in someone else’s language” is a powerful one – and one that adds even more texture to the context of my reflections this week in light of insiders/outsiders. [Again, I’ll hopefully find time to post about this later in the week.]
  • Finally, the assigned reading for my Literacies and Technologies class (New Literacies; ch. #1 “From ‘Reading’ to ‘New’ Literacies”)  addressed a completely different subject (much less heart, a lot more head) but strangely connected to the concept of insiders/outsiders that I’d been mulling over all week. Rocio’s statement, “You can’t be who you really are in someone else’s language,” powerfully relates to the ideas of literacy (post-1970) and the implications for educators striving to teach skills of the 21st century to students who desperately need them.

In the first chapter of New Literacies,  Lankshear and Knobel  introduce readers to the idea that “literacy” is dynamic and multi-faceted. It is not as simple as defining someone as literate or illiterate. While this complex idea of literacy has not always been as an educational focus (especially prior to 1970), I am intrigued by the development of the definition of literacy. Last week, Gee provided a strong foundation but this week, I have found the sociocultural perspective presented by E.D. Hirsch and the 3D model (Green) to be the most salient.

The 3D model builds on Hirsh’s idea of cultural literacy but adds that:

Literacy should be seen as having three interlocking dimensions of learning and practice: the operational, the cultural, and the critical. These dimensions bring together language, meaning, and context, and no one dimension has any priority over the others. In an integrated view of literate practice and literacy pedagogy, all dimensions need to be taken into account simultaneously. (p. 15)

It is essential that educators grasp this concept – especially since it’s essential that we teach 21st century literacies within the school walls. On school campuses across America (and across the world), there are insiders and outsiders in relation to the conversations concerning literacy, technology, and education. Jonanthan Kozol would argue that in some schools (schools I have visited in New York and Atlanta), literacy in its basic form isn’t being taught (and sadly, there is eerie silence in place of rich conversations around technology and education). Luckily, in many schools (public and private), the idea of multiple literacies (the 3D model) is being addressed. I believe that in order to prepare students to be productive citizens in a global economy, educators must attend to the operational, cultural, and critical dimensions of learning and practice. Then, the conversation concerning technology and education will have a stronger foundation and might naturally follow.

All of this relates (maybe too tangentially) to the idea of insiders and outsiders. If we only teach children the operational dimension of literacy, we are not teaching them the language of the 21st century. Essentially, we are making them outsiders because they won’t be able to understand someone else’s language. In the past, participation (reading/writing – on paper) was sufficient for the navigation of the world outside the school walls. Now, students must understand the language of the 21st century – and educators must help them work toward creating that understanding. This means that they (students and teachers) must be “able to transform and actively produce” literacy while moving past “operational or technical competence by contextualizing literacy with due regard for matters of culture, history, and power” (p. 16). What does this look like in the classroom? A starting place would be some of the ideas in Richardson’s book – using blogs, wikis, and podcasts (and Flickr,, and RSS)  to create, transform, analyze, gather, manipulate, search, navigate, and evaluate. Educators (we) must help students (them) learn the world’s language so they can express who they really are – in a language they feel comfortable with and understand.

The Power of the Preface

This weekend at EduCon 2.2 in Philadelphia, I had a chance to think deeply about what it means to be a teacher in a “technology-infused classroom.” When people think about the relationship between technology and education, they often credit what they see – the blogs, wikis, podcasts – and claim that a classroom is technologically advanced because of the tools. While the tools are exciting (and are definitely a sign that a classroom might be “technology-infused”), they can’t be the litmus test for classrooms.

When I was a classroom teacher at Trinity School, my sixth graders had tablets and used them in almost every subject area. On a weekly basis, prospective parents would tour the school and peek into classrooms. While these visits rarely made me feel uncomfortable, I listened carefully to the parents’ comments as they left my room. Often, they were discussing the use of technology (the tools), and that always bothered me. Now, as I contemplate the true meaning of a technology-infused classroom, I realize there was a good reason I was uncomfortable with their comments. Even in the most technologically advanced classroom, I believe attention should be centered on the student learning (or the collaboration) and not on the cool tech tool. As teachers, we must create environments where outsiders notice the learners and focus on their learning rather than on the tablet or the tools.

In order for that to happen, teachers must create a vision for their classrooms. They must relinquish control of the classroom and empower students to take responsibility for their own learning. They must promote authentic, dynamic learning opportunities through inquiry and discovery. They must teach students to be flexible and nurture adaptability and creativity. They must allow time for reflection. They must encourage risk-taking. [All of this should happen in any classroom – even if the most advanced technology in the classroom is paper and pencil.] And if the vision includes teaching with technology, teachers must seeks to truly understand the power Web 2.0 tools and model that understanding to the students.

In the preface to the second edition of Blogs, Wikis, and Podcasts, Will Richardson provides an important warning to teachers:

“In order for us to prepare our students for what is without question a future filled with networked learning spaces, we must first experience these environments for ourselves. We must become connected and engaged in learning these new ways if we are to fully understand the pedagogies of using these tools with our students. We cannot honestly discuss 21st century learning skills for our students before we first make sense of that for ourselves.”

This is a key piece that many educators miss. It’s difficult (impossible, maybe?) to have a clear vision for a technology-infused classroom without an understanding of the power of Web 2.0.

Which makes me think…

I hope the teachers who read Richardson’s book don’t skip the preface.