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.
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.
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.