Growth Mindset and Intellectual Risk-taking in Coaching | Steve Barkley

Growth Mindset and Intellectual Risk-taking in Coaching

A Kappan article, Growth mindset and intellectual risk-taking: Disentangling conflated concepts by Shelby Clark and Madora Soutter caused me to ponder how coaches promote growth mindset and intellectual risk-taking.

Clark and Soutter conducted research over a year in a high school where teachers used a discussion-based pedagogy called the Harkness method, which is centered on students and teachers engaging in discussions to foster problem solving, collaboration, and deep comprehension. The researchers knew the school was recognized as having strengths in growth mindset and intellectual risk-taking (IRT). Their goal was to recognize the differences and the overlaps between the two concepts.

Hand drawing Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset success concept with black marker on transparent wipe board.

They defined growth mind set as a belief in the malleability of our intelligence and abilities as opposed to a fix mindset where abilities are predetermined, or success is based on luck or innate factors. Creating an environment where a growth mindset can thrive is critical.

They describe IRT as engaging in learning actions and behaviors regardless of potential errors or judgement. IRT behaviors might include sharing ideas, asking questions, speaking up in class, exploring viewpoints contrary to one’s own, or attempting to learn something new.

Here are the questions the researchers posed.

Growth mindset and IRT often are found in tandem, which suggests that helping students to grow in their beliefs about learning can help influence their learning behaviors. But how do we foster these beliefs and actions? Do we have to start by fostering a growth mindset, or could we begin by trying to cultivate students’ risk-taking behaviors in hopes that this, in turn, bolsters their belief in learning?

From their study, Clark and Soutter identified three promising practices:

  • Foster a growth mindset by normalizing confusion.
    Teachers did not try to avoid confusion and disagreement but actively embraced it. Not knowing the answer, confusion and even failure were treated as normal and worth celebrating.
  • Foster intellectual risk-taking through explicit instruction.
    Teachers coached their students explicitly on how to engage in productive dialogue. Teachers created an environment where risks are encouraged and opposing views embraced.
  • Create a safe environment that fosters growth mindset and IRT
    Teachers created a safe classroom community where students have opportunities to support one another and where students and teachers alike genuinely value mistakes. Teachers approached this critical and complex task by employing specific strategies to build a sense of camaraderie and trust among students. Students told us that this kind of environment allowed them to risk being vulnerable, which in turn allowed for more meaningful discussions in which they experienced growth.

As I read Clark’s and Soutter’s work, I was struck by the relevance of their questions and suggestions to the work of instructional coaches. Promoting teachers’ growth mindsets and intellectual risk-taking is key to coaches impacting teachers’ continuous growth to maximize student success.

  • Normalize confusion………………. Encourage perplexity.
    In an earlier blog, I shared Dan Meyer’s description of perplexity, He states that perplexity is not boredom or confusion. When we are bored we don’t know the answer and have no interest in knowing it. When we are confused, we don’t know the answer and lack a belief that we have the power to find out. ( Growth mindset may be missing) When we are perplexed we don’t know the answer, we want to know the answer, and we believe finding out is within our power.
    Perplexity should commonly be present at PLC sessions. It’s found in the question, “What do the students need us to learn?” Perplexity will often drive the focus of coaching observations. The teacher is seeking observational information that can support an analysis of “what is happening” and how might I change “what is happening” to get closer to the desired student success.

Model the skills and strategies of intellectual risk-taking.

I frequently state that instructional coaches and teacher leaders should be the most coached people within a school. That is how they teach and model intellectual risk-taking. How coaches respond to opposing views, maybe even sharing those views when those who are think it aren’t ready to speak up illustrates the risk-taking skills.

Zachary Herrmann in Cooperate or Collaborate identifies how learning to work with conflict on a team can lead to greater success.

Collaborative teams often actively lean- in to differences and explore the complexity of a problem. While a collaborative approach may not help a team reach a “solution” more quickly, members don’t forfeit the opportunity to collectively deepen their understanding of the problem. As they express their hopes and concerns, the team can start to visualize a more complete picture of the opportunity or challenge, and that picture grows even more comprehensive as additional voices are brought to the table. When and if conflict arises, these differences in fact fuel the team’s collaborative efforts. Solving complex problems requires learning, and we stand to learn the most from those who are different than us.

Building up trust concept: Black alphabetic letters forming the word trust being set up by group of construction machines, isolated on white background.Create a safe environment.

The Wise Ways Consulting Blog (in a post titled Can You Have Trust Without Being Vulnerable? ) states:

Trust and vulnerability are intertwined. In order to learn to trust each other, individuals must allow themselves to be vulnerable with those same people. Even the simple act of believing that someone will do what they say they will, is making oneself vulnerable and open to the possibility that they may be let down. The more that trust is developed, the more individuals will gradually allow their vulnerabilities to show through, thus creating opportunities for growth. Developing trust and exposing vulnerabilities in the workplace are critical for a team to develop and meet the mission that they were all brought together to fulfill.

Consider your leadership role in promoting growth mindsets and intellectual risk-taking.

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