Growth mindset and agency, familiar terms in the business world, are among the newest buzzwords in education and are part of our new National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries.  As a leader, you want to show you understand both terms and incorporate then in how you guide students through learning experiences.

At the heart of Growth Mindset is that old aphorism, “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right.”  The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset.  The students who feel they are no good at math or the ones who hate books and reading are displaying a fixed mindset.  Unless their mindset is changed, it is an impassable barrier to learning.

Fear of failure is a large part of their attitude.  This may seem contradictory, but if they announce in advance they are unable to do something, they get some justification when events prove them right.  It’s not their fault. They are just not good at doing that task. As librarians, we need to develop and encourage a growth mindset in those with a fixed mindset, and many of your students have that barrier in place.  

By contrast, it’s amazing what can be achieved when students develop a growth mindset.  Consider a young athlete who wants to excel in the sport of his/her choice.  Getting up early to attend an extra practice is not a problem.  It’s a way to master techniques.  They will work on their own to fix any flaws their coach has detected.  Even success is not the end.  They want to get even better.

Imagine what this would look like in an academic setting.

In National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries the Key Commitment for Shared Foundation V. Explore is “Discover and innovate in a growth mindset developed through experience and reflection.”  It is up to you to provide those experiences and times for reflection. Take the time to look at your program and ask yourself what are you already doing, and what do you need to do differently?

Last week’s blog talked about Build[ing] Your Listening Skills. Use those skills to tune into what your students are saying – or muttering. Matt Zalaznick in an article entitled Growth Projections in K12 suggests when a student says, “I can’t do this,” the teacher redirects the remark by saying, “You can’t do it yet.”

When a frustrated student says, “Why can’t I just Google this?”  Say, “Because you are smart enough to know that won’t get you to the best answer to your question.” Prepare some phrases you can use as necessary. “Look how much better you are at doing this. You are on your way.”  “You got the first hard part done.  Now you are ready for the next challenge.” The more we can, we must encourage that growth mindset.

Zalaznick offers 10 Growth Mindset Principles. The last three are to share with administrators. Here is his list and my comments on them:

  1. Use positive language – Watch out for absolutes, e.g. “You always…, You never …”
  2. Let students assess their own work – Rubrics let them know what the important aspects of the project are and guide them into self-evaluation
  3. Let students choose daily class activities – Have a list of possibilities. You will learn what your students’ interests are very quickly. As well as what they might be avoiding.
  4. Allow students to retake tests – If the purpose is having them be successful, why not?
  5. Try to reduce the number of F’s and zeros given – That shouldn’t be an issue in the library.
  6. Recognize students have diverse backgrounds, and this is not an obstacle to academic achievement- That affects your growth mindset. Too often we make judgments about what kids can achieve based on their background.
  7. Establish personal trust with students – Trust is the foundation of all relationships.
  8. Make honors and other advanced classes more inclusive.
  9. Make homework optional, but show students the connection between practicing skills and passing tests.
  10. Include more administrators, teachers and other staff in building and district decisions.

When you build a growth mindset in students, you create the path for them to develop “agency.” That is, they become the directors of their learning rather than the teacher. In essence, they have ownership of their learning and meaningful and lasting learning is the result.

Mark Wagner explains in What Does Student Agency Mean? that when agency is present students are “making, creating, doing, sharing, collaborating, and publishing in ways that are meaningful to them, using real-world tools.”  This sounds like our new standards, which means it typifies a dynamic school library program.

Makerspaces are the tip of the student agency iceberg.  It shows what happens when students take charge of their learning.  Agency also is the result of a well-designed inquiry-based unit. To be truly inquiry-based, students must use the topic to develop their own questions to research.  That puts them in charge.

And don’t panic if the terms seem new. The truth is, many of you have already been doing all this.  The process is at the heart of good teaching and already at the core of your vision and mission.  To build connection and community, let your administrator know our new national standards supports developing a growth mindset and student agency, and you are prepared to work with teachers on integrating it into the curriculum. Show him/her ways you are already doing this and whatever plans you have for the coming year.

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One thought on “ON LIBRARIES: Growth Mindset + Agency = Learning

  1. Always a joy to read your articles, Hilda! This is such a wealth of information and your questions force us to evaluate what we’re doing and why. I love how you bring in the best of other folks in education and relate it to school librarians. Thank you for your continued contributions to help our professional become the best we can be.
    Barbara Paciotti

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