ON LIBRARIES: It’s All In the Mind

The brain handles more than our cognitive functions.  Our emotions are lodged there, controlling our thoughts and actions. Whether we are talking about mindfulness or mindset, our minds are the root of it, and anyone in schools today can quickly find themselves in an emotional minefield. Mindfulness has become an integral part of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and it’s being used with trauma-infused learning.  With so many of our students (and adults) living with trauma, knowing how to create a climate of mindfulness keeps the library a safe, welcoming space. And knowing what mindset to use at what time can be key.

Students with ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) can act out unpredictably. Since you don’t know the root cause almost anything can set them off, and they go into flight/fight—and sometimes “flee” mode. It’s bad enough when it happens in a class. In the library atmosphere, the effects can be magnified.

While your first reaction may be to tell the individual to calm down, recognize that no one has ever calmed down by being told to do so.  You have to be able to connect with the student in order to reach them. As always, it helps if you have developed a positive relationship with them.

This is where to use Mindfulness.  Students in this situation need to be brought into the moment and out of the fear and panic that are driving them. One strategy is to re-direct their breathing. When anyone goes into fight or flight, breathing becomes shallow and rapid.  By slowing the breathing, calm is more easily restored. Rather than instructing the student to take deep breaths, join them.  Say, “Let’s just breathe together for a while. One breath in. Hold. One breath out. Hold.”  Do the breathing with the student.  It will help calm your jittery nerves as well.

Once the student has settled a bit, ask what they need or offer suggestions. Do they need quiet time or do they want to rejoin the class? By giving some choice and not imposing your will, the episode will likely be shorter, and the student will come to trust you. NOTE: This is in general.  Sometimes nothing works, and you need outside help from the administration or security.

Mindset is related to mindfulness.  It’s how you view and react to any given situation. As the saying goes, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.”  There is much talk about fixed vs. growth mindset, and how to move from the former to the latter. Those with a fixed mindset believe that their traits and abilities are all they have to work with. Believing “I’m not good at math,” puts a limit on how well you will ever be in that subject. A growth mindset, assumes you are able to learn.  “With some practice and a little help, I can understand this mathematical concept.” You can find a good explanation (and an infographic) at  Carol Dweck: A Summary of the Two Mindsets and the Power and the Power of Believing That You Can Improve.

Most of you are familiar with these different approaches.  A growth mindset is incorporated into the AASL National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. The term is specifically used in the Key Commitment for the Shared Foundation Explore: “Discovers and innovates in a growth mindset developed through experience and reflection.” (AASL Standards Framework for Learners, p. 4)

We work to have a growth mindset for our students and ourselves. It’s a part of lifelong learning. Our own inner battles with finding a positive way to look at a difficult situation help us understand our students’ struggles to do the same.

A growth mindset always struck me as an excellent way to develop a positive attitude toward life as well as learning, and I recently learned something that takes it to a new level. George Couros started with two columns from Carol Dweck’s work added a third- the Innovative Mindset.  His blog post Moving Beyond a Growth Mindset is worth reading.

He got me thinking with the first situation he presents on Challenges.  The Growth Mindset (where I was), says “Challenges are embraced, stemming from a desire to learn.”  His Innovators’ Mindset states, “Challenges are sought out as an opportunity to learn and grow.” That’s a very different focus. The remaining four: Obstacles, Effort, Criticism, and Success of Others are equally eye-opening. It’s obvious leaders can’t just have a growth mindset.  We need an Innovator’s Mindset.

Couros’s perspective throughout the article is compelling and memorable. It gives us another choice, another angle as leaders to make the changes and meet the challenges that can support our programs. I know I am going to be working on developing my Innovators Mindset to the work I do.  I hope many of you will join me.

 

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ON LIBRARIES: Growth Mindset + Agency = Learning

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.