This is a guest post by Gabriella Lawson, Teacher Developer for Monash College English Language Centre. Gaby is responsible for helping to develop teachers’ classroom delivery through designing and running professional development and observing and feeding back on teaching practice.
Our main focus is always on teaching and helping our students, so it is sometimes easy to forget that in order to get the best out of our students, we need to get the best out of ourselves. Professor John Hattie has said that one of the reasons Growth Mindset may not have made an impact on student results was a lack of teacher training. It becomes a bit like ‘do as I say but not as I do’ if the school has a Growth Mindset policy, but the teacher hasn’t fully understood how that works in practice yet.
Growth Mindset could give us some much needed answers about why our students are not motivated. In English language teaching, we see some students giving up who believe they are not good at English. We see students avoiding speaking in class due to a fear of mistakes. Other examples are students who avoid going to free extra workshops even though they need help. That’s why we need to train teachers to develop a growth mindset about their own teaching. After all, what teachers believe about learning has a big influence on what students believe about learning.
Mistakes are how we learn. Brain plasticity means that as we form new neural pathways there will be misfires; recent research tells us that our brains are more likely to remember and correct a mistake if we have positive feelings about the lesson. Similarly, teachers are more likely to take feedback if they have positive feelings about their observation. If teachers aren’t worried about losing face, they are more likely to take risks in the classroom or ask for help when they face a challenge instead of suffering in silence until the complaints roll in.
The first step is to see observations as professional development, so the aim is for teachers to choose something they’d like to get better at. The second is to stop thinking of observations as ‘teacher observations’ but to think of them as ‘lesson observations’. If teachers feel they are being evaluated as a person, research supporting Growth Mindset suggests that any negative feedback could result in a crisis of confidence. I think a lesson is a piece of work, like an essay draft, we often teach the same lesson again and again, course after course: it is in a constant process of refinement and development. When the lesson is observed, it is under construction, so there will be parts that are working well and parts that could work better. Observation feedback needs to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson not the teacher.
Debate about what is good or bad teaching is very subjective, you can avoid this by looking at strengths and weaknesses against a set of criteria. This is why it is important to use something like the BALEAP Competency Framework for Teachers of Academic English to give feedback with e.g. No.7. Student autonomy – has the lesson demonstrated that the teacher has integrated tasks which develop learner autonomy? To what extent did it work? How could it have worked better?
Lesson observations are a great opportunity for learning what growth mindset means in practice. When teachers can separate their sense of self from their teaching, they can reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson more objectively. If we apply Growth Mindset to the process of developing teachers, it is more likely that ‘sticky’ Growth Mindset behaviours will be passed on to our students, also as a bonus, observations will be much less stressful and more productive for everyone.