A flurry of tweets (and exceptionally efficient blogging from Steve Mouldey!) from educators at the Auckland ‘Teaching for Intelligent Mindsets‘ event yesterday got me thinking. The seminar featured important thinkers Carol Dweck and Guy Claxton. (Read Steve’s posts about the two talks here and here.)
I read Claxton’s What’s the Point of School (2008) in the summer and at the time, I was particularly struck by his ideas of intelligence and I reflected on how pervasive the idea that intelligence is innate or fixed really is in our schools. Heck, I’ll own it, in my own mind.
I can intellectually agree that intelligence isn’t fixed and can be exercised, explored and expanded. In schools, as Claxton says, “intelligence becomes defined as the kind of mind that responds most readily to the peculiar demands of school.” (p. 58) And yet the language of innate intelligence peppers my inner thoughts and conversations. I make jokes about blagging my way into jobs that I actually don’t think I have the ability to do. In the privacy of a staffroom, I’ve considered students to be ‘not the sharpest knife in the drawer’. I have filled out nomination forms for students to enter GATE (gifted and talented) programmes. I have used lazy, short-cut labelling for students: ‘capable but lazy’, ‘not working to their potential’, ‘nice student but not that bright’. All of these thoughts and comments point to a closed mindset and a belief that intelligence is fixed. That have a certain amount of ‘brains’ and that this cannot be increased.
Starting a new, non-school-based job, is proving excellent training ground for stretching my growth mindset muscles. I am a methodical, organised, focused person. I like to be able to create to do lists that link to my big picture understanding of what needs to be accomplished, and then to set about checking these items off. In schools, I create big termly to do lists, broken down into weekly chunks.
You cannot do this in the agile, start-up environment that working at The Mind Lab is. I both love and struggle with the flexibility. Collaborating with colleagues to co-construct materials is amazing. And challenging. I am constantly having to catch myself: I can’t very well complain about things being different when I said I wanted to work in a different way. Argh!
It is exhilarating and exhausting. It is fabulous and frightening. But, as I learned in Christchurch, out of crisis comes creativity, and that just might transform education.