Elementary-school teacher and ASCD emerging leader Jennifer Orr reports on ASCD 2016 for SmartBlog on Education. Read on to learn more about today’s general sessions.
Day two of ASCD’s annual conference was as fabulous or better than the first day. The day started with a breakfast alongside the staff of Jason Lee Middle School in Tacoma, Wash. Jason Lee Middle School won this year’s Vision in Action: ASCD Whole Child Award. This award recognizes schools that promote the development of the whole child, ensuring that children are healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged. One year into participating in Tacoma’s Whole Child Initiative, this school saw a 21% decrease in unexcused absences. Test scores increased by at least 20% in every subject. To make this happen the school invested in the whole child, employing two full-time counselors, a psychologist and a coaching interventionist in the building.
Jason Lee Middle School has a 100% mobility rate. Rather than see this as insurmountable, the staff has focused on the students, their needs and their strengths. They communicate regularly with families, including surveying families to determine what is working and what is not. They are also working with the high school to ensure students continue to receive necessary support to succeed.
Today’s first general session was led by Carol Dweck, talking about a journey to a growth mindset. Carol Dweck’s research around fixed and growth mindsets is well known. She took the opportunity this morning to dig deeper into her research and what it means for schools, teachers, parents and students. One of her most significant points was that people need to legitimize the fixed mindset. Everyone has fixed mindsets, at least around some things. Ignoring or denying those fixed mindsets means they go undercover, but still exist. Identify your fixed mindsets, observe them and challenge them, Dweck recommended.
As teachers and parents, it is critical to remember than having growth mindsets ourselves does not guarantee that our children and students will do so. Teachers and parents must engage in meaningful conversations with children about their thinking and how to move forward when they face challenges or failure. A growth mindset is not a solution to all problems, but is a tool to help children take ownership of their own learning.
The second general session of the day was the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, Shanna Peeples from Amarillo, Texas. She began her career at a school for which she was unprepared. She said, “The kids in that school had known nothing but disappointment. The year before I was hired, the entire seventh-grade staff quit. At Christmas, two of the people I was hired with didn’t come back. These kids didn’t expect me to stay because I wasn’t one of them.” She stayed. She learned and grew and loved her students.
Her advice for teachers is to know your why, recognize and identify why you are doing this job and doing it in the way you are doing it. The how doesn’t matter if you don’t have a powerful why. She also says teachers need to surf adversity, turn the energy of the adversity to your purpose. Finally, teachers need to own their stories. She ended with, “What have you created? Who do you love? What do you love? What are your small successes?”
Teaching is a challenging job, highly challenging. Peeples’ advice to teachers is strong, meaningful, and brings together so much of what is being discussed and shared at ASCD’s annual conference.
Jennifer Orr is an elementary-school teacher in Fairfax County, Va. She was selected as a 2013 ASCD Emerging Leader and was a panelist at ASCD’s fall 2014 Whole Child Symposium on teacher leadership. Connect with her on Twitter at @jenorr.