Three Growth Mindset Lessons from My Journey as an Instructional Coach

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The following post was my share about growth mindset as an ASCD Leader at ASCD L2L in Arlington, VA on July 23rd, 2015.

I am Kenny McKee, and I am a 2014 ASCD Emerging Leader. I want to share 3 lessons I’ve learned on my  growth mindset journey from when I shifted from being a classroom teacher to a high school literacy coach in my district. I hope that regardless of your position, that these leadership lessons will resonate with you.

Lesson 1:  You can’t do it alone.

Before the instructional coaching program in my district expanded, little progress in literacy had occurred at the high school level. Although I had success in my classroom, influencing instructional change at such a vast  level intimidated me.  My first “a-ha” was I couldn’t do it alone, which as someone who occasionally suffers from “perfectionism” was very hard. I reached out to others in my position, scoured professional literature, and found an amazing online community of coaches on Twitter.   I learned that I must  truly partner with teachers because the top-down approach our district had used in the past had made little impact. And in that process, I learned from the teachers I worked with as well.  If you are open to learning from everyone you work with, I believe that you’ll find that there are many people who will go on the growth journey with you. And you need them.

Lesson 2. The rhetoric of “best practices” can stifle growth.

The approach to literacy our district had used before emphasized a fixed “right way”  that was actually holding back progress. The content-area teachers had vast, and often untapped, knowledge of how experts read, write, and think in their disciplines. Rather than the prescriptive “one-size-fits-all” approach previously dictated to teachers, we focused on what mattered most, students’ learning, and that led to subtle shifts in culture and instruction. School-based, cross-content literacy teams began to influence both what forms of instruction would impact all disciplines and how literacy looked different in math, English, history, and the other domains.You see, I think that sometimes the phrase “Best Practice” can become the epitome of a fixed mindset, as it implies that things cannot get better. It also implies that what is best is the same for all students, subjects, and classroom contexts is the same which is simply not true. Focus on “better” to continually improve — not “best”.

11800158_10207057608060066_8002370731518309674_n (Photo Credit: Thanks to 2015 ASCD Emerging Leader, Michael Matera (@mrmatera), for the great photo.)

Lesson 3. Change can’t occur without conflict.

Those literacy teams’  ideas  and new district leadership collaborated to create an instructional framework that asked that students read, write, move, speak, and think in each class every day. The framework would empower teachers with the autonomy in how those activities would happen.  This work was not easy. Some teachers did not want to take up the challenge of diversifying their instruction — even if they had control over how they would do it. I had been rather naive, believing that my politeness, professionalism, and a supportive stance would avert all conflict. Because of that anger, I had to personally grow by finding ways to  become more resilient and navigating conflicts that emerged.  I have learned that any time your position yourself as a leader, whether formally or informally, you are inviting conflict, and sometimes that can result in greater solitude. So, it’s important to effectively communicate with all stakeholders, especially the naysayers.  If you do, you’ll find that there are many people willing to take the journey with you.

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