It’s almost morning tea and the teachers are playing musical chairs.
This sounds like the opening line of a dystopian novel but it is all part of the process on the last day of school holidays when Smile Teachers has managed to lure 25 teachers to Perth to look at mastering mindset agility.
The musical chairs activity is rapidly making teachers aware of how mindless schooling has become.
Smile Teachers has identified mindset agility as the key element in managing the HUGE amount of stress that teachers face.
Mindset agility influences a teacher’s school performance, their relationships, particularly with students and their own mental health.
Like so many of our key lifestyle issues, teacher’s mental agility is determined by habits that they are not even aware of.
Australian schools are often on auto pilot, spread-sheeted, over-planned and time-tabled within a minute and they very soon develop a habitual rhythm that allows very little room for teacher spontaneity, tangents and learning in the moment.
The central structures have become mind numbing systems that continuously adds new things and never loses old ones so that our administration and teaching attention is always focussed on what has to happen next rather than what is happening NOW.
Teachers frequently admit to going to bed every night thinking “I didn’t get enough done today” and waking up thinking “I didn’t get enough sleep.”
Here’s Dr Helen Street doing the kind of straight talking that schools and school systems need to hear…
Schools have never tried to do so much to support students’ mental health and wellbeing, but they are going about it the wrong way, psychologist and author Helen Street says.
The University of WA honorary research fellow and Positive Schools conferences co-founder said even though many schools now had programs dedicated to promoting students’ wellbeing, research showed one quarter of adolescents were experiencing distress.
Speaking before the launch of her book Contextual Wellbeing, Dr Street said schools should stop thinking of wellbeing as another subject to be taught and instead help students learn how to live well.
If she had the power to change the system, she would get rid of rewards and NAPLAN tests, abolish grades on primary school reports, stop homework being assigned in primary schools and ban smartphones in all schools.
But even within the current system, she said schools could reduce their focus on rewards and forced competition.
“There’s no point in having 10 minutes of mindfulness on a Monday morning ... that program is minimised or contradicted if the rest of the time the kids are feeling under pressure,” Dr Street said.
She said schools had to develop students’ intrinsic motivation and sense of belonging before focusing on academic work.
Children had three key needs for development — to feel competent, autonomous and a sense of belonging.
“If we can support those three needs in our education system, we don’t need to have an add-on program or strategy, or a prize,” Dr Street said.
She said schools often sent contradictory messages, such as handing out raffle tickets to primary school pupils when they were seen being kind to another child.
“As soon as you do that, you’re telling that child that kindness is now a competition, and that you can win it by getting a raffle ticket,” she said.
“But if no one notices you being kind, it doesn’t matter so much. That means their goal is the recognition rather than to be a good person.”
School leaders should also be aware of messages given out by physical spaces, she said.
Displaying a trophy cabinet in the school office showed that a school valued competition above collaboration.
While some children thrived on competition, she said they should not be forced to compete with others. Instead, they should realise they were mostly competing against themselves.
Dr Street said most of the things schools did to support wellbeing were based on the ingredients for individual wellbeing. “And they’re not working well because they’re being embedded into unhealthy school contexts,” she said. “Schools are not collections of individuals, they are social systems.”
All of this comes about when the development of a school culture fails to have a process and a language that is coherent enough to identify and analyse the mindset habits that have become the values, operations and strategies used in a school.
Without this process and language, schools lack the ability to analyse, judge and align their values, organisation and tactics that take place often randomly in a school rather than being judged against simple insightful questions like “Who benefits by this decision?”
A great example of this is the staff meeting which is supposed to inform the staff of what is going on in the school.
If only the boss and the deputies speak and the rest of the staff are bored it is of no benefit, even if the boss’s giant ego is stroked and stoked and their power over their “slaves” (as I heard one very cynical teacher intone) is reinforced.
I am often amazed at how a school practices, far from what is openly demonstrated by school leadership but polar opposite to the vision that is painted on the wall out front.
The most disturbing of these are schools which have a vision like “Achieving Excellence Together” emblazoned on the school crest, their child’s uniforms and all and then promote individual excellence in everything they do. It often never occurs to many institutions that by highlighting the academic elite, eulogizing sporting celebrities and forever rewarding the genetic superstars, their school puts the average performers and the typically challenged at grave risk of being isolated, stressed and mentally at risk. The motto here is really “Achieving Excellence Together: except if you are ugly, slow or intellectually dull!”
These schools have a bad case of Toxic Growth Mindset because the people who aspire to leadership roles and those who sit on school boards have “Stuck Mindsets” that see everything thing through the lens of winning and superiority instead of growing a Benefit Mindset that seeks to create a school that embraces all students irrespective of their looks talent and lack of coordination and celebrates that diversity.
So that is where the musical chairs kicks in.
Smile’s version of musical chairs engages teachers in being mindfully aware of the habits that trialling a simple task (Musical chairs) in many different ways can uncover your unconscious bias.
These musical chairs are not just any musical chairs but three different approaches to musical chairs that represent the three developmental mindsets that we all should learn in a healthy childhood and then reflecting upon how these insights could be used to help us teach and learn better.
First up there is the standard Growth Mindset musical chair that is used at every birthday party worth going to, where it’s every being for themselves, winner takes all and no holds or sneaky tricks barred.
This can get dangerous with adults.
Then there is an individualised Fixed Mindset musical chairs where no chairs are taken out and everyone gets to sit down to the best of their ability.
Finally, there’s a Benefit Mindset musical chairs where the chairs are removed but everyone has to sit down in contact with a chair or in contact with someone who is in contact with a chair and we work as a team to accommodate everyone.
This is reinforced with a fabulous little toy called an “energy stick” which sends a mild electrical circuit around a group of up to 120 people as long as they all hold hands… without shock or pain.
After each demonstration the teachers use their Universal Mindset to stop and self-assess using observation, discussion and analytical abilities to figure out what the attributes are of each mindset when we mindlessly operate that way.
What teachers find out is that each mindset if used as a teaching method has toxic and enlightened characteristics and that each mindset has great value if used correctly.
When we align these mindsets we get a truly mindful school that can identify the positive and negative in all strategies, adjust and differentiate so that they can respond to problems gracefully.
Huge insights are discovered while playing these games.
The reason for this is that games are simple conflict simulations which provide a small window into our collective neural pathways.
Here are some of the key findings;
We find that the Growth Mindset is fabulous if you are a winner, but we also find that we have a significant group of people who absent themselves from anything vaguely competitive and challenging.
We find that the seemingly stress less Fixed Mindset individualised musical chairs is loved by many people but seems pointless to others and is extremely stresses-full when suddenly judged by independent criteria. Such as an unrevealed marking scale of what “Sitting to the best of your ability” means. (This is what happens when we ask students to write something and then mark it using a scale that is usually locked silently inside a teachers head.
We find a Fixed Mindset activity transforms into a joyful experience when a peer mentor sets, models and role plays the criteria.
We find that we can’t truly differentiate until we learn the key characteristics of the Benefit Mindset and that everyone needs to learn how to work face to face with others, have positive social skills, share their thinking and be held accountable to generate the language needed to solve problems.
We also find that when working with the Benefit Mindset people’s differences actually make the game more challenging, that success is solving the challenge for everyone and we truly can achieving excellence together”.
We find that to truly understand the Universal Mindset you have to change your own mindset and that you can’t change that until you learn to focus on the problem at hand, become aware of your how your body and emotions respond to that problem, then stop the mind-chatter, name and tame your emotions and come up with the noblest mindset that you can muster, devise some strategies from that point of view and get on with a solution.
All of these insights come from playing around with plastic chairs!
Here’s the Universal insights. Every group will generate different ones according to their experiences, skills and capabilities.
Fixed Mindset folks are people who are everyday experts who seek perfection, focus on reproducing what they know and believe are. They believe that their strengths are innate gifts that can’t be stretched beyond the boundaries of their talent and so they focus on perfecting their abilities instead. They are extremely competent in their areas of strength but often refuse to entertain anything that is outside of their range.
Works really well when
· There is a clear defined purpose
· You know what the criteria for success is.
· Where there is a strong teacher/mentor in charge who has the knowledge
· When the learning place allows direct instruction and quiet practise.
Becomes toxic when you
· Refuse to try anything that is outside your expertise.
· Lack resilience and persistence.
· Show no interest in other mindsets.
· Become extremely angry at others who are unable or unwilling to meet your demands.
Becomes enlightening when you…
· Becomes secure and confident
· Learn social skills that help your resilience
· Naturally seeks growth into independence.
· Develop a strong vocabulary particularly in the new skills.
Growth Mindset operators are daily learners who seek growth and development. They are focused on improving what they do and believe that their strengths can be developed with effort and focus on reaching higher levels of achievement. They love goals and adore personal bests they find failure hard to tolerate and can be highly competitive.
Works really well when…
· You work or are in a competitive situation involving things like games, politics, sport, law, sales, academia and the media
· The rules are clearly stated to, revered and obeyed
· Individual achievement is the goal
· Everyone could win and believe it worth the effort
· The umpire is often wrong but never challenged.
Becomes toxic when…
· Win at all costs impacts on the well-being of other
· Competition infects all interactions in everything with everyone.
· Win or lose thinking sees everything as good or bad only
· Separating games from reality becomes difficult
· Moral hygiene stinks
· Bad losing becomes a habit.
Becomes enlightening when you
· See losing and failure as essential to learning.
· Recognise how games increase motivation but know it is only a game.
· Measure success by personal improvement not just by “I won” or “I lost”.
· Recognise that others who are not good at the game are valid, caring human people.
Benefit Mindset people are routine contributors who seek to be well and do good. They focus purposefully on why they do what they do and believe in developing their strengths and meaningfully contributing to a future of greater possibility. They are highly empathetic and strive to follow causes that are of worth and make a global difference.
Works well when
· Everyone gets to talk.
· Social skills are clear and taught, especially listening.
· People work together.
· Share thinking.
· Everyone becomes individually accountable.
Becomes toxic when you…
· Start patronising to those you help.
· Start to measure and judge the contributions of others.
· Develops a Messiah complex.
· Neglect others who need you “less”.
Becomes enlightening when you…
· See helping others as a privilege.
· Help others to help themselves.
· Are humbled by praise.
· Help even when sacrifice is involved.
· Have a clear vision of what is worthy.
There is lots more meaning to uncover when it comes to mindset management, every time we present the material we learn more but very soon we will share with you the Magnificent Mindset Measuring Meter which will enable you to open up a small window into the mindsets of your students and how your school operates.
According to GRIT researcher Angela Lee Duckworth “The only thing we are all born with is the ability to learn.”
Here she is talking with Google this is well worth a listen to on your way home.
You can join us and learn a whole lot more about mindsets at our Bali Teachers Retreat in January 2019!