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Facilitating a Growth Mindset — Three Prompts for Principals

I was sitting in a postobservation meeting with a seasoned teacher who had taught in multiple schools before starting her first year at my school. As we talked about her lesson, I incorporated three prompts that I always used when talking to teachers after observations or when discussing school improvement efforts with the staff or committees.

She gave me an incredulous look and said, “Of all the administrators I’ve worked with, no one has asked me these things before. I’ve always gotten comments about what a good job I’m doing, and that’s it. You’re really making me think, and I appreciate it!”

So, what were those three prompts? They are three simple questions that are vital to school improvement and to teacher growth — that is, growth that leads to improved instructional practices, which leads to improved student performance.

Use the following prompts to guide your staff in being reflective and growth-minded.

What Worked?

Start with celebrations and successes.

In all conversations with teachers, always start with the positive. This will establish rapport more easily and open the door to a productive dialogue.

Let the teachers talk first, and then ask for evidence as they discuss positives from their lesson.

After asking teachers how the lesson went, get them to think deeper with a simple follow-up question: “How do you know?”

Asking this will lead teachers to provide proof to support their response. Guide them to focus on their behaviors and the response from students. This will help them recognize that there is a connection between teacher demeanor and student learning.

Be patient if a teacher is surprised by this request for self-examination — after all, you’re asking them to be introspective and consider their instruction from what is likely a new perspective. Not only that, but identifying and providing evidence quickly may be a new concept for them. You may have to give an example of a positive action you saw the teacher perform and the positive response it had on student learning.  

Acknowledge what the teacher shares, then give your feedback on how the lesson you observed was successful. Be specific. Be clear about instructional practices that were positive — what each practice was, why you thought it was successful, and how that success relates to students.

What Didn’t Go Well?

After discussing what was successful, it’s time to talk about what didn’t go as planned. The most growth-minded teachers will have a list of things they wish they had done differently. An overly confident teacher will have trivial responses unrelated to their own actions. When this happens, keep them focused on what the student outcomes were in relation to the lesson they presented.

When I asked my veteran teacher, “What didn’t go well?” she was flabbergasted.

Keep in mind, she was a master teacher, one of the best speech pathologists in the district. And, because she was experienced and eager to always improve, she was excited to answer the question.

Teachers need to dissect what they identify as problem areas in their lesson. This part of the discussion will reveal your teachers’ level of instructional knowledge. You will learn quickly whether they are focused on student learning or on less meaningful parts of the lesson. This discussion will also provide guidance on what your focus needs to be for your feedback.  

Sometimes teachers have multiple things go wrong during a lesson (disastrous observations do occur). When that happens, choose the one thing you think was the biggest issue. Don’t overwhelm a struggling teacher by identifying too many things. Instead, calmly identify the biggest need, and discuss it.

With good or great teachers, you can agree with the things they have identified as problem areas and simply ask them to provide evidence to substantiate their comments. This will allow teachers to do most of the talking while you facilitate their reflection and self-discovery.

What Will You Do Next Time?

Finally, it’s time to ask the last prompt, which will encourage teachers to have a growth mindset: “What will you do next time?”

Given the things that they have identified as going well or not going as well, asking what they will do next time is the most crucial part of the postobservation discussion. It will lead them to become a problem solver and promote self-improvement.

Here are the series of prompts that I ask after the initial question of “What will you do next time to improve student learning?”

  • What steps will you take to improve? 
  • How will you know if you are successful? 
  • What resources do you need?
  • What can I do to support you?

Focus on facilitating a conversation, not dominating it. Give the prompts, and listen. Try hard not to make suggestions until after the teacher has responded. This gives them the power and promotes analytical thinking.

For those teachers without answers, ask, “Might I give you a suggestion to consider?”

This prompt helps maintain rapport while giving you an opening to teach and give advice. Keep the focus on students, and give specific suggestions that will directly impact learning success.

To end your postobservation discussion, return to the successes of the lesson and how the teacher positively impacted student learning. You want teachers to leave your office feeling positive, just like you want their students to feel.

Prepare.

Because these prompts do require some deep thinking, I suggest giving your teachers the three main questions prior to their postobservation meeting. For example, I would send an email thanking them for having me in their classroom, ask them to schedule a postobservation meeting with my administrative assistant, and then ask them to look at the three prompts that would guide our postobservation discussion. Some teachers may choose to write something down for each prompt, while others may not. Either response is fine, because the purpose is to prepare teachers for a meaningful reflection and productive consultation.

Professional Development for Current and Future School Admins

Teaching our teachers to be growth-minded is one of the most important tasks that principals have. Continuous progress should always be our goal as we work to improve student learning and support student success.

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