I recently had the privilege of attending the Fellowship of Black Male Educators for Social Justice Conference in Philadelphia. This conference was an opportunity to share best practices, but, more importantly, it was a call to action that 2%, the number of Black Male educators nationwide, is simply not enough, and we must do more to recruit and retain a diverse teaching population.
There were so many positive takeaways that I could mention, but one such experience that I had during the conference was during a session by Dr. Paul Miller, author of We Need to do Better. The enduring understanding of his session was the need to be more positive and to have a growth mindset.
While we always hear about the idea of having a growth mindset, almost to the point that the phrase has lost its value, one of the things I took away from the session was an acronym that could assist in the process, and that was WAGAL:
- Welcome all challenges: Yes, I know this is easier said than done, but when we are challenged, we grow. In the everyday struggles we may face as educators, we are given an opportunity to problem solve and action plan. We want our students to do this as well so what better way to encourage them by modeling for them how to handle challenges and welcome them with positivity and optimism.
- Anticipate obstacles: No matter how well you plan you will face obstacles along the way. The best way to prepare for those challenges are to think about potential issues that may arrive. This can assist us whether we are planning a project or even if we are writing lesson plans for our daily instruction for our students. We have to plan to be successful and know that obstacles will come.
- Greatness comes from effort: In order to succeed, we have to first try. Just as we express and model to our students, we can only get better through practice. If we want to lose weight, we have to work out, and if we want to become great, whether as individuals or as educators, we have to work at it. To have a growth mindset, we have to grow in our thinking and put in the effort.
- Appreciate constructive criticism/feedback: What would happen if all we told our students were things that they wanted to hear? What if we decided not to give them feedback that would push them to become better? What would that do for them? When we really think about this, we realize how detrimental this would be for our students, so why would we as educators not want to receive constructive feedback? Everyone has room to grow and can improve with feedback and constructive feedback and criticism.
- Let others encourage you: Whether in words or actions, look for encouragement from others and in everyday encounters. In education we have to look for the positive as well as be encouraging. In education, and in life, we have to look for the positive aspects and that includes encouraging others and allowing others to encourage you.
Having a growth mindset is necessary not only to model to students and colleagues but for our own wellbeing. Doing things the same just because we “have always done it like that” is not productive for our children. We have to be willing to change.
The last request Dr. Miller charged everyone with was to try not to complain in an effort to begin to shift our mindset. He told us that he realized it may be difficult, so if we did find ourselves complaining, we should follow it up with a “but”.
For example, “My student did not complete his/ her homework, but I am happy that they are here today”, or, “my school just told me that I have to attend a professional development session instead of giving me time to grade papers, but I am happy I have time to learn a new skill”.
I challenge you to try to go one day with no complaints, and, if you do complain, follow it with a “but”. It just may help you to see things differently and put you on the right path to maintaining a growth mindset about life.
About the author: Kelisa Wing is a 2016 ASCD Emerging Leader and the 2017 Department of Defense Education Activity Teacher of the Year. She is an Army veteran and a proud graduate of the University of Maryland University College and the University of Phoenix where she earned her Educational Specialist degree.