Reframing Thinking for Growth Mindset Reflection

Dear Coach, 

I feel like a deflated balloon! Last week I planned a phenomenal activity for my students. I put a lot of energy into planning the lesson and I was so excited about it... but the lesson went completely off the rails! It seemed like each group had a problem that I hadn’t anticipated. My awesome plan flew out the window, and I was flustered and disappointed in myself. What can I do when this happens? I don’t know if it’s worth doing this type of activity again.

Deflated and Disappointed

Dear Deflated and Disappointed, 

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt! Any teacher who has been in the classroom for more than a week probably owns the t-shirt, too. It is so important to remember that mistakes and challenges are inevitable in the classroom, even for seasoned educators. Experiencing these setbacks is a sign that we are doing something worthwhile by pushing the boundaries of our teaching practice and challenging ourselves to try new things. 

We know that a growth mindset is critical for our students’ success in the classroom, but it is critical for us as well! Our job is to acknowledge the challenges we face for what they truly are - a natural part of the process of learning and growing. 

There is a highly effective strategy to help when you get into a defeated and disappointed headspace: Reflection. Being a reflective practitioner will help you by identifying what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how to improve in the future. For more researched-based information, see Cambridge University’s Getting Started with Reflective Practices. The white paper outlines tools, strategies, and resources to help you adopt or refine reflective practices.

Various reflective frameworks provide prompts to help you drill down to see where a lesson or activity needs improvement, and they work great when your goal is iterative data to inform future lessons. But what do you do when the frustration and disappointment may impact your reflection? I suggest you reframe your thinking so you can objectively reflect on your lesson. 

This requires you to consider both ends of the spectrum - the struggles and the successes.

Check out our Reflection Map for Teachers, which includes questions that help you identify how you might revise the lesson in the future, as well as questions that hone in on what went right. Grab a pencil and annotate right on your lesson plans! I know, with so much on our plates, it can be tempting to gloss over this process. But because reflection is a high-impact practice that improves both the quality of teaching and student learning outcomes, it is well worth the time invested.

Best wishes,

Readers - In order to illustrate what it looks like to reframe our thinking when reflecting, I reached out to DD directly. She agreed to let me share our coaching session here on the iTeach Blog. Below is our conversation:

Coach: I received your question DD, and I want to help you reflect on your lesson. I’ve been in your situation several times during my career and it’s not fun. I’m willing to bet all of our readers have been there, too! Can you tell me a little bit more about the project?

DD: I’m glad to know that this problem doesn’t just happen to me. My students were creating stop motion videos to demonstrate their knowledge of an English Language Arts standard.

The day prior to recording the stop motion video students created the objects they needed for the video. The day of the lesson, I showed them a quick stop motion overview video. Because we made green screen reports in the last unit, I didn’t review green screen. I went through the steps for making stop motion, and showed them one I had created. Then, I turned them loose to make their own.

Coach: What an interesting activity! I really like how you added on to a tool students had previous experience with; that’s great use of scaffolding. During the lesson, did the students struggle with using the green screen?

DD: They did well using the green screen feature within the app and knew if they needed a green background or blue background depending on the colors of their objects. With one or two minor exceptions, they were able to use the green screen with no problem.

Coach: Sounds like they were able to apply prior knowledge to this lesson. Tell me about the moment you felt the lesson started derailing?

DD: Right from the get-go, my whiteboard wouldn’t connect to my laptop, so I had to show the students the overview of stop motion video, the directions, and the example video on my laptop. I started getting flustered at that point, and it just went downhill from there.

Coach: So, if I heard you right, you ran into a glitch with the technology and came up with a solution quickly. Right?

DD: Yes.

Coach: In other words, you modeled how to find a solution when presented with an unforeseen problem?

DD: I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I guess I did.

Coach: What was the next point where you felt frustrated or out of control?

DD: Students immediately put their hands in the air because their version of the app had a different appearance than the one on my iPad. Many of the groups didn’t know where to begin. I ran around to the groups that couldn’t figure it out so they could get started.

Coach: It’s frustrating when the teacher has a different version of an app than the students. Let me ask you, was the start page easy to find or difficult to navigate to?

DD: All they had to do was tap on one button then open the menu. It wasn’t hard at all, but it was easier for me to do it for the groups that couldn’t figure it out than to stop the whole class to demonstrate how to do it.

Coach: In the heat of the moment it can seem easier to do it yourself. In hindsight, could you have shown one group how to do it then have those group members help the other groups in need?

DD: Yeah, I think that would have worked. I’ll try that next time.

Coach: Ah! You said ‘next time.’ I think you are starting to get a little confidence back!

DD: Well, the way you are framing the lesson makes me remember some things I didn’t focus on at the time. For example, half the groups figured out how to get to the start page, so they were able to get started right away. At the time it felt like all of them had problems, but I think it just felt that way in the heat of the moment.

Coach: Exactly! Now, I know if I asked you to tell me everything that went wrong with the lesson you would be able to come up with several examples. Instead, tell me what went right during the lesson?

DD: Let’s see. Some groups got started right away without any help from me. I overheard one group discuss an idea I hadn’t gone over with the class. They came up with it on their own and incorporated it into their video. Then another group overheard what they did and tried it, too.

Coach: If you had created this lesson to teach students to collaborate, synthesize what they already know with something they are currently learning, and apply prior knowledge to create new learning, would you have felt like it was a failure?

DD: No, absolutely not.

Coach: Good! Now to go back to the standard you were using for your original lesson plan, did the students’ videos provide you with an artifact you could assess?

DD: I gave the students a rubric prior to beginning the lesson, so yes I was able to assess their videos.

Coach: By reframing the lesson and reflecting on it from a different angle, do you feel better about how the lesson went?

DD: I do! I think by looking at what went right rather than focusing on the fact that the lesson did not go as planned, I do feel better. Also, I think the next time I do this lesson the students will get more out of it if I incorporate collaboration into the rubric since the groups that were able to collaborate with other groups had better projects than those who didn’t. I would have never remembered that piece of the lesson if I hadn’t thought in terms of what went right.

To everyone out there, please write to me and share your story of reframing and reflective practice! Focus on what went right, even if it was never your intention for those success to be a part of your lesson. Give yourself credit for both planned and unplanned learning!

Contributing Coach Ana Hale


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