The pattern proves true time and time again.
Often, behind people who’ve overcome underprivileged backgrounds to achieve distinction with one or more facets of adult life is found an educator (or several) who left an indelible mark of inspiration on an otherwise-threatened upbringing. More often than not, turnaround teachers nurtured potential, instilled resiliency and encouraged a desire to pursue personal goals.
When these accomplished individuals give award acceptance speeches and reflect upon their perseverance through adversity, they’re often quick to acknowledge the turnaround teachers who touched their lives. They gratefully recognize Mrs. Johnson from fifth grade social studies and Mr. Smith from ninth grade English for helping to mold them into the people they’ve become today.
But what exactly sets turnaround teachers apart, enabling them to succeed with helping close the achievement gap that separates high-poverty schools from more affluent districts? The answer often lies in their mindsets.
The Power of Growth Mindset
Growth mindset – the belief that qualities like intelligence and talents aren’t inherent but rather are cultivated over time through hard work and dedication – typically gets linked to students, yet the concept applies to teachers as well. Development of the right mindset often proves necessary in order to serve as a successful turnaround teacher.
Effective teachers represent perhaps the most important factor in boosting student achievement. When they exhibit a growth mindset, they’re more likely to establish high expectations for students, make instruction engaging and offer extra help when necessary. Unlike individuals who convey fixed mindsets, teachers with growth mindsets genuinely believe each of their students is capable of learning the covered material and they use strategies to unlock hidden potential.
In the case of high-poverty schools, significant gains can be made in math and reading proficiency when educators with growth mindsets are in place. In addition to attacking the challenges facing underprivileged students head-on, these teachers are willing to take a look in the mirror and strive for personal betterment with regards to their instruction skills.
Mindset Characteristics in Effective Turnaround Teachers
As Wells Fargo Endowed Professor of Education at Fayetteville State University, I co-authored an article for ASCD that concludes with this statement: “Regardless of where they work or the type of principal they have, effective teachers remain true to their overall goal: to offer an outstanding education to all students whom they have the privilege of teaching.” The notion of treating both teaching and learning as a “privilege” truly embodies what it means to have a growth mindset.
While there are many qualities turnaround teachers personify in helping transform low-performing schools by improving at-risk student learning outcomes, some characteristics emerge as trends. Here are five traits related to having a growth mindset that turnaround teachers often demonstrate:
- Strong Determination: Turnaround teachers have an exceptional desire and persistence to drive student learning success.
- Lofty Expectations: Turnaround teachers don’t settle for anything less than the best effort each student has to offer.
- Respected Leadership: Turnaround teachers develop relationships built on mutual respect, serving as positive role models for their students.
- Collaborative Approach: Turnaround teachers foster student participation and create classroom environments that empower students to take control of learning.
- Genuine Care: Turnaround teachers demonstrate concern for both their students’ academic and personal well-beings, displaying kindness and compassion.
Ultimately, adoption of a growth mindset benefits students and teachers alike. Yet many impressionable students from underprivileged backgrounds need the guidance of a turnaround teacher to discover their true learning potential. When such teachers effectively impart the virtues of resiliency and personal empowerment to foster learning achievement, then the seeds have been planted for a future success story in the making.
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