Investing in the process of answering the questions above stands in stark contrast to a leader promoting change from a fixed mindset, such reflections, questions, and discussions are either non-existent or only present in the principal’s head. Oftentimes the decisions of such a principal are announced with sweeping decrees, threats, and an absence of an explanation of HOW the change will be implemented. This approach is in fact harmful to the school community for a number of reasons:
- The principal’s unwillingness to change himself is not leading by example, not modeling, which is so important in education
- The principal depends on staff to change/implement/follow-through on making the change a reality while he provides limited investment of time and resources in leading the actual implementation and change process.
- The principal becomes frustrated at his staff’s inability to implement these “simple” changes often labeling them as lazy or incompetent
- The school becomes flooded with “add-on solutions or changes” that have never been implemented, a waste of money, and at the cost of a healthy relationship with staff.
- The principal will claim the school has solutions for nearly every goal (21st century skills, student-centered learning, differentiation, technology, etc.) while most staff members are not aware of these solutions or are frustrated that these solutions aren’t practical because they don’t know HOW to use them
- Staff become resistant to change because the “solutions” provided appear to contradict each other, don’t seem to be genuine, don’t address their needs as learners nor as educators, or simply aren’t a priority for them in comparison to pervasive problems they are facing with students, with staff in the work environment, or with systematic problems that have not been addressed.
Students, teachers, and parents will experience changes announced by fixed mindset principals differently because the “thinking” behind them is fixed. When the working concept of change is that it is something done to the school or by people other than to yourself, both efficiency and effectiveness are lost. More identifiable characteristics of changes by fixed mindset principals include:
- Instant visual proof: a new façade, computer labs, majlis, kitchen, playground, new books, new uniforms, electronic resources and website, gadgets, lots of new computers, sudden one-time trainers) BUT no one knows what the change is for or about
- There is no plan for the change or implementation of the new tool or resource
- The change is embodied by a single staff member, who becomes the expert everyone else refers to when there is any question about what is going on related to the change. That teacher is self-taught about the change and cannot refer to the principal for support, as the principal too directs questions to that teacher.
- There is no ongoing two-way communication to engage teachers or parents and address their concerns with the change
- The change initially seemed to be a priority, but in reality descended down the list of priorities as more new changes were quickly adopted.
A growth mindset leads principals to effective change, which is systematic, embedded, aligned with the school’s mission and vision, sustainable, and impacts school culture. These school changes:
- Are based on the school improvement plan and make teaching teams more effective
- Involve more stakeholders through increased communication with appropriate stakeholders
- Successfully navigate the transition from traditional principal management style into instructional leadership
- Demonstrate a development from spur of the moment decisions to data informed decision making
After reading this article, what beliefs do you think underscore fixed mindsets? Can you think of some changes you’ve led in your school? Did you ask similar questions? How do you think asking questions could have affected the change for better or worse? Have you experienced the difference in school change with a principal with a fixed mindset vs. a growth mindset? What did you learn?