12 mindsets for creating innovative classrooms

Our mindsets can affect the experiences our students have in our classes and how they feel about our subject and us as teachers. Focusing on effective ones can have great impact. (Graphic by Matt Miller)

Our mindsets can affect the experiences our students have in our classes and how they feel about our subject and us as teachers. Focusing on effective ones can have great impact. (Graphic by Matt Miller)

College football coach Lou Holtz once said, “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”

In the classroom, the same is true. How well we create learning experiences for our students is largely determined by our mindset.

The following quote by Haim Ginott hung on a filing cabinet in my classroom for years. (In a post full of quotes, why not start with a couple, right?)

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather.”

The way we approach our classes and our students will decide a lot about how students think, feel and act as they walk out the door.

I wrote a lot about mindsets in my book, Ditch That Textbook. In fact, one of the four main sections of the book is dedicated to ditching old, ineffective textbook mindsets for new ones. Here are 12 points about mindsets of educators from the book. (Note: Feel free to copy or save these image files and redistribute them on social media or elsewhere if you’d like.)

ask not tell

1. Asking students to do something instead of telling them to do it is a small gesture, but it can save and build relationships over time. Adults tell students what to do all day. Even as an adult, if I got bossed around all day, I’d get sick of it quickly. This is a small step to humanize the teacher-student relationship.

Call me crazy

2. Education today is driven by methods effective for producing good little factory workers, but the kind of work people do in today’s workforce is non-routine, interpersonal, and analytical. Call me crazy, but something doesn’t add up. The world is changing, and so are its demands on its workers of the future — our students. We can’t keep preparing them for a world that doesn’t exist anymore.

dont forsake for flash

3. Don’t get lost in the glitter of the next big thing in educational technology. The real “next big thing” is sitting in your classroom ready to learn. It’s the next generation. Don’t forsake it for the flash. So much teacher training focuses on the flashy tools and less on what we can do with them. If it doesn’t improve learning, it probably isn’t worth it.

get help give help

4. It’s my turn to step up in this cycle of teacher support that goes like this: Get help. Give help. Repeat. As a new teacher, I was starving for ideas for my classroom. I was blessed to have several veteran teachers step up — some virtually through blog posts and online resources. This cycle of support only works if we feed into it.

INALIENABLE

5. Education must be relevant to our students’ future lives. Technology must be an inalienable right to students. Technology will be so intertwined with their future that we really don’t have much choice. If we want students to thrive in this digital age they’ll face, they must be able to use the best tools and the ones they’ll be using.

one hand behind

6. When schools tell students to put technology away, it’s like asking a doctor to save a life with one hand tied behind his back. Pencils are tools. Compasses and protractors are tools. We don’t force students to put them away because they might abuse them. Technology is a tool, not a problem. The only problem is how it’s used.

overboiling

7. Teachers often say they’re overworked and underpaid, and we are. But maybe the overworked part is partially our fault. Let’s stop overboiling the water. Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius). Making it hotter doesn’t make it work any better. At some point, our extra hours and extra work produce diminishing gains. It’s like we’re overboiling water. We need to know when to stop.

owners renters

8. Students are either renters or owners of their education. The renters come to our classes because they have to be there. The owners act as dedicated caretakers of their educations. How do we get the renters to sign the deed and own their educations? Handing students their educations isn’t going to serve them in a world that expects them to proactively produce. It’s not easy, but we need to produce students who own their educations.

RELEVANT QUESITONS

9. Maybe we need to focus less on asking the right questions and start asking the relevant questions. The right questions are the ones that teachers are supposed to ask. They’re often content-focused and not student life-focused. If we can make our questions relate better to students’ real lives, they’ll be hooked.

sanctity of class period

10. I have come to appreciate and respect the sanctity of the class period. Class time is precious. I can’t afford to waste time on fancy tools that don’t advance my students’ education. The school year — 180 days for me — seems short in some ways. There’s a lot I want to do and a finite amount of time. I must be judicious with the tools I allow in my classroom. They have to help us be more efficient or effective or they’re wasting our time.

turn over control

11. The transition to student-led learning isn’t easy. Students’ attention will stray. They will abuse time and resources. Count on it. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t turn over control. I really struggle with this one, but I continue with it because I know this is where the future of meaningful education is headed. I still fear misuse and misguided efforts. But if students don’t handle that control as students, how will they handle it as adults?

yearbook

12. If our students want to find themselves when they open a yearbook, wouldn’t they want to find themselves in our instruction as well? As a former yearbook adviser, I know how important it is to emphasize that students can relate to their yearbooks. My class has to be the same. If my students don’t see themselves in my classes, they’ll check out.

Question: Which of these resonates with you most? Why? Would you change any of them? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

  • Jeff Foote says:

    All lovely, but I’ll be printing the final question about “yearbook…. our instruction?”
    and putting it on our staff lunch table- where we ‘articulate’.

    thanks

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  • Melissa says:

    This is a fantastic set of quotes! Thank you for sharing them, Matt. To answer your question, I think #8 resonates with me most because this is an idea that grounds my teaching philosophy and is, thus, something that I work to accomplish every semester. It also encompasses several of the other quotes in your post, so, to me, it’s the place to start.

  • Back when dirt was clear (so long ago, it wasn’t even dirty yet!!!) and I was in college, I don’t remember ever thinking my career would largely consist of finding the “right” example in my textbook(s) to use to address the situations I faced. Proceeding to graduate school, it was quite clear, deep understanding was required for my thesis research obviously but also for my course work / assignments.

    Today, too many students seem to want without saying so directly “tell us what we need to know so we can be successful in our careers.” AND they have this thinking in a time when the jobs 5-10 years in the future aren’t even defined yet!

    Considering all these thoughts, how can anyone think textbooks are even a part of effective learning??? IS IT NOT A NO-BRAINER??? Think of the cost, the weight, the same core information in each book on a topic, the change of editions every 2-3 years to keep new sales high, … All significant impact items – for textbooks that don’t make any sense from an effective learning standpoint!!!

    Do yourself AND YOUR STUDENTS a real favor: Consider eliminating textbooks!! I’ve just purchased the book and am certain it will only confirm my thinking.

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  • […] technology is a sure way to hinder the learning of 21st century students. As Matt Miller states in Ditch That Textbook, “When schools tell students to put technology away, it’s like asking a doctor to save a life […]

  • Dawn Ellis says:

    Hi Matt,
    Interestingly enough, all of these resonate with me! We are currently developing a STEM curriculum within our Career & Tech Ed program as a pathway for students to earn their 3rd year required math and science credits needed for graduation. Our whole building is essentially”STEM” based, so this will be an incredible addition to our programs! Of the quotes above, I believe #8 & #10 will be the biggest focus for us as we proceed in our planning. We want to create owners that have a “stake” in their own education. We want our student “owners” to lead their own learning, fueled by their own passion to design, create, build, share and reflect. It is our job to re-train their brains so that they have the confidence and knowledge to make this happen, and it continues to be a “work in progress”…change this big doesn’t happen overnight or even over the course of one school year. That is the challenge that I love about teaching! Thank you so much for YOUR innovative thoughts!!

  • […] technology is a sure way to hinder the learning of 21st century students. As Matt Miller states in Ditch That Textbook, “When schools tell students to put technology away, it’s like asking a doctor to save a life […]

  • Dean V says:

    Need students to become owners. For many it seems like something done to them and engagement and empowerment is not part of the equation. Grades are still seen as only indicator of success not much emphasis on creativity, problem solving, or critical thinking.

  • Mary Murphy says:

    Overboiling the water resonates with me. The more time I spend planning and writing notes the less effective my teaching becomes. Too much thinking and analysing can take away the energy and enthusiasm.

  • Jo Ellen T. Hoffmann says:

    The transition to student-led learning isn’t easy. Students’ attention will stray. They will abuse time and resources. Count on it. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t turn over control. I really struggle with this one, but I continue with it because I know this is where the future of meaningful education is headed. I still fear misuse and misguided efforts. But if students don’t handle that control as students, how will they handle it as adults?

    Student- led learning isn’t easy and I agree. All of what you said above, I believe to be true. But from experience in my own education and those of many students, student led learning, with a teacher who will be in the moment with the students is the way to go. Also, a wise educator recently said, ” Being in the moment, saying yes & having each other’s’ backs is an important objective for our classrooms and our teacher learning too.”

    I believe a key to this is also being sure the parents are on board. Another, not so easy thing to accomplish.

    Jo Ellen