books, tech, lessons from a librarian

Tag: growth mindset

Connecting the Dots: Is there room for creativity in professional development?

connect the dots header image

Dot-to-dot puzzles. My kid loves them. Always has. Now in sixth grade, his favorites still start off 1-2-3, but now they’re cranked up to 11. Extreme puzzles like this one:   extreme dot to dot of a giraffe
This giraffe puzzle (sorry to spoil the surprise… it’s a giraffe) has over 1300 dots to connect, but the concept is still the same as the first puzzles he completed as a toddler. Find the beginning dot, and then follow the pre-determined path until the image becomes more clear and complete. Reach the final dot and you’re done. Move onto the next puzzle.

Dot-to-dot puzzles are the antithesis of the creative process. Worse than coloring books even… it’s not even about staying inside the lines, you’re literally drawing the line. Nothing in life is as simple as connecting the dots. Nothing in education that prepares our students for life as a grown-up is as simple as finding the starting spot, drawing a straight line from one prescribed dot to the next, and continuing until you reach the end.

In reading and researching the final ISTE Coaching Standard in EDTC 6106 at Seattle Pacific University, I was given this guiding question to explore: What does the ideal technology rich professional learning program look like? During my exploration the question & answers I decided on were:

Q: How can we integrate creativity into a technology rich professional learning program?

A: Have teachers follow the LAUNCH design process in their learning. Celebrate innovation. Allow for reflection and open communication. Make the collaborative process necessary for success.

So why focus specifically on creativity? Returning to the original analogy, in my 15+ years in education much of what I’ve seen in professional development programs has been a dot-to-dot puzzle. It’s been a prescribed process, with a predetermined product expected. Straying from the order will result in more than a few raised eyebrows and even redirection. Engagement is driven not by innovation but by strict adherence to connecting dots, one after another. The problem is we’re tasked with helping our students to develop the learning and innovation skills that by consensus have been agreed to be critical to success in the 21st Century: Creativity and Innovation; Critical Thinking and Problem Solving; Communication and Collaboration (http://www.p21.org/about-us/p21-framework). How can we hope to achieve success in developing those skills if our own professional learning doesn’t reflect the same values?

I was recently reading a book and came across this quote by educator Bo Adams (It’s About Learning https://itsaboutlearning.org/bo-adams/):bo adams quote

LAUNCH book coverThe book is LAUNCH: Using design thinking to boost creativity and bring out the maker in every student by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani. Spencer and Juliani have created a design framework that is applicable and incredibly useful for today’s education, for students and teachers alike. The LAUNCH acronym stands for:

Look, Listen, Learn
Ask Tons of Questions
Understand the Process or Problem
Navigate Ideas
Create a Prototype
Highlight and Fix
& launch your work to an audience.

Here’s a video introduction to the LAUNCH design thinking framework:

What I especially love is how the focus is on design and creativity, rather than specific technology “stuff” that may or may not be available to all educators or their students. Allowing for personalization in the learning and design process means that the there is considerable freedom in taking a different approach to find solutions. Juliani and Spencer’s Launch website is filled with great ideas, as are both individual author’s blogs and Twitter feeds.

Related Resources
John Spencer: http://www.spencerauthor.com/
A.J. Juliani: http://ajjuliani.com/
The LAUNCH Cycle: http://thelaunchcycle.com/
The Global Day of Design: http://globaldayofdesign.com/ (coming up soon! — 5/2/2017)

In my opinion “creativity” is the key to success for 21st Century citizens for at least 3 of the 4-Cs in the P21 Framework (http://www.p21.org/about-us/p21-framework). [1] Critical Thinking — higher level skills inherently require creative approaches; [2] Collaboration — going beyond mere collegiality requires creative thinking. Creative thinkers find new ways to collaborate and new partners to collaborate with; and [3] Creativity.

By injecting a requirement of creativity into a technology rich professional learning program, it keeps the focus not on consumption but on creation. It is easy to be distracted by shiny new apps and flashy tech doo-dads, but requiring creativity in the learning means that higher level thinking skills are essential to success. A lot of adults have forgotten what it means to innovate and create for fear of failure. Allowing for failure in the process would be great practice for educators as they begin the process of bringing project-based learning into their classrooms.

The TPACK framework is largely the work of Professors Koehler and Mishra and the Deep-Play Research Group at Michigan State University. This infographic by Mark Anderson (Twitter @ICTEvangelist) provides a great overview on the subject:

TPACK framework(Anderson 2013)

Related Resources:
Punya Mishra, Ph.D.: http://www.punyamishra.com/
Example of Mishra’s work: Mehta, R., & Mishra, P. (2016). Downtime as a Key to Novelty Generation: Understanding the Neuroscience of Creativity with Dr. Rex Jung. TechTrends, 60(6), 528-531. doi:10.1007/s11528-016-0119-3. Retrieved from http://www.punyamishra.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Jung-Interview-Mehta-Mishra-techtrends.pdf
The Deep-Play Research Group at Michigan State University: http://deep-play.com/

So returning to the question, how can we integrate creativity into a technology rich professional learning program? I think the key is understanding that creativity must be a part of the planning, implementation, and product of the educational process, but it shouldn’t be the only focus. TPACK centers on this idea of a balanced approach. When all of the circles (Technology, Content, and Pedagogy) are intersecting, and when creativity is called upon, there you’ll find the sweet spot of learning. The TPACK model reminds me of an early dot-filled infographic from the 1971 Ted Williams book The Science of Hitting. In his mind, arguably the greatest hitter in Major League Baseball history imagined this graphic in each at bat:

Ted Williams batting zone infographic

“My first rule of hitting was to get a good ball to hit. I learned down to percentage points where those good balls were. The box shows my particular preferences, from what I considered my “happy zone” – where I could hit .400 or better – to the low outside corner – where the most I could hope to bat was .230. Only when the situation demands it should a hitter go for the low-percentage pitch.” (Ted Williams)

Williams’s “happy zone” was at the intersection of vision, reach, muscle memory, training, bat angle and speed, and knowing himself as a hitter. His innovation as a baseball player made him a Hall of Famer, and yet his quote acknowledges that there are times to shift your approach “when the situation demands”. One of TPACK’s strength is that it can help educators from losing focus. The targeted learning should be at the intersection of how you teach, what you teach, and what you use. Focus on only one or two of the three and you’ll miss out on the “happy zone”.

The Dot book cover by Peter H. ReynoldsFinally, I couldn’t wrap up this dot-focused post without mentioning one of my all-time favorite picture books. The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds is profoundly simple. Vashti is convinced she is not an artist, that she’s not creative. “I just CAN’T draw!” A simple art project (“draw a dot”) transforms Vashti’s life when she realizes there is room for exploration and her spirit and voice. The fear of failure is replaced with pride and ownership, and the book’s ending finds Vashti empowered to pass on her learning to others. Vashti’s development and success was aided by a teacher who provided the necessary tools, a framework that allowed for exploration, and the chance to share her learning with others. My hope is that someday soon it will be more common to find technology rich professional learning that allows for creative growth and innovation. Are we ready to LAUNCH? 3.2.1…


Anderson, M. (2013, May 28). Technological, pedagogical and content knowledge [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://ictevangelist.com/technological-pedagogical-and-content-knowledge/

Fryer, W. (2009, June 13). Moving at the speed of creativity | Blending professional development to focus on content, technology and pedagogy [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.speedofcreativity.org/2009/06/13/blending-professional-development-to-focus-on-content-technology-and-pedagogy/

Juliani, A. J., & Spencer, J. (2016). The Launch Cycle – Bring out the maker in every student. Retrieved from http://thelaunchcycle.com/

Kay, K. (2011, September 29). Becoming a 21st Century school or district: Use the 4Cs to build professional capacity (Step 4 of 7) | Edutopia [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/21st-century-professional-development-key-kay

Mehta, R., & Mishra, P. (2016). Downtime as a Key to Novelty Generation: Understanding the Neuroscience of Creativity with Dr. Rex Jung. TechTrends, 60(6), 528-531. doi:10.1007/s11528-016-0119-3. Retrieved from http://www.punyamishra.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Jung-Interview-Mehta-Mishra-techtrends.pdf

Mishra, P. (n.d.). Punya Mishra’s Web – Living at the junction of education, creativity, design & technology. Retrieved March 5, 2017, from http://www.punyamishra.com/

Mishra, P., & The Deep-Play Research Group. (2012). Rethinking technology & creativity in the 21st Century: Crayons are the future. TechTrends, 56(5), 13-16. doi:10.1007/s11528-012-0594-0. Retrieved from http://www.punyamishra.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Mishra-crayons-techtrends1.pdf

Niess, M., & Gillow-Wiles, H. (2015). Creativity, digitality, and teacher professional development: Unifying theory, research, and practice. In Handbook of research on teacher education in the digital age (pp. 691-721). Retrieved from http://www.punyamishra.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Creativity-Digitality-and-Teacher-Professional-Development-Unifying-Theory-Research-and-Practice.pdf

Pearman, D. (2016, April 9). Are we putting the cart before the horse? | Innovative pedagogy [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://innovativepedagogy.wordpress.com/2016/04/09/are-we-putting-the-cart-before-the-horse/

Spencer, J. (2016, February 15). Curious about design thinking? Here’s a framework you can use in any classroom with any age group [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.spencerauthor.com/2016/02/curious-about-design-thinking-heres.html/

Learned Helplessness Attacks!

Alien spacecraft over a panicking city

Learned helplessness: a behavior often seen when an individual believes they have no control over the outcome of a situation, regardless of the reality of their perceived control. “The motivational effect of learned helplessness is often seen in the classroom. Students who repeatedly fail may conclude that they are incapable of improving their performance, and this attribution keeps them from trying to succeed, which results in increased helplessness, continued failure, loss of self-esteem and other social consequences.” (“Learned helplessness” – Wikipedia) “What’s the point of trying?” is often thought or spoken.

ISTE Coaching Standard 3 [Digital age learning environments] calls on “technology coaches [to] create and support effective digital age learning environments to maximize the learning of all students.” Much easier said than done, to be sure. Anyone who has spent even a moment teaching knows the last phrase is the kicker: all students. A few students? Most could do that with little trouble. Most students? Tougher, but still doable with a little hard work and luck. But all students? Now throw technology into the mix and the odds of success begin to seem less likely than predicting the winning PowerBall numbers… twice. Now add in a mindset of learned helplessness, wherein students predict failure and don’t even try. What are those odds of success now? Without a balanced and mindful approach, slim to none.

Let’s take a look at the photo from the beginning of this post. We’re looking at a city square and an alien craft is hovering overhead. How would you react in a similar situation? Looking at the image metaphorically, our teaching spaces are the city square: they’re filled with learners of all shapes, sizes, interests, ages, experiences, backgrounds. The alien craft hovering overhead is the technology or project we’re bringing into our teaching space. How will we respond? How will our students or peers respond? Much depends on our approach. There are clues in the image as to the kind of responses we may likely see in our students and colleagues:

boy running away in fearReaction #1: Run Away!!!

“This is not happening. Not now, not ever. I refuse to take part in this. I’ve seen this movie. I see what’s going down, and I have no interest in participating. I’m outta here!” This is someone who’s been there, done that. There would seem to be no reasoning with them. They know what they need to do, and that’s to remove themselves from the current reality. They’re a survivor, but they’re taking their skills with them when they opt out of the situation at hand. This is a learned helplessness response. Good luck teaching them when they’ve already fled.

man looking over his shoulder in fear

Reaction #2: Frozen in Fear

“What is going on? I am powerless. Should I leave? What is this? I should go. No, I’m not going to run away because what good would it do?” This poor guy is dropping a handful of papers that up until this moment seemed very important to him. His productivity has ground to a halt as he stands motionless, stuck between tasks. Many staff or students may feel this way when confronting a difficult task or a new technology. Fear of the unknown can be paralyzing. Doing nothing is not the answer, though it is also often a learned helplessness response. Teaching someone with such a frozen by fear of failure is not an easy task.

by pointing up into the sky

Reaction #3: Childlike Wonder

“Hey! Look at that cool thing up there!” This child shows no fear, pointing in delight at the unknown events happening above him. The adult next to him seems to be ready to grab hold of the oblivious kid’s hand. The child doesn’t know what the adult knows, nor does the child realize what he doesn’t know. A giant alien spacecraft is overhead… it’s okay (and probably wise) to feel a little fear or trepidation. The absence of fear can result in blindly proceeding into unsafe situations. “There are times when fear is good. It must keep its watchful place at the heart’s controls.” Aeschylus Childlike wonder is a beautiful thing, but a sense of wonder does not mean you have to be dependent and oblivious.

couple standing together looking into sky

Reaction #4: Athletic stance

“Let’s do this.” They’re in this together. Based on their physical reactions there looks to be fear involved. They could easily have begun running away by now, but their stance shows they’re ready to adapt and adjust and respond to the situation. (I like to think this is how I would react, though to be honest, I would probably be taking the car from the frozen guy and racing out of town. I’d at least offer him a ride, if he was quick about it.)

Of these four responses, the balanced approach in #4 is how I would hope to react and how I would want my students and staff to react, whether it be in emergency situations like an inevitable alien attack or during a normal run-of-the-mill classroom activity. There’s no panic, no giving up, a willingness to use the skills they have without truly knowing the obstacles or outcome, a decision to stand together to take on the challenges at hand. So how do we get there in the face of learned helplessness in those around us? Let’s take a look at two of the more popular trends from the last couple of years: growth mind-set and grit.

Growth Mind-set

Having a growth mind-set vs. a fixed mind-set is one topic thrown around a lot as a panacea for reaching even the most jaded learners. The terms were coined by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. in her work at Stanford University. In summary, those with a fixed mind-set see intelligence as largely a predetermined and static commodity, while those with a growth mind-set believe that intelligence can be developed. Focusing on a growth mind-set is said to help students reach their true potential as they feel more empowered and committed. The idea is presented elegantly in this Nigel Holmes infographic:

growth vs. fixed mindset chart

You’ve probably seen ‘Pinterest’y bulletin boards like this one:

change your words, change your mindset

But a beautiful bulletin board like this can do truly more harm than good. Posting these messages on the wall will seldom change a child’s heart. What kid will walk by this in the hallway, pause, and think to himself: “By golly, I just need to change my words. Instead of ‘I can’t read’, I’m going to train my brain in reading. Why didn’t I think of this sooner? Thanks, bulletin board from Pinterest.” (The irony of a message about not being able to read being printed and posted on a bulletin board is not to be missed.)

To clarify my “more harm than good” assessment, a project like the mind-set bulletin board can give a false sense of accomplishment. I imagine the staff meeting conversation: “Are we focused on growth mindsets around here?” “Well, we’ve got that amazing bulletin board by the lunch room.” “Great, keep it up! Now, let’s talk about the latest state testing results.” Nothing was accomplished more than artistically covering a hallway wall with uplifting messages. The bulletin board message itself is a great idea. We should absolutely work towards helping those around us reach their true potential. But is that bulletin board in your hallway reflective of the work being done in your school? Truly focusing on developing a growth mind-set requires a massive mindshift from many students, staff, and parents alike. A bulletin board alone doesn’t cut it. Dweck herself admits that shifting thinking like this cannot be oversimplified: “Changing mind-sets is not like surgery,” [Dweck] says. “You can’t simply remove the fixed mind-set and replace it with the growth mind-set.” (Krakovsky, 2007) Recently Dweck revisited her work and how it’s been applied in the educational world. “In many quarters, a growth mind-set had become the right thing to have, the right way to think. It was as though educators were faced with a choice: Are you an enlightened person who fosters students’ well-being? Or are you an unenlightened person, with a fixed mindset, who undermines them? So, of course, many claimed the growth-mindset identity. But the path to a growth mind-set is a journey, not a proclamation.” (Dweck, 2015)


Fostering a culture of grit is another popular movement in education and business alike. “Grit”, coined by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth, is the idea that an individual exhibits “perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.” (Duckworth, 2007)  This infographic by Sylvia Duckworth (no relation) summarizes the idea that success is achieved through an often messy combination of failure, sacrifice, hard work, and dedication:

iceberg illusion infographic

So What Now?

Back to “digital age learning environments” for all learners and thinking back to the impending alien attack, how do we prepare for all of varied responses? 

Edutopia has some great resources on the topics and here are just a few:

5 Steps to Foster Grit in the Classroom by Andrew Miller
Avoiding “Learned Helplessness” by Andrew Miller
Developing a Growth Mindset in Teachers and Staff by Keith Heggart
True Grit: The Best Measure of Success and How to Teach It by Vicki Davis

Are we training our students and staff how to properly respond when faced with unexpected obstacles? Should we focus on grit or on growth mind-set? There really isn’t a single approach that will snuff out learned helplessness. A multi-pronged approach is needed. What works for one learner or colleague may totally fail with another. Luckily there are some common threads throughout these and other educational theories, and I’ll highlight three: (1) Trust, (2) Communication, and (3) Patience.


When there is a culture of trust, people are willing to try and even to fail. Allowing for failure is an underutilized and powerful teaching tool. Creating trust means being vulnerable. When the learner knows they’re not alone, great things can happen. When there is trust, there is honesty.


Open communication is based on honesty and self-awareness. When you need help, be honest about those needs. When sacrifice is needed, be honest about that, too. Ongoing reflection and revision will help learners to find their voice. Allowing for feedback throughout the process will allow for growth in your teaching as well. Honest feedback is more powerful than feel-good feedback. End-of-unit feedback can help you spot holes in instruction or in learning. Talk about grit and growth mind-set, and about how learning is hard work. Find others in the community who are willing to visit and share their experiences (great opportunity for a Skype/Hangout visit), to show that learning is not just a school-thing.


These types of culture change and mind shifts take time and lots of it. Like Dweck said, this isn’t an operation. It’s often said that teaching is an art. Well, art is messy. “Rules” in art are made to be broken. Embracing differences in the artists and their work is what makes art so powerful and cross-cultural. Creativity is an innate human ability, and reminding learners of that ability will take effort, and effort takes time.

So there you have it. Take a little growth mind-set, mix it with trust, communication, and patience, and then grind it up with a little grit…  And you, too, will be ready for an alien invasion. And for teaching how to write a persuasive essay. And for teaching kids how to read. And for helping a colleague overcome their fear of technology. But mostly, keep an eye out for those aliens.


Barr, R. D., & Gibson, E. L. (2015). Sowing seeds of hope. Educational Leadership, 72(9), 22-27.

Davis, V. (2015, July 28). True grit: The best measure of success and how to teach it | Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/true-grit-measure-teach-success-vicki-davis

Desautels, L. (2014, June 11). Emotions are contagious | Edutopia [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/emotions-are-contagious-lori-desautels

Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M.D., & Kelly, D.R. (2007). “Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92 (6), p. 1087. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/dQkkf

Dweck, C. (2015, September 22). Carol Dweck revisits the ‘growth mind-set’ – Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html

Gerstein, J. (2014, August 29). The educator with a growth mindset: A professional development workshop | User Generated Education [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/the-educator-with-a-growth-mindset-a-staff-workshop/

The Hechinger Report. (2016, April 18). Grit under attack in education circles | US News. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-04-18/grit-under-attack-in-education-circles

Heggart, K. (2015, February 3). Developing a growth mindset in teachers and staff | Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/discussion/developing-growth-mindset-teachers-and-staff

Hicks, K. (2015, March 17). Why creativity in the classroom matters more than ever | Edudemic. Retrieved from http://www.edudemic.com/creativity-in-the-classroom/

International Society for Technology in Education. (n.d.). ISTE standards for coaches. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Krakovsky, M. (2007, March/April). The effort effect | Stanford Magazine. Retrieved from https://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=32124

Maats, H., & O’Brien, K. (2014, March 20). Teaching students to embrace mistakes | Edutopia [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/teaching-students-to-embrace-mistakes-hunter-maats-katie-obrien

Miller, A. (2014, January 7). 5 steps to foster grit in the classroom | Edutopia [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/foster-grit-in-classroom-andrew-miller

Miller, A. (2015, May 11). Avoiding “learned helplessness” | Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/avoiding-learned-helplessness-andrew-miller

Tough, P. (2016, June). How to teach students grit – The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/how-kids-really-succeed/480744/

Wood, C. J. (1991). Are Students and School Personnel Learning to be Helpless-Oriented or Resourceful-Oriented? Part 1: Focus on Students. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 2(1), 15-48. doi:10.1207/s1532768xjepc0201_2

Wood, C. J. (1992). Are Students and School Personnel Taught to Be Helpless-Oriented or Resourceful-Oriented? Part 2: Focus on School Personnel. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 3(4), 317-355. doi:10.1207/s1532768xjepc0304_3


“Childhood’s End” concept art by Neal Adams  http://goo.gl/nnl4lT

“Two Mindsets” by Nigel Holmes  http://goo.gl/FhtDRc

“Growth Mindset bulletin board” by RoomMomSpot  http://goo.gl/eWXJl1

“The Iceberg Illusion” by Sylvia Duckworth  https://goo.gl/aJap3U

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