I was in a meeting recently where we were discussing some procedural changes that needed to be made across the district regarding behavioral supports for students. These changes would also need an accompanying change in mindset on the part of classroom teachers, which was acknowledged during the meeting by several attendees. And then someone asked this question:
“How can we change their mindset?”
In my experience, there’s two ways organizations such as schools usually go about that:
- Convince, convince, convince. And then try and convince some more.
- Force everyone to change their practices in hopes that people will “see the light” after they’ve been implementing the new practices.
I think you’ll get a little change with either of those tactics; I’ve seen both work in various circumstances. However, I read an HBR article that adds another dimension to changing mindsets/practices: Unlearning.
Unlearning is not about forgetting. It’s about the ability to choose an alternative mental model or paradigm. When we learn, we add new skills or knowledge to what we already know. When we unlearn, we step outside the mental model in order to choose a different one.
Most of the changes schools seek to implement these days, it seems to me, are ones that require unlearning: standards-based grading, flipped classrooms, problem-based learning, student-led learning & classrooms, true student choice and voice, genius hour, etc. No wonder these changes are so hard to take root in schools; it requires a choice to unlearn what has been drilled into us through our own schooling and teacher prep programs, to accept the loss of what we used to do and to embrace the hard work of doing something different for the simple reason that’s it’s better for students rather than easier for us.
But we have to remember that accepting a new mental model and working towards it is not a linear process. Unlearning is a messy, nonlinear affair, just like learning is.
So as you begin unlearning, be patient with yourself — it’s not a linear process. Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” In this time of transformative change, we need to be conscious of our mental models and ambidextrous in our thinking.
We cannot help improve student learning through the lens of traditional approaches in education. It can only come through adopting new mental models, and supporting teachers through the messy unlearning and learning that has to happen for change to occur – changes in student learning along with changes in mindset.