Mindset Shifts for Linked Learning Teachers
If you’re wondering how to transform Linked Learning pathway instruction and engage students with rigorous, authentic projects, the answer may be closer than you think. In fact, a place to start may be the mindsets of teachers and administrators.
Jason Ebner, lead teacher at Antioch High School’s EDGE Academy, has seen how the core beliefs of teachers shape instruction during his tenure in his school’s engineering program. “Getting everyone pulling in the same direction and believing in the power of Linked Learning is key,” he says. “The ‘hearts and minds’ work we do with new team members sets the table for integrated instruction, projects––everything we do as a program.”
In my pathway coaching and training work, I’ve seen the power of teacher mindsets as well. In my view, there are three essential mindset shifts that set teachers up for success in their career-themed pathway and academy programs. Let’s briefly unpack each of these important mindsets:
Mindset Shift #1: From Me to We
The first shift involves moving away from isolation and towards collaboration. In high-functioning Linked Learning programs, successful teachers value and pursue productive partnerships with pathway colleagues, industry partners, parents, and community members.
This "We Mindset" drives practical changes and new habits in teachers' daily routines. Lesson planning that was once a solitary, Sunday-evening activity, becomes a regular agenda item for pathway team meetings. Classroom instruction is increasingly led by co-teachers and industry partners. And assessments become an opportunity for the broader Community of Practice to provide students with feedback on their interdisciplinary project work.
School leaders can support this shift through systems design elements such as teaching teams, student cohorts, and industry partner advisory boards. The old proverb is true: it really does "take a village" to raise a child.
Mindset Shift #2: From Present to Future
The second shift requires teachers to reorient their focus toward the road ahead––to adopt a future-oriented mindset that is attuned to what students need for tomorrow.
This shift isn't for the faint of heart: teachers are immersed in a system designed for an economy that vanished long ago. Preparing students for a rapidly changing world requires teachers to resist the institutional inertia towards low-level curricular compliance and instead embrace a relentless focus on transferable skills.
Linked Learning pathways are well-positioned to prepare students for the future. Teachers can craft engaging learning experiences and coach students in high-demand abilities like creativity, collaboration, persuasion, and adaptability. They can invite industry partners to help teach students to navigate professional networks, demonstrate the confidence, and ace interviews. All of this requires a relentless commitment to what lies ahead.
Mindset Shift #3: From Consume to Produce
The final shift involves actively engaging students to create tangible products and performances––moving from Consume to Produce.
Confronted with bloated curricular frameworks, teachers are easily trapped on a content coverage treadmill that relegates students to absorbing and regurgitating information. Unfortunately, when done poorly, distance learning increases student passivity.
The Linked Learning approach to instruction stands in stark contrast to this top-down method. It requires teachers to shift their thinking from "What information will I cover?" to "How can I set up opportunities for my students to build transferable skills through solving a real-world problem?"
The implications of this shift are profound. It demands a project approach. It necessitates the development of higher-order thinking skills. It leads to more authentic engagement with clients and partners in the community. Ultimately, it transforms the teacher role from "compliance officer" to "product quality coach."
From Mindsets to Magic
Linked Learning pathways where teachers are fully oriented around these three new mindsets are poised to transform learning for students. This has been true in the EDGE Academy. “We’ve seen it work and it’s a beautiful thing,” Ebner reflects. “Once teachers are committed around the right goals, we can get students focused on what’s important as well.”
“And then,” he says, “the sky’s the limit.”
Theron Cosgrave is an educational consultant with experience as a classroom teacher, administrator, Linked Learning pathway coach, and PBL trainer. Learn more about his work at www.swansonandcosgrave.com.