One91 Invites Guest Writers – Welcome Michelle!

Thanks to Manu, I am taking a risk and writing an entry for the district blog site. What I wanted to share is my excitement about a video I watched on on Saturday morning. I am a bit of a lurker when it comes to online learning. I love to sit for a couple hours on a Saturday morning (if we are not driving a child to a sports game or following a bus to a sports game) and lurk on Twitter, check out some links in the email newsletters I get from various amazing educators in the online world, or thumb through a professional resource book and write some reflections in my new favorite note taking apps (One Note & Paper for ipad).  I, like many of my rural colleagues, am finding that online learning is one of the most convenient ways to extend or deepen my thinking about my instructional practices.  I know if I was brave enough to actually interact with other tweeters or bloggers or even those courageous teachers who willingly post videos of their instruction for the world to see, my thinking would be even richer.  This is one of my first attempts to put my thinking out there and invite interaction!

I have been aware of the research on Growth Mindsets by Dr. Carol Dweck and I try to live it through my own behaviour, language and interactions with our learners. I also am striving to help our learners develop traits of persistence through struggles in their learning and the awareness of the importance of sticking with problems when they are hard. I guess this blog entry is my next step in growing my brain and taking risks professionally. I invite others to take a risky step that they know will improve their practice but have been reluctant to do so.

The master teacher in the video that inspired me this past Saturday looks young enough to be my daughter and I spent the first few minutes staring at her in awe. I strive to be as skilled with my learners as Ms. Montoy-Wilson and she just elevated my thinking about how to foster Growth Mindsets.

Fostering growth mindsets through powerful and purposeful language, strategy instruction, critical thinking coaching

When you watch this video (I watched it at least 5 times) look and listen for the powerful use of language this teacher has mastered, and the emphasis on the process of learning, and the encouragement of the awareness in the young learners about their learning processes and strategies.

Yes, her students seem to have strong vocabularies and are very focused…I didn’t see anyone escaping the task through their behaviour.  My mind started to compare our learners to hers, but I redirected my thoughts and began to simply learn and envision how I could apply the amazing strategies the teacher used to my context.

Language & Word Choice

A few years ago, Peter Johnston’s book “Choice Words” challenged me to observe my language as I interact with my learners. The language we teachers choose to use can either foster strong, resilient, confident learners who believe they can learn (growth mindset) or it can shut them down, cause them to look for reasons outside themselves to attribute their victories and failures to, and pigeon-hole themselves as being ‘smart’ or ‘dumb’.  Most of the words I choose, I do so with the best of intentions, but sometimes I fail to really think about the underlying messages my words are communicating. One example is my old habit of interrupting and correcting learners as they were reading every time they made an error instead of waiting for them to self-correct or get through a longer chunk of text and asking a thoughtful question about whether that made sense.  I was teaching readers who made more errors that they had to depend on me to monitor their reading instead of themselves…the hidden message was that they were not competent readers.  I am making an effort to wait longer and ask wise questions when listening to students read.

In this video, the teacher used powerful language that elevated the level of rigor in her classroom.

Ms. Montoy-Wilson refers to her learners as “Mathematicians” and “Scholars”.  I bet she refers to them as Authors during writing, Athletes during PE, Artists during Art, etc.  She encourages them to get feedback from other ‘scholars’ in the room as they struggle with a problem. Phrases that give descriptive feedback or challenge them to think about their learning are:

“Way to be precise and clear!”


“What tool would help you solve this problem?” “Why or explain”

“Taking charge of my own learning”

“Today we will work harder to get smarter”

“Scholars, remind our brain how we solve this problem”

The other things that struck me were how the teacher wove metacognition and learning processes into problem solving and placed the emphasis on persisting with a difficult problem.

“I want to pause and reflect on what is happening.”

“What to do when you get stuck

“I saw friends talking about solving problems”

She uses sentence stems to help students hone their communication and thinking skills. “I solve this problem by…”

Students responded with reflections on their learning: “Even though we didn’t solve the problem, we were happy because we didn’t quit and we were growing our brain.

Major take aways for me are:

Normalize and talk about struggle.

Encourage struggle with wait-time

Encourage students to ask for advice when they are stuck and foster precise and specific language when describing their problems.

I am looking forward to a new school year of amazing learning opportunities and feel grateful for the collaborative, professional colleagues I have the privilege of working with at all levels. I hope others will share inspirations, celebrations and challenges through this blog so we continue to gain a stronger sense of being in this together! Happy September everyone!

Thank you Michelle for taking the time to so articulately share your powerful thinking and these great observations around how to begin creating these powerful mindsets within our students.  Sharing with colleagues is daunting and so I applaud Michelle’s courage.  We await your contributions through One91!


  1. Delighted with ‘youngsters’ who can enthusiastically articulate with clarity The delights, challenges and adventures of DL pedagogy. i came to education from construction. The classroom was shockingly new to me. After 13years in the classroom I was positively delighted to move on to the challenges (adventures) that is DL.

    • Yes they were so articulate weren’t they? Contructionism is a challenging way to approach teaching, but it is so important and inspirational when it is masterfully managed!!

  2. Thank you Michelle! As in the words of Brene Brown, you have dared greatly in the arena of life. We all need to experience futility in life; we need to know that the uncomfortable feeling of struggling is not something to shy away from but to embrace. As school staff we can all learn to support our learners to embrace futility in a supportive uplifting way rather than shutting the learner down through our language and behaviour. I have watched the video once and plan to watch it again. Being in the arena of life can be really scary but it sure feels good; we want our learners to be brave and take that step with the skills they need. Thank you again for being brave enough to share this with us! Now I need to be brave enough to post this comment… 🙂

    • Bravo LorrieAnne for posting!! I love the Brene Brown reference!! Some First Nations terms have helped describe feelings and concepts that I experience better than English and they apply to what I saw happening in this classroom. The Lil’wat term ‘Cwelelep’ refers to that uncomfortable feeling of dissonance when we are learning something new or faced with a problem. If we can come to a place of calm and comfort with that dissonance, ‘Katila’, recognizing that it is a natural part of the learning process, then we will inevitably arrive at a place of ‘Kamucwkalha’ -when the energies of people in a group come together, and collectively everyone becomes clearly focused towards a common goal. 🙂 Have an awesome day!!

    • You are welcome Megan! I am pleased to have made a connection with you and hope you enjoy even just a google search using the term ‘growth mindset’. It is research that can apply to every one of us, not just our young learners!!

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