Instruction & Curriculum

Maintaining a Growth Mindset in a “Gotcha” Environment

On the wall of my teammate’s classroom is a big display about the power of YET! At my school, we focus hard on creating a growth mindset in our students because we know the research says that the brain is malleable.  We know that we can change a fixed mindset, or the inability  to see the value of effort to increase intelligence and learning.  We know that we can teach our students to have hope and to teach strategies to allow them to take ownership of their learning and see the benefit of their efforts.  Even as teachers, we continually grow as well especially if we maintain a growth mindset about our own craft and practice, we will put effort into our professional growth, benefiting our students’ achievement levels.
While having a growth mindset means being able to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes;  so often in our buildings, we lose sight of the real reason we are here.  Petty jealousies and insecurities arise and people react instead of responding to issues rationally and reasonably.  People become afraid to make mistakes.
When you fear making a mistake, you cannot grow. Click To Tweet
You find yourself hiding in your classroom, afraid to step up for a child in need or step out in your own growth and development. Therefore, creating a  “Gotcha Environment” within the culture of a school!
When the Principal leads through intimidation and inconsistency, the leadership style can be construed as bullying. Click To Tweet
If teachers work in a “gotcha environment” for long periods of time, the “gotcha” can quickly turn into bullying by administrators. Then once enough success is achieved through administrative bullying, others see this “success” and jump on board thus changing the school culture for the worse.   According to Dr. Ronald Riggio, bullies only exist in the presence of other bullies or followers- this is especially true in school buildings.  A bully doesn’t often get his/her hands dirty, either.  The bully’s “mafia” will do the dirty work themselves. In this environment, teachers can easily find oneself the victim of the alpha bully/administrator which is frustrating, at best.   A culture of intimidation, nastiness, and sabotage becomes the norm.  When you are so  busy trying to stay out from under the bus, where the mean girls are trying to throw you, you cannot afford to be creative or make mistakes- even in the classroom where growth mindset is supposed to be encouraged.
In my classroom, I strive daily to advocate for my students, who are in poverty, poor home situations, and need hope.  My job is to remediate their foundational skills, increase their access to core materials, despite their deficits, and build up their confidence to increase their willingness to try.  I go above and beyond for my students, as most of us do.  However, I’ve increasingly noticed there is someone on the “team,” I use that term loosely, who simply disagrees with me on everything, simply because I have proposed it.  I’m not sure if it’s professional jealousy, personal dislike, or her own sense of inferiority.
Whatever it is, it is getting in the way of my children accessing the services they need.  It is incredibly frustrating because to my face, she is cordial.  Behind my back, however, in meetings with administration and other team members, she gets very personal with her comments and attempts to sway the team to her way of thinking about students.  Let me mention that she does not even work with students.  She does not know them the same way I do, meeting with them every day.  I know their abilities, their struggles, and who they are as people.  She believes that she knows students through their data.  A child is NOT a number.
In her desperation for the Principal’s approval, she has become a mean girl. Click To Tweet
Another issue that allows bullies to thrive in a “gotcha environment”  is simple- as long as it isn’t happening to them, they’re not going to step up and speak out.  Dr. Riggio calls this the “Bystander Effect.”  Thinking about this phenomena, I have done this myself!  As long as it wasn’t me getting reamed out for something, I swallowed hard, vowed to not make whatever THAT mistake was, and moved along.  The times, I did attempt to help someone who was struggling under the bullying, I was to be called in and accused of commiserating with both individuals.  When I explained that I was only attempting to help them, the bully couldn’t understand my desire to help.  She projected her motives onto me and accused me of spreading rumors, gossip, and bringing negativity to everyone with whom I came into contact.  She couldn’t fathom that I have always rooted for the underdog.  I want to see people succeed instead of setting them up for failure, which is what I have seen her do repeatedly.
My mistake was getting involved.  But was it really a mistake?
So how do we fight the bully? Click To Tweet
What did WE do as students in elementary school trying to ward off the bullies?  What do we advise our own children to do when confronted with a bully on the playground? What do you advise teachers to do when bullied?  People who bully teachers are different because they control our reference to go to another job.  They control our evaluation, which impacts our pay and our ability to change schools.  But they follow the same psychology as a playground bully, despite the very adult consequences.  So how do we, as teachers, improve the situation for ourselves and others?  I have a bit of advice that I’m going to try and take myself.
Other people’s opinions of you are none of your business. If you can keep the emotion out of the situation, you can respond instead of reacting to everything that happens.  Maturity is required for this to happen effectively and age does not imply maturity!  In general, life is easier when you worry less about what others think and more about yourself.  Is this easy when you are the target of bullying?  No, however, unless this is directly impacting your performance or evaluation, ignoring nonsense is the best way to proceed.
However, when other people’s opinions affect your pay or evaluation, ignoring is not an option.  In that case, document everything.  Document all interactions, download and file emails, and take an advocate with you for interactions with the bully.  Union members can always have a union advocate and for those not in the union, you have the right to bring an advocate with you to any meeting involving documented counseling.  The administrator is required to give you 24 hours notice for any meeting where evidence will be documented against you, and you have a right to representation, even if it’s a teaching buddy for moral support.  Having a second person with you can give you a sense of comfort as well as providing a witness to any subtle bullying or overt abuse.  If necessary, file a grievance with employee relations.  If you file the complaint before the administrator sabotages you completely, you have a better chance of at least being transferred within your district.
Most importantly of all, keep yourself healthy and sane!  Practice mindfulness to maintain your mental health and calm demeanor.  Your emotions can run away with you if you aren’t deliberate in maintaining your sanity.  Exercise to increase your energy and focus.  Ultimately, you remain in charge of your life, no matter how out of control you feel at work.
At the end of the day, you know that teachers are about helping children succeed.  Bond with people who have the same values as you.  Find an advocate within the district.  Keep your body and mind healthy as you have control over this aspect of your life, even if you feel out of control other places.  Keep your growth mindset!  And if you find yourself in a bullying environment that continues, find another school.  You owe it to yourself to fulfill your passion for teaching in an environment where you are respected.


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