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  • Writer's pictureCameron McIntyre

Megan Garner: Getting students to adopt growth mindset

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

Megan Garner, a 4th grade math and science teacher at Santa Rita Elementary, discovered her love for children when she was working with child protective services. “I really am meant to work with kids,” she said. She wanted to be able to form longer term relationships with them, but didn’t think teaching was an option until she discovered it was possible to earn a degree while she was working. She jumped at the opportunity.

Math and science are only part of the focus of Megan Garner’s classroom. Between its walls, which are covered with posters designed by the class itself, students also learn how to critically think.

On the very first day, Megan starts this process by showing her class a video which features people getting stuck on an escalator when it breaks down. Rather than just walking up the steps, they call out for help and panic. It ends with the message that most problems in life can be fixed if you think about it. Months into the year, she’ll tell her students to ‘hop off the escalator’ when they come to her with a problem. “It is their reminder to go back and give it a try,” she said. “It just reinforces that I believe in them and I have confidence in their ability.”

Megan does this to encourage them to tackle every challenge that comes their way independently if they can and get her students away from thinking everything will be done for them. “They forget that they can think and they are capable of so much,” she said. “Elementary school kids are one of the most underestimated populations out there. My goal is that this classroom will have a culture in which the norm is that people are excited to learn and excited to get something right.”

This high level of autonomy in the classroom lets students figure out what works best for them when it comes to learning. If students are learning productively on their own, Megan will give them the space that they need for that. If they need help or want to help, she’ll let them collaborate with one another. “I really encourage them to find the path of learning that best suits [them],” said Megan. This applies to the way that the math is done too. “We talk about what’s another way we can write this equation or how else could we explore this,” she said.

A growth mindset is key to this goal. Megan wants her students to be great at receiving constructive feedback and strive to keep expanding their math skill set. She also practices what she preaches when it comes to professional development by taking on this same growth mindset. She takes every opportunity she gets to improve her teaching. Her policy is if it’s relevant, she’s there. “I am not naïve enough to think I know it all and know enough,” she said. “When you lose the passion for learning, the passion for teaching is probably soon to follow.”

Photos courtesy of Megan Garner

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