Does the “Traditionalist” have a fixed mindset?

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by USAG-Humphreys

The cursive handwriting debate is one that is beyond interesting and it has made me really think of what happens when educators debate ideas. What happens when we disagree?  How does that impact our students?  If the grade one teacher totally disagrees with the grade two teacher on certain aspects of education, what happens to the kids?  I think debate is fantastic as long as it is focused on what is best for kids, but I also wonder what happens in schools when we agree to disagree?  How does that impact our kids long term?

The other thing that I have thought about during some of these conversations is the teacher that proclaims, “I am a traditionalist!”  What does that mean?  To me,  I think that I am very traditional in my values as an educator (relationships, working with kids to be respectful and considerate, etc.), but I hope progressive on the way I teach.  Yet when I hear, “I am a very traditional teacher”, it usually is during conversations regarding how we teach.  What I hear in my head is, “I teach the way I was taught”, which automatically goes to Carol Dweck’s thoughts on mindset, especially the notion of a fixed mindset.  If you have not read the book, here is the Wikipedia summary on a fixed mindset:

Those with a fixed mindset believe their talents and abilities cannot be improved through any means. They feel that they are born with a certain amount of talent and typically do not wish to challenge their abilities due to the possibility of failure. Individuals with a fixed mindset frequently guard themselves against situations in which they feel they need to prove their personal worth. Challenges are frequently viewed negatively, instead of as an opportunity for personal growth.

Now I would not say that I think the “traditionalist” doesn’t believe that they can improve, but it seems that if they refer to the way things were in school as almost being utopian, do they not have a fixed mindset on what school could be?  I will tell you that I actually enjoyed school quite a bit (in most cases) but I am also jealous of the opportunities kids have now in school that I didn’t.  I also think that we need to continue to explore to make school better.

I am not saying things were bad when I was in school, but that was a different time and a much different world.  Shouldn’t teaching and learning progress alongside society at least, and maybe in some cases lead the way?  I believe that there are some things in school that still work for kids, but I would never say I am a traditionalist.

What do you think?



  1. Progressive education is about the most traditional idea around. When I think of relationships, nuance, paradox, holistic learning, constructivism, I am struck by the fact that these go back to Dewey, but also further back. These were the ideas of Jesus, Socrates and other ancients who got themselves in trouble for suggesting that there was hope, redemption and equality in education.

    I think when people say “I’m a traditionalist,” what they most often mean is “I’m an industrialist.” That’s post-traditional, but that’s far from progressive.

    • Really enjoy all your references and resources listed here. Excellent, interesting reply. You must be a fantastic educator.

  2. Surprisingly it is not only Teachers who face this fascinating topic.

    Just as Mac & Cheese has it’s place as a favorite comfort food on a chilly day, so too does a healthy wholesome diet. Perhaps it is the same with Traditional Teaching versus Progressive Teaching in the Classroom. Both, I believe, have their place.

    The world is more and more demanding a Progressive environment as people seem to grasp to the past for what they feel is most comfortable and stable. …and in light of certain events, who could possibly blame them?

    Once I observed someone snorkeling on a two foot deep plateau of two hundred and fifty foot visibility Caribbean blue beautiful waters. The waters however looked and felt much deeper while paddling and watching new undersea wildlife. Sometimes with a mask and fin everything looks quite amplified underwater. Even a tiny Seahorse becomes a magical mystical enigma.

    Suddenly a 2′ Pike fish swam head on, needle nosed first. Immediately this snorkeler stood straight up in the water where previously paddling and began running back to the shore with in fins waddling back awkwardly. She simply had to flee the 2′ Pike which looked to her to be about 4′ long and perhaps a barracuda.

    Hey, maybe it’s all just perspective. Everyone comes with their own perspectives and experiences into new situations and even into old situations. How wonderful it can be to experience and discover new ideas in old situations.

    People used to think the earth was flat. At one time there was much undiscovered land. Today there is undiscovered universe. I prefer the universal approach.

    Love your article. Always. Please keep them coming! I like the way that you think.

  3. George, I think that you make a wonderful point here. What really grabbed me about your post was the part near the beginning when you spoke of the disconnect between teachers in the same school. I know that there’s no one right way to teach, but if there’s a disagreement about what’s important for students to learn and what’s important about how students learn, I worry about the impact on students. How can we move past our own individual opinions on teaching and learning, and really look at what’s best for kids? How do we get everyone on the same page? If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them. This is something that I think about a lot.

    Thanks for always giving me lots to think about!

  4. George, this is a very interesting and timely piece – given that in our division we are looking to Quality Core Instruction. We are in the discussion stages of what this model will look like for both staff and students. Thanks for your thoughts; I will be sharing them.

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