Lyon Terry: I Want My Kids to Have a Growth Mindset

Lyon Terry, a fourth-grade teacher at Lawton Elementary in Seattle, has a goal, not just for his students, but for all fourth graders in the state – which is certainly appropriate for the 2015 Washington State Teacher of the Year.

“It’s about the wider education community,” Terry said. “I want all fourth graders in the state … to know how to write with paragraphs. I think that’s the power of the (learning) standards to be able to say whether you are in Seattle, or whether you are in Spokane, or whether you are in Walla Walla or Tonasket, you are going to learn in fourth grade how to write with paragraphs or how to find a theme of a story, or a poem or a play.

“When we know that is happening throughout our state, then we know we are creating citizens for our state that are going to be successful.”

Terry is a National Board Certified Teacher who’s been at Lawton since 2005. He’s taught second, third and multi-age classrooms, focusing on building on students’ learning each day.

“I want my kids to have a growth mindset and I want them to think that every day they are going to come to school and learn something new,” he said. “And every day is a new challenge for them in school.”

Terry’s challenge, one that drives his teaching, is finding new ways to help his students achieve at their highest level. He takes the Washington K-12 Learning Standards and determines the best way to teach those standards to the students.

“The standards tell me the basic skills kids need to know,” Terry said. “How to teach those standards is my job to figure out and that’s the curriculum. Thinking about that progression that students are on and thinking about what is that next step in that progression. I do feel that the standards are well organized that way so that I can see that progression for them. … I do have the standards as a benchmark, but then there is always more to learn. I think that’s important across the board so we have that sense of at every school kids are achieving and at every school kids are growing and learning.”

Terry believes quality assessments are important in determining how well his students are grasping new information. He said the new Smarter Balanced assessment system, which students took the first time in spring 2015, can provide the data teachers need to improve student learning.

“I think the Smarter Balanced Assessment has the possibility of better meeting the needs of our students because a lot of times throughout we are giving little assessments, formative assessments, and at the end it would be a summative assessment, to figure out have they learned those standards? Did our teaching work?” Terry said. “If it didn’t, we are going to change that teaching up to do it in a better way so the kids will get those basic skills again.”

Despite concern from some teachers and parents about the new Smarter Balanced assessment, Terry said he’s heard nothing negative from parents of his students.

“I have not yet had a conversation with a parent who was concerned about the testing,” he said. “I did have one parent who wanted more information about what the assessments were going to look like, and when I explained that there were four tests and they’d take about one and a half to two hours each, she was fine with that.

“For the average kid it took one and a half to two hours, maybe a little less. But when you talk about eight hours out of 180 days, that doesn’t seem like a whole lot to me.”