Monthly Archives: August 2013

Resilience, the myth of fixed intelligence and the power of ‘yet’.

The importance of grit and resilience, the ability to get back up again when things get tough, is not new. However, now the research/practice gap is closing. St Hilda’s Anglican School for Girls in Perth, Australia, made headlines recently when it adopted a new policy to reduce praise, to foster an ability to cope with difficulties. The self-esteem movement, it seems, is officially over.

Dr Carol Dweck’s research into mindsets and perceived notions of fixed intelligence offers an insight into why some students give up when faced with learning setbacks. Children who have found success easy often fear looking ‘dumb’ when tasks get more difficult and they start to make mistakes. Children believe that they have lost their ‘intelligent’ status in the false understanding that intelligence is a fixed state. This is more likely to happen during transition phases in education.

So what helps create this defeatist attitude? Praising children’s intelligence is to blame. Telling a child how smart they are closes their mindset according to Dweck, making them fearful of making errors. When we praise their effort, and provide support, children’s mindsets stay open to learning and challenges. They are also able to set goals and manage stress when things don’t go to plan.

What about tests? Don’t test results tell us in an instant if we are ‘intelligent’ or ‘dumb’? Isn’t that what we base our educational systems on? Favourable test results can have the same impact on our psychology as being praised for being clever. As no one wants to look stupid, a bad test result can change the way children look at learning. It can close their mindset and discourage growth. There is a way of using appropriate tests without shutting down the desire to learn, as Dweck says,

“I think that undue emphasis on testing can be harmful if it conveys to students that the whole point of school is to do well on these tests and if it conveys to them that how well they do on these tests sums up their intelligence or their worth as a student.

The same tests might not be so harmful if they were simply seen by educators and students as assessing students’ skills at that point in time and as indicating what skills students need to work on in the future. In this case, the tests needn’t dampen students’ excitement about learning.

The current zeal for higher standards and more testing follows a period in which many educators believed that giving students lots of successes would boost their self-esteem and love of learning. This did not work. Instead students became used to low effort and became uninterested in challenges. Their self-esteem did not rise. So, many educators are clamoring to forget about self-esteem and return to the good old days of high standards, with the risk of widespread failure. What’s the answer? Are these the only two alternatives?

There is another alternative, one that addresses students’ achievement and their self-esteem: Teaching students to value hard work, learning, and challenges; teaching them how to cope with disappointing performance by planning for new strategies and more effort; and providing them with the study skills that will put them more in charge of their own learning. In this way, educators can be highly demanding of students but not run the risk that large numbers of students will be labeled as failures.”

There is a powerful word that Dr Dweck has reminded me of. It is a most underused word and a word that educators need to use more in the classroom to encourage a learning mindset, to let children know that with effort, they can develop and achieve progress. It is the word yet. If a child says that they are not good at something, the door to learning is closed. If the child says that they are not good at it yetthe mindset remains open to future endeavour.

The research into mindsets emphasizes the significance of word choice. Humans respond to intricate meanings in words, that can have huge effects on our motivation. This places a responsibility on educators to choose words carefully, to praise effort thoughtfully within a context of support and positive goal setting. For further information on mindset research, listen to this podcast. I think it is essential listening for every teacher.

A guide to building resilience is available for download from the Australian Scholarships Group

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Filed under educational psychology, mindsets, resilience

Leading Educational Change

“This isn’t a theory. There are already points of disruption across the whole planet here and I’m just encouraging you to believe in it and to try to move our systems into the twenty-first century”.


 global forces and education

We know that globalization and technology are influencing and changing educational practices around the world and the values that underlie them. Education has been caught in the economic force of integrated markets, production and consumption. Yet education is also contributing to this force, for skills and knowledge delivered by schools, drive the global economy. In turn, the global forces influence educational institutions. It appears that globalization has blurred the boundaries, not just of nation states but also the foundations of the value and aims of education, while systems and government policy slowly try to respond to the rapid socioeconomic changes.

 factory education

National education systems have been criticized for their slow pace of response to global economic change. Educational systems are historically built within the industrial paradigms and many still operate in an anachronistic pyramid structure. Children are still being prepared for integration into the old industrial social order, sieving the ‘intelligent’ children from the ‘dumb’ children, creating a factory for national development. Yet the industrial model is obsolete. Nation states are no longer homogeneous and populations are mobile,

“Each of the approximately two hundred countries on this earth is a destination, transit, or source country of international migration, or a combination of all three”

Süssmuth, R. (2007), Our Need for Teaching Intercultural Skills, in Suárez-Orozco, M. (ed.), Learning in the Global Era: International Perspectives on Globalization and Education, London: University of California Press

This calls for education to prepare students to adapt linguistically and culturally. It also insists on effective, relevant teaching and learning.

 what’s important?

So what should we teach and what is of societal value? What are the skills that children need? At the nexus of educational, socio-economic and environmental change is the hope for transnational values to address global concerns. We all face unequal global development and human rights issues, challenges of environmental sustainability, cross-cultural interaction and conflict. Dialogues on the search for transnational values highlight the problem of cultural interpretations of ‘value’.

Comparative education is essential in discussing what and how to teach. Finland and Singapore are currently being held up as exemplary education systems because of PISA scores and commitment to teacher development. Yet cultural differences means that you cannot transplant systems. We can, however, learn from them. Here is an interesting article on comparative Singaporean and Finnish systems-

 How can I lead educational change?

“I’m just a teacher and this is the curriculum” and “This is the way I was taught and I know it works” is not going to cut it- sorry. Teachers are at the front-line, leading the way in twenty-first century learning. The responsibility lies with teachers to keep up with societal changes, educational developments and technological change. Building a professional learning network and being brave is a good starting point- making time to read and analyze research, discussing new ways of learning and reflecting. We need to think critically about what and how we teach. What skills are we developing? Above all we need to give students a voice in teaching and learning. In this way, we can be leaders of change ‘from the ground up’.

“We are not the future. We are right now” Shelley Wright

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Filed under 21st Century education, comparative education