Effort vs accomplishment
It is Friday afternoon and my inbox is again featuring our children’s school weekly newsletters. (I’m sure I just read the last one yesterday!) Today, however I was struck with the sheer volume of congratulations and achievements of students over the past weeks – the newsletters are always filled with this, however suddenly I saw this in a different light.
I have been reading and studying in more depth the work of Carol Dweck, Stanford University psychologist. She speaks and writes about Mindset in relationship to success and achievement and advocates there are two types. A fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
People with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence or talents are fixed – and success happens without effort.
People with a growth mindset believe their basic qualities can be developed with effort, focus, training, coaching and hard work.
This graphic outlines some of the differences …
My sudden challenge with the school newsletter is that what is being rewarded is the achievement – not the effort. Now this is not to say that the people being featured have not been successful through extensive efforts, it is just that all we usually see is the end result.
I often reflect on the dangers of taking social media too seriously – if you are not metacognitive, you could be mistaken to believe ‘everyone else’s’ kids are always winning awards, getting top in class, excelling at something… and of course they are not – social media is like the antithesis of the news media – focused on reporting bad news (because it sells). Social media tends to be about showcasing the good – now I’m all for this. The challenge is when you take it out of context – the more friends you have the more likely you are to see posts about achievement. You are unlikely to see posts that say, “My kid is the reserve on the B team” or “woohoo – straight C’s or B’s on the school report!” or “Yes! Our darling came 17th.”
Without the metacognative processing, you could be lulled into a sense of ‘everyone else’s kids are doing well and mine isn’t.’
Developing a growth mindset is essential for success, especially in a fast changing world where problems and challenges are going to randomly pop up throughout life. A growth mindset means that as teachers and parents we must create a love of learning and ensure that developing resilience is high on our agenda. Carol Dweck suggests teaching a growth mindset creates motivation and productivity in business, education and sports. She says it also enhances relationships.
So how do we develop this learning culture? I deeply believe that to learn to learn you also have to be willing to fail, to make mistakes, to screw up and then be able to learn from these opportunities and experiences. (See a previous blog Why is learning so scary?) This takes reflection and time. To learn to learn, you must know that is it hard to learn new information, but the more we do it, the easier it gets. (See my earlier blog Everything is hard before it is easy.) As adults we need to step back and let children struggle and work it out for themselves. I see so many children displaying learned helplessness because a teacher or parent is constantly jumping in to rescue and help them. We need to showcase the effort and the journey not just the result.
When praising people, praise their effort, concentration, strategies and give specific feedback. Comments such as “Your persistence really paid off in completing your work today” is far more effective than “great work.”
Avoid comments such as:
“Wow, your voice is amazing, you are my rock star.”
“You got a wicket in your first game of cricket – you will be a star.”
“You got an A without studying – well done.”
Instead use phrases such as:
“Taking the time to go back and check your work has produced a great result.”
“Wow, you really stopped to think about your answer and plan your project.”
“Outstanding effort in writing neatly today.”
“Your focus and attention to detail is why you got such a great mark.”
Reflect on the praise you often hear yourself giving – is it the effort or final result that you are acknowledging?
The next time you read a school newsletter, go to prize giving, read your social media feed, be sure to stop and reflect on the effort versus talent.