Welcome back to the new term.
A special word of welcome to our new students and families who have joined the HBIS school community this term. We trust that you already feel at home.
We are also pleased to welcome our visiting exchange students from our sister SEK school, EIRIS, in La Coruña, Spain and their Principal Mr Joaquin Casado and his wife, Ana Maria. They will be spending the next 10 days with us, attending school and on sight-seeing trips around Cape Town.
I’d like to share with you my first assembly’s speech to the school:
As this is the first day of a new academic term, culminating for the high school in mid-year examinations, I thought it appropriate for us to discuss some thoughts on academic success at school.
I’d like to share with you the work of two prominent writers in education: Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck.
Angela Duckworth, in her teaching of Mathematics to Year 7s, she soon realized that IQ was not the only reason for the difference in the test scores between her best and her worst students: some of her strongest performers did not have outstanding IQ scores and some of her smartest students weren’t doing so well.
So she asked herself the question: “What if doing well in school and in life depends on much more than your ability to learn quickly and easily”.
She then left the classroom, went to graduate school to become a psychologist and started studying children and adults in challenging settings and asked herself the question in each setting: “Who is successful here and why?”
- At West Point Military Academy she tried to predict who would stay for the course and who would drop out.
- In the National Spelling Bee Angela she tried to predict which children would advance the farthest in the competition
- She studied beginner teachers teaching in really tough neighbourhoods and asked the question “Which teacher would still be there at the end of the school year” And among those who did, who would be the most effective in improving learning outcomes for their students?
- She studied private companies and asked which of these sales people are going to keep their jobs and which are going to earn the most money.
In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success – and it wasn’t social intelligence, wasn’t good looks, physical health, wasn’t intelligence; wasn’t IQ – it was GRIT.
What is GRIT? GRIT is passion and perseverance for very long term goals. GRIT is having stamina. GRIT is sticking with your future, day in day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years. And working REALLY HARD to make that future a reality. GRIT is living life like it’s a marathon – not a sprint.
She studied GRIT in Chicago public schools and asked 1000s of students to take GRIT questionnaires. Then she waited around a year to see who would graduate. It turned out that Grittier kids were more likely to graduate
Talent doesn’t make you gritty. Data shows that there are many talented individuals who do not follow through on their commitments. In her studies she found that Grit is unrelated or inversely related to measures of talent.
This brings me to the powerful work of Dr Carol Dweck of the University of Stanford who believes that the ability to learn is NOT FIXED. That it can change with your effort.
Our brains change and grow in response to challenge. Effort makes it stronger. So if you put in the extra time and effort into your studies, your brain changes and you will get higher results.
Recent research in neuroscience has shown us that the brain is far more malleable than we ever knew. Research on brain plasticity has shown that connectivity between neurons can change with experience. With practice, neural networks grow new connections, strengthen existing ones, and build insulation that speeds transmission of impulses.
These discoveries have shown us that we can increase our brain’s neural growth by the actions we take, such as using good learning strategies, asking questions, practising, and following good nutrition and sleep habits.
Dr. Dweck talks about the “power of YET”. She uses the example of a teacher in a Chicago high school who, in grading her student’s papers, didn’t give them a “FAIL” if they didn’t pass the 84 units, but gave them the grade “NOT YET”.
Isn’t that wonderful – if you get the grade FAIL you’re nowhere – but if you get the grade “NOT YET”, you’re on a learning curve. NOT YET gave them a path into the future.
In her research to figure out how children cope with challenge, she gave ten year olds problems that were a little too difficult for them. Some of them reacted in a shockingly positive way: they said things like “I love a challenge”, “I was hoping this would be informative”. They understood that their abilities could grow through their hard work – they had what she called a “Growth Mindset”
For other children, it was catastrophic from their more FIXED MINDSET perspective, they felt that their core intelligence had been tested and because they couldn’t do it they were devastated and felt like failures.
If you have a Growth Mindset you realise that academic success is a process that you’re involved in – that increased effort, focus, good learning strategies, perseverance and resilience create good results. Every time you push out to learn something really difficult, the neurons in your brain form new stronger connections and over time you get smarter.
Believing in this Growth Mindset can transform your learning. Effort and Difficulty in your learning doesn’t mean that you’re not academically able, it just provides a chance for you to get smarter. Difficulty just means “Not Yet”.
So students, this term, don’t get despondent if you find yourself struggling with your studies, just realise that effort and grit can make you stronger, smarter and successful. That academic challenges or even failure is not a permanent condition, but just “NOT YET”.
I encourage you this term to keep this Growth Mindset, to work hard and persevere with grit and determination.
I look forward to the coming term as I observe each of your progress as you come to realise the power of YET.