Friday, December 23, 2016

Next year will be different - habits and resolutions

"You can make a wish, or you 
can make it happen" - Unknown

One of the best (and some might feel the worst) things about the Christmas holidays is the expectation to spend quality time with everyone that we know.
"Shall we squeeze a coffee in?" or "How about a get together over a bottle of wine? It is Christmas!" This year my catch up conversations with friends have touched upon a subject usually reserved for the small hours of NewYear's Day.
Many of my friends have told me that next year will be different. One is planning a marathon and another wants to save up enough money to move house. Predictably we have also had conversations about losing weight, changing jobs and giving up alcohol. We all have our own hopes and dreams and if you were to listen in on our December conversations, then January is likely to mark the start of seismic change.
Let's be honest though, it probably won't happen. This has nothing to do with our will power; we are all managing careers, families, homes and fitness regimes. Perhaps our likely failure is a result of our lack of strategy. To coin a phrase; do the habits that we have today match the dreams that we have for tomorrow? and more importantly how much do we really care about it?
One of my chocolate loving friends has recently been working really hard to improve her fitness. At the start of her journey she didn't really have a goal in mind and her motivation ebbed and flowed. She then signed up for a half marathon and was running every morning determined to complete the race in a respectable time. Her biggest fear is being recorded in the results as 'DNF.' She told me that she had made plans to avoid falling back into bad habits over Christmas. "I am only allowing myself to have five chocolates per day. If I eat more than that, I have to run again." When I spoke to her last night, this rule has already been broken several times and catastrophically she now thinks that she might as well give up. In our wisdom we decided that the problem is that the chocolates have now become a reward for the exercise. She is no longer excited by her time coming down or the fact that she did 10k without stopping. She has also started to use exercise as a punishment for her wrong doings. She feels that she has failed and that she is no longer good enough or worthy enough to succeed. Put simply, she has changed her habit cycle and now she needs to reset her mind to change it back again. That's the problem with habits, they seem to take a long time to acquire and seconds to break. Luckily, she plans to get back on track after Christmas and she hopes that her new Christmas trainers will motivate her to move again.
In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that habits emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Our brain would like to transform our lives into a series of automated behaviours or habits because it can then power down and become more efficient. However, we cannot exist in a constant state of habitual behaviour because we might miss something important like an attacker or a speeding car. Our brain, therefore, looks for repetitive cues which trigger safe routine and finally reward. Charles Duhigg calls this the habit loop. Over time, the cue and the reward become closely connected meaning that you begin to crave the reward. Unless you try to fight the habit, the cue-routine-reward response becomes automatic.
The good news is that if your habit is bad for you, you can break it into pieces and tweak either the cue, the routine or the reward and make changes. It isn't easy, but it is possible.
To form a new, more positive habit we need to commit to a series of daily actions. We need to focus on one habit at a time, commit for a minimum of thirty days, accept that obstacles will happen and make a plan for them and reward important milestones. Some people suggest that it is a good idea to make your new habit part of an old routine e.g. put your trainers in the car and jog to the shop and back on the way home from work instead of driving. Habits are also more likely to be formed if you work with others and are open and honest about your progress.
This morning I received an email from my gym telling me that I should sign up to their new exercise classes so that I could become a better version of myself. The advert promised that they would never tell me that I need to look a certain way to be happier and healthier. Instead I was guaranteed support from personal trainers who would help me to set realistic goals and would guide me to achieve them safely. Although, the intention was one of support, the gym gave me a clear message that my personal fitness success would otherwise be unlikely and that I would need to be monitored and spoon fed. I believed them, visualised my inevitable failure and deleted the email.
In schools, students and teachers are bombarded with a similar message. There is a need for constant target setting, tests of our ability and progress appraisals. It isn't really a surprise that as a school community we constantly doubt our personal value and worth and we do not always feel trusted to do our job. We are in the habit of working towards the next examination, data gathering exercise or book scrutiny. Our reward is our learners' results and satisfaction or an acknowledgement of our hard work from those we respect. If we are not up to standard, we feel that we have failed and in extreme cases that we should leave the profession. When the reward component of our working habit loop depends on the success or opinion of others, this dramatic reaction is not so difficult to understand.
Our pupils are unquestionably in the habit of learning and achieving, but the sad thing is that they are probably learning for learning's sake and not because they are genuinely interested or feel that the new knowledge will make a difference in their lives. We ask our pupils to set improvement targets but how often do we ask them to connect their current learning to their career plan? Do we offer our pupils relevant mentors or brain storming buddies like my gym was prepared to offer me? Do we ever teach our pupils how personal and lifelong learning can become part of their daily routine? Do our pupils even know what the habits of effective learners in our classroom look like?
Next year I will be setting a few resolutions for myself. Some of them are too personal to share, but one of them will be to look for ways to develop positive learning habits such as wider research and independent study in my classroom and in my year group. I will know that I have succeeded when at least one or two more pupils excitedly ask to share their new knowledge and experiences with us all.
Thanks for reading
Becky @BexK06

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Oops I did it again! - the power of mistakes

"I never make the same mistake twice. 
I make it five or six times, just to be sure!"

Why are our biggest mistakes so memorable? It is so easy to cringe at the time that we reversed our car into a concrete pillar in front of year 10. Or when we sent our children to school in full uniform to find out later over dinner that it was a non-uniform day and we basically ruined their lives! When we realise that we have been chatting to colleagues with spinach on our teeth. When we simply get it wrong in front of others and die a little death inside. 
Why are our minds always so focussed on what we do wrong and why do our errors have such an impact on our sense of self-worth? Is it possible that we remember these errors so clearly because our brain is programmed to remind us never to do this again? In the ancient past, mistakes could have led to our death. If we did get it wrong and survived to tell the tale, then our brain would have considered it essential to remind us never to make the same mistake twice. If this is the case and to err is indeed fundamentally human, we are not likely to be able to prevent this inbuilt sense of shame from temporarily consuming us. 
Many of our learners fear failure. They are afraid to put their hands up when they aren't sure of the answer which has led to the invention of random name generators and lolly sticks. Often pupils prefer to seek reassurance from us or their friends before having the confidence to volunteer an answer to a more challenging problem. We might excuse pupils for being 'quiet' but if we rebrand them as those who fear failure most, do we have a responsibility to help them to overcome their fear of mistakes and wrong turns? 
Our current school system is perhaps at fault too. Our shared success is measured by results; the end product and not the learning process. We encourage pupils to achieve high marks, we set data driven targets for pupils and we track their progress. We send reports home with grades and predictions and parents support and reward high academic achievement. Our assemblies and pastoral work promote excellence and despite our 'better luck next time' optimism, our pupils are inevitably disappointed if they didn't make the grade. 
A total shift in ideology feels almost impossible, but after reading John Tomsett's blog '..not publishing data targets to students and parents' I understand that some schools are beginning to turn away from data driven target updates and goal setting. Some might argue that by not sharing predicted grades and test results, we are simply protecting pupils from failure for longer and by the time they receive their results they might have left school anyway, but to me this feels like a move towards improving intrinsic motivation. 
Is it helpful to teach students to value mistakes and failures and to accept them as inevitable? By raising the profile of mistakes in our classroom we make more of an effort to correct them and to avoid them in future. Could we actually use our heightened awareness of failure to our advantage?
As part of my growth mindset theory inspired teaching experiments I have been trying to do this with my learners. Pupils have been taught to understand that the brain is malleable and that mistakes can help the brain to make new connections. At first, I understood this to mean that pupils should almost be encouraged to make lots of errors and that they should also be constantly reminded not to care. I was wrong about this. Mistakes in class should be seen as learning opportunities, carefully categorised and analysed to avoid future repetition. Here are some ideas that I am currently trialling in my MFL lessons. 
In Black box thinking, Matthew Syed writes about the importance of predicting mistakes before they happen. 
'a pre-mortem typically starts with the leader asking everyone in the team to imagine that the project has gone horribly wrong and to write down the reasons why on a piece of paper.'
In my lessons, I now try to encourage the learners to discuss the misconceptions and errors that they are likely to make. 
I write their predictions down and leave them on display in the classroom for the rest of the lesson. 
More often than not, the mistakes never happen! 
Some mistakes are silly and inexcusable and often come as a result of poor effort. I am actually quite glad if pupils feel ashamed about making those! Another category of mistakes is common errors. They are a warning flag to me as their learning coach. I search for these and aim to find and discuss these during the lesson. if common errors analysis is left until the end of the lesson, it is often too late. To raise the profile of common errors I have a F.A.I.L board in my classroom. We find and analyse the error as a class and pupils are asked to correct the error. It remains on display for the duration of the lesson
Pupils in my lessons are expected to correct, redraft and to catalogue their mistakes. If common mistakes are still happening after further explanation or demonstration, then we will stop our lesson and practice deliberately (often using mini whiteboards) until mastery is achieved. I will also create homework and D.I.R.T time activities based on common errors for further practice. 

I might be wrong, but I think that if mistakes both real and imagined are accepted, discussed and play a starring role in the learning process, then our pupils might feel more confident about taking risks and failing in front of their friends. 
Life is a process of blind alleys, blunders, false starts and wrong turns with occasional successes thrown in to keep us going. If it isn't going well, then stop and make a change. Let's avoid generating 'eye on the prize' victims of A* excellence and allow them to enjoy the bumps in the road too!
Thanks for reading @BexK06

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The growth mindset panacea

                                 "If nothing ever changed, there'd be no butterflies" - Anonymous

I recently read an article written by David Didau entitled 'Is growth mindset pseudoscience?' He doesn't exactly dismiss the theory but I think that it's safe to assume that he is sceptical about its value in education. His article raises some very important points about this popular education theory and he paints a dramatic picture of how we could go wrong. He seems to suggest that schools might be in danger of indoctrinating its pupils with unrealistic messages of encouragement and self belief. He chose to use a growth vs fixed mindset Star Wars themed poster to illustrate his point that fixed mindset traits in people are possibly being labelled as evil by some institutions. There is apparently a further risk that growth mindset theory is being touted as a miracle cure-all by the 'hordes of wildly enthusiastic adherents' in schools. This is where the article is a little sensationalised. How are we to know exactly how many of these growth mindset evangelists work in our schools? Are these teachers really running the risk of dangerously brainwashing pupils with their desktop reminder cards, corridor displays and YouTube clips of sporting heroes?
Does a growth mindset school actually exist and if so what does it do and how does it do it?  How are we able to effectively measure its impact on improvement, resilience and aspiration? Would it ever be possible or useful to convince a whole school community that the messages of growth mindset are credible? Does any of this even matter? The problem is none of us (including David Didau) has sufficient data to prove or disprove the benefits of the theory. As with all popular educational fads, there are likely to be people out there right now collating evidence which will be considered to confirm or deny the benefits and the wheel will begin to turn again.
Growth mindset theory has been a recent area of study for me. I am pretty sure that I, therefore, fall into the enthusiast category. I am not aware of any growth mindset in the classroom handbooks so I have taken some time to read, listen, discuss, debate and translate the messages into classroom resources, activities and classroom vocabulary that I have trialled with my students. I won't bore you by showing you the resources that I have created in this blog post but if you are interested in finding out more, please get in touch.
As David Didau suggests in his article, it's not just about the posters, the mantras and the saccharine motivational quotes, although these do help pupils to understand and some of us are inspired by them! Obviously, I am no expert and some might say that this is just standard teaching but after some research and experimentation, I think that there are some important improvement messages that should not be dismissed:
1. You can always do better - Pupils in my classes know that they will be expected to redraft their work.
2. It's OK to make mistakes if you don't repeat them. Common mistakes should be shared and worked on until they are mastered.
3. Extended deliberate practice of key concepts during lessons is essential.
4. Knowledge/intelligence can be improved and learning behaviour is not fixed.
5. You can choose to be more successful and you should try not to give up at the first hurdle
6. Praise outcomes and behaviour for learning that you would like to see repeated and model this yourself.
If this sounds obvious then I apologise, but that is probably because the growth mindset message is fundamentally a simple one; if you want to improve, you can:
As teachers we are always looking for ways to support and encourage our students to be the best that they can be and if it turns out that this is not the right way to do this and the sceptics are proved right then we will simply continue the search having lost nothing.
Pokemon Go anyone?
Thanks for reading @BexK06

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Ready for Rio? - A rewarding experiment

"The improvement was the goal. 
The medal was simply the ultimate reward for achieving that goal." - Sebastian Coe

In the lead up to the Rio Olympics I have been following the inspirational stories of the athletes who will be competing in a few days time. Their descriptions of years of often fruitless human effort and frequent failure have led me to question what motivates and drives them on. There are so many athletes and so few opportunities to achieve gold medal success. What are their rewards? What prevents them from giving up? If they achieve the impossible dream what motivates them to go back and do it all over again? Could this 'eye on the prize' level of intrinsic motivation be fostered in my classroom?
A year ago we were told in a staff meeting that we would no longer be operating a whole school reward system. Gone were the merits and the house points. As a head of year, I wondered how I was going to be able to celebrate success. How would I know which form was working well and who was flying the flag for our year group? As a classroom teacher, I looked forward to the opportunity to experiment and began to research and plan out my year. 
Pupils in my classroom had become accustomed to receiving reward tokens, merits and stickers. The merit totals for my classes were sky high and rewards were easy to achieve. If pupils knew an answer, they collected a token. There was a market place buzz in my classroom which I believed meant that my learners were engaged and motivated. Now I realise that the competition to achieve the most tokens was the motivating factor and not a sense of pride in a job well done.
I was convinced that I had created a level playing field in my classroom. I worked hard to ensure that all pupils regardless of ability had easy access to reward tokens during lessons and I did not even consider raising my expectations or reducing the number of tokens available. With the best of intentions I had created classes of extrinsically motivated learners who gravitated towards easier tasks     and who expected to receive tangible rewards for the minimal amount of effort. A 'what's in it for me?' transactional culture was emerging and pupil initiative was decreasing. It was definitely time for a change!
In September I selected two year seven classes. One class (class X)would continue to receive reward tokens and stickers on a regular basis. The other (class Y) would be expected to work a lot harder for rewards. I also planned to introduce GCSE level challenges to both classes by the end of the first term. 
The difference between the behaviour for learning of the two classes was apparent to me by the end of the first month. Class X was enthusiastic and engaged. Hands were up every lesson and competition for tokens was strong. The boys were particularly motivated by this approach and most of the girls seemed to want to join in anyway. They were listening well, completing work and behaving as they should. It was a pleasure to teach them. 
Class Y, however, was quite a challenge to teach. I realised that I had been bribing pupils into good behaviour using rewards and now that I didn't have this tool I was a bit lost. My classroom management was a bit of a mess and many of the pupils did not seem to be interested at all. In desperation one day, I gave specific verbal feedback to one pupil. She smiled and thanked me for the lesson as she left that day. She then came to see me two days before a homework deadline to show me her work. I decided to try to praise effort and celebrate classroom behaviour that I wanted to encourage. I made a conscious effort to be sincere and timely with my praise and the pupils began to respond to this. I also made a homework display board for work that had really impressed me and I made sure that these pupils received rewards in the form of positive messages home.
After a couple of months, things began to change. One pupil in class X started to become difficult to manage and one or two others followed him. Homework deadlines were not always met and the detentions increased. In the past I might have excused this as year 7 pupils 'finding their feet' but now I think that things were too predictable in my lessons. For fun, they would take tokens from other pupils which led to disruption and punishments. Pupils soon got fed up of this and refused to take the tokens. A change of seating plan and a more cooperative way of working for rewards temporarily improved the situation. 
Class Y pupils on the whole were calm and reliable. A few pupils had done some extra research at home before my lesson and one had even learnt the words of a French song off by heart. Pupils knew that I would never accept their first drafts as their best work and it became normal for them to correct mistakes and to redraft up to three times before submitting their work. As a reward I told the pupils that I felt that they were ready to tackle a GCSE level piece of work. They were actually excited about this opportunity and it was wonderful to see them using the skills cooperatively that we had practised in class. 
Most pupils in class X rose to this challenge too but a few predictably tried to get away with doing nothing. This class needed greater levels of coaching and motivating but in the end most managed to achieve the task. One pupil in class asked 'what do we get if we manage to do it, Miss?' my reply 'the knowledge that you have done something well' made him laugh. 
After the first term, I put the tokens away in my cupboard and I haven't used them since. 
My observations are purely anecdotal and motivation is personal to all pupils, but I feel that I have learnt the following lessons:
1. Some pupils are intrinsically motivated. They prefer challenging tasks and completing them is their reward
2. Tangible rewards can encourage good behaviour for learning
3. Easy and immediate rewards might devalue learning and reduce initiative and self-discipline
4. Sincere verbal feedback/praise can be very rewarding as can high levels of challenge
5. Teachers should try to make it increasingly difficult to achieve rewards as knowledge improves
6. Pupils should be given opportunities to collaborate and to take the lead
7. Whole class rewards could be used to encourage a sense of community 
8. Parental pride is highly motivating
9. Marginal gains or improvement should be acknowledged and celebrated, but rewards should be reserved for completion of the most challenging learning tasks 
The most important lesson that I have learnt is that it is my job as a classroom teacher to try to develop intrinsic motivation in my learners. I need to hold the stickers and stars back sometimes but some genuine praise and encouragement every now and again when a personal best is achieved is valued and appreciated by us all. 
Thanks for reading! Follow me on twitter if you like but please don't send me a sticker. I won't appreciate it!!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Risky business - Should we create risky situations in our classrooms?

Recent articles and academic presentations have suggested that schools might be robbing children of the chance to be creative. We, their teachers are at risk of imprisoning them with rules, routine and exam protocol. Some are suggesting that we are so focused on helping them to be right and to master the skills necessary to pass exams, that we neglect to provide them with opportunities to simply find things out for themselves.
In a more creative curriculum we would be encouraged to create tasks which allow our learners to solve problems and to make their own decisions and choices. If our lessons were crafted in this way then, in theory, our students would soon develop the self confidence and resilience necessary to tackle any problem that comes their way. The current reality of teaching is that we ourselves feel creatively stifled by the institutional fear of doing things differently. We ask ourselves "what if it fails? Isn't it a waste of valuable lesson time? What would the inspectors say?"
I for one value those times when I have the confidence to throw out the rule book and allow the pupils to lead the learning, but I very quickly feel the need to return to the scheme of work and do some 'proper teaching.' I often find that it is these 'unusual' lessons that the pupils remember most and when asked, they are confidently able to connect the experience to the learning objective and outcomes.
In her recent talk at the Hay festival Professor Susan Gathercole talked about our mental notepad and explained how we store information. According to her research there are six kinds of memory. Many of our pupils store facts in their working memory and need to make a conscious effort to move this knowledge into their more permanent semantic memory. Some of our learners have very low working memory abilities which is a risk for academic progress. Professor Gathercole believes that we probably can't train our working memory to improve but we can support pupils through the use of memory aids and visual strategies such as mind maps, pictorial flow charts and audio recordings of instructions. These strategies seem to help the learner to bypass the working memory and to make the learning memorable. If we expect our learners to do this independently then surely this would provide a useful creative opportunity in our lessons.
Professor Gathercole also believes that anxiety reduces almost all working memory ability. With this in mind why would we want to generate an atmosphere of risk-taking in our classrooms? Surely leaving our comfort zones would increase anxiety and, therefore, reduce our brain's ability to retain information in the usual way?
In primary school pupils regularly have access to equipment designed to encourage risk taking such as climbing frames. In secondary school we do not have such provision and yet risky behaviours are more tempting to the teen brain than at any other time of life. This is why our pupils indulge in risky pursuits such as sexting, smoking or driving too fast. At the same time, teenagers develop social awkwardness and a sudden awareness of self. The judgement of their peers is their most significant preoccupation and, therefore, public failure is the biggest risk of all.
The anxiety of being singled out and humiliated in front of their peers can cause pupils to leave our lessons having learnt nothing at all. We risk this every time that we try to take our adolescent learners out of their comfort zones.
As teachers, however, we can use the teen tendency towards peer motivated behaviour to our advantage. The more often we set the pupils up to fail and the more that we model this ourselves, the more resilient they will become and the more socially acceptable it will be.
In our current examination motivated system our learners are trained to aim for perfection and it is undeniable that success will always be important for self esteem. Knowledge mastery is exciting and stimulating and the bedrock of creativity, however, we also have a duty to equip our learners with the confidence to go their own way when they are ready. We should allow them to make as many decisions as possible during lessons. How will they present their outcomes? Is uniformity always essential? Does the level of challenge provide them with the opportunity to fail and, therefore, feels 'risky?' Do we allow them to collaborate, but are there also times when we insist that they go it alone? Does our questioning generate a simple, knowledge based response or does it accommodate new analytical and creative directions? Do we always play to their strengths instead of encouraging them to try something new?
Risk taking is essential to growth and we should not try to protect our pupils from failure. Schools should perhaps ensure that pupils are provided with a robust knowledge base, but they should also support teachers to provide a space for risk and creativity in their lessons.
Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Should Grit be taught?

I recently read a column written by Jill Barshay entitled 'Grit under Attack.' Grit in the title is a  psychological term originally defined by Angela Duckworth and used to describe the perseverance and tenacity that must be shown if people are to be successful in life. Angela Duckworth suggests that Grit is not fixed and can be taught, developed and encouraged. Some schools have shaped their curriculums to support the development of grit and some even measure this characteristic through standardised tests.
I have been considering the notion of Grit for some time and although it is undoubtedly a desirable quality, I have often wondered if it might be an elitist concept. The column suggests that US researchers have been unable to confirm that Grit is measurable or that the teaching of Grit has any impact on academic outcomes. I cannot claim to have conducted scientific tests on this subject, therefore although my experiences are real, my opinions are purely theoretical.
As a pastoral leader of a comprehensive school I work with pupils from a range of backgrounds and abilities. Some of my students came into year seven fully loaded with Grit. They are almost effortlessly able to self regulate and seem determined to improve and progress. Their school life is simply another step on the ladder to success and these learners seem to take advantage of every opportunity that our school provides. They perform well in examinations, complete homework, bring equipment and are polite and cooperative members of our school community. Other pupils are less conscientious and appear to care a lot less about their school reputation and their future. I have interviewed many of them about their attitude to learning and one issue in particular seems to divide them. Simply, our 'grittier' pupils are able to imagine their future and feel that they are working towards it and the less gritty pupils cannot seem to think beyond the present day.
It is possible that the parents of pupils with Grit often have high expectations of their children and promote aspiration and often the parents of those who demonstrate a lack of grit do not seem to expect their children to succeed academically. This does not mean that they do not care about their children or that they are neglectful. They might have underachieved in life themselves and they might be prepared to excuse their children for doing the same.
Angela Duckworth believes that Grit can be built and I am beginning to believe that this might be true. In recent mentoring sessions with some of the year group's underachieving pupils I asked them what they would like to be in the future. All of the pupils were unable to answer the question. I asked them to tell me about hobbies or school subjects that they enjoy and this question resulted in a more positive response. It was almost as if they had never considered how their hobbies and skills could be used in a future career. They had never been asked to make that connection before and they seemed to be excited by the idea that the things that they enjoy could eventually pay their bills. I listened to their ideas and made informal career suggestions for them. I then told them how school could help them to achieve their proposed career and we worked out a 'flight path' for them. Interestingly, the behaviour for learning of some of the pupils has already improved and (again anecdotally) teachers have noticed a difference. It seems clear to me that for Grit to be developed our students need to have dreams and aspirations.
When I ask my more motivated students to tell me what drives them to work hard and be resilient they give me a variety of responses. Many are driven by the fact that they do not want to let their parents down. They want them to feel proud and they say that their success is payback for all of the love and time that has been invested in them. Some pupils say that their friends encourage them to keep going and to show Grit. They see their friends working hard and making progress and they believe that they can do it too. Some pupils tell me that their parents do not make demands on them, but they are still driven to succeed because they themselves want a good job and a happy future. These responses come from pupils with a variety of backgrounds and circumstances.
One pupil told me that he works hard to improve in one particular subject simply because he loves it. He tells me that he doesn't even notice the time passing when he is working in that lesson and he is always sad when that lesson is over. He takes risks and is not afraid to be wrong because he knows that he will learn. In his book 'How Finding your Passion Changes Everything' Ken Robinson suggests that pupils should be encouraged to discover and pursue their passions. Grit is effortless when your mind is engaged in an activity which brings you joy. "If you love doing something, you'll be constantly drawn to get better at it" (Finding your Element - Ken Robinson)
It would seem that grit is difficult to pinpoint and develop in our students because motivation is personal. Perhaps the answer lies in a more creative and innovative curriculum and a learning environment which promotes risk, wrong turns and collaboration. We also cannot ignore the fact that Grit is also about our attitudes when we do not want to do something. We could perhaps consider the benefits of reviewing our PSE, careers education and mentoring programmes at key stage three.
In answer to my original question, I do not believe that Grit should or could be taught in a prescriptive way. If our students are engaged in their learning and surrounded by positive role models, then Grit and self regulation will come naturally, regardless of background and circumstances. Evidence of this character trait should be celebrated with our students and personal motivation journeys should be shared.
Thank you for reading BexK06

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Easyjet philosopher - why some pupils do not succeed

On a recent trip abroad I had the pleasure of being seated next to a total stranger. My first impression of my fellow passenger was that he was an average middle aged man travelling alone. He helped me to stow my hand luggage and teased me about the weight of my bag. He told me that he would not be needing luggage where he was going and he had not even felt it necessary to bring a coat. This intrigued me and I asked him why. He told me that he was going to a garage in Barcelona to pick up a van which he needed to drive to deliver to another garage in Paris. He would be flying home from Paris that evening and he didn't foresee any difficulties. A coat would not be needed. If anything happened he would simply 'sort himself out.' He wasn't a planner and in his opinion, this was his weakness and his strength.
In the departure lounge I had been reading Matthew Syed's 'Black Box Thinking' and had just finished the chapter entitled 'Marginal Gains.' The chapter discusses the importance of breaking a big project down into smaller steps and narrowly focussing on improving each step. At that exact moment, I understood this to mean that if you fail to prepare, you should prepare to fail and I started to challenge him about his clear failure to plan for his journey.
He laughed and told me that I had misunderstood him and possibly the book that I was reading. This was not the first time that he had completed a job like this. He had undertaken the same journey several times and had learnt many valuable lessons along the way:
"The first time I went to a garage, I was too confident and I thought that I would be able to find the garage myself. I got on the tube in Barcelona and I missed my stop. I ended up losing the job because I couldn't get to the garage in time to pick the van up. I have never made that mistake again and today there will be a taxi driver waiting for me at the airport. I just give him the name of the garage and he takes me there. It costs me extra, but it's worth it!"
He told me that he chooses to make savings in other ways and prioritises the things that are going to improve his service for his customers:
"I never take luggage and I never eat food on the plane. It's too expensive and I have found out that my Spanish clients really like to give me a restaurant recommendation. When I see them next time they remember me and ask what I thought about the food. They book me again then and I get to try lots of different food."
Clearly he had indeed broken the big picture into several stages and through trial and error had improved each stage to create a more successful delivery service.
At this point he revealed that the delivery company belonged to him and he told me his story. He had been an unhappy factory worker with a boss he didn't like. He wanted to work outside and meet people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures:
"I love people. I collect them and the people that I have met in my life have been my best teachers. I knew that being stuck in a factory meant that I was missing out."
He told me that he bought a van and advertised himself as a 'man with a van.' At that point he was prepared to do anything that his clients needed. He said yes to everything at the beginning, took risks and took on a variety of contracts from emptying houses after life failures to transporting kitchen parts abroad;
"I saw everything in those first few years. I saw people at their most heartbroken, I helped people to make a fresh start and some of my jobs disgusted me but I carried on. There was so much dirt and everything was soiled. I don't understand why people would choose to live so unhappily. Life is a choice and you don't have to be dirty or unhappy. If things aren't good and you are unhappy or you can imagine something better, you have to make changes."
He told me that he used these early experiences to help him to spot gaps in the transportation market. He began to specialise and bought an extra van and employed another driver to continue to do the jobs that he did not enjoy. He passes some of the jobs that he doesn't want to do on to a friend of his and the friend returns the favour. He strongly believes that to be successful you have to be patient and flexible, work with others and build a local reputation first:
"People think that it is cheaper and safer to choose someone local and I use that belief to my advantage. I help local companies to deliver their products. They rely on me and we grow together. That's why I bought another van to deliver a local kitchen company's products internationally. Our businesses are now international and we are very proud of that. It takes longer but life isn't always about getting there quickly. You have to enjoy the scenery"
He explained that failure has helped him to learn:
" In the early days I called people to advertise my services and was often told 'no.' Instead of putting the phone down, I asked them to tell me about the companies that they were already using and asked them how much they were paying. I then made sure that my business undercut them, called them back and I got the contracts."
I asked him about his plans for the future and he said that he had no intention of expanding his business. He smiled and said that he could be a millionaire, but he knows that his family life and happiness would suffer:
"I want to have just enough to make my family happy and I want to be around every day to see them enjoying what I have provided. If they need more, I will work harder. For me, that is what success is."
I realised at this point in our conversation that I had met a rare person. He was possibly one of only two percent of people that manage to achieve Abraham Maslow's state of self-actualisation (Maslow - 1970) According to Maslow, success does not equate with perfection but with achievement of one's potential. Maslow describes a hierarchy of motivational needs from the most basic (food, shelter etc.) to the higher needs of personal fulfilment, social acceptance and self-esteem. We are motivated to move through the hierarchy of needs until we achieve our potential in our own unique ways. If our most basic needs are not met, we fail to make progress. Maslow's triangle is a useful tool to help us to understand why some of our students fail to make progress in their academic and personal lives. Our under-achieving pupils will focus on securing their most basic needs before they can progress to the next level. They are unable to imagine their future and are not motivated to work towards it because the present day is a battle to survive. Success for some of our pupils is simply being able to get through the day with appropriate food, sleep, shelter, safety, love and the acceptance of their peers.

As he helped me to collect my luggage on the way out I asked him if he was worried about driving in the notoriously challenging Paris traffic. He paused and replied:
"I'll be alright. We haven't always got time to read the signs. You just need to find the centre and it's easy from there."

Thanks for reading, Becky   @BexK06