Let's Focus on the Personal!
I am always amused by the renewed focus on education or, more accurately, education for the future, at this time of the year. If you were to scan any of our national papers you will find a plethora of articles on everything from the future of the HSC through to the benefits of a gap year and even the ‘real skills’ required - code for those not taught in schools – for success in work and life. As an educator I am regularly confused by this barrage of ‘new information’ about what schools should or shouldn’t do to prepare our students for life and work. I can only imagine how parents feel about all of this hype as they try to navigate the myths and realities that abound as the school year comes to an end.
Therefore, instead of trying to crystal ball about technology and innovation, new courses or subjects, the changing nature of schooling as we know it, and the skills future employees will need, I have decided to focus on the dispositions and behaviours that research tells us can improve academic performance. There are four key behaviours that can be linked to significant growth for all students. The behaviours are: having a growth mindset; having the ability to persevere; believing in yourself – called self-efficacy in the literature; and self-regulation or developing the ability to control your behaviours, thoughts and emotions in pursuit of long-term goals.
Schools have tended to focus on the development of traditional academic skills and a strong focus on gaining knowledge as key drivers in education. However, there is a growing body of research that indicates that schools need to take a closer look at behaviours and qualities that have not been traditionally focused on.Many researchers believe that by doing so, these factors could have multiple life-long benefits for students as well as improving their academic performance. Let’s dig a little deeper into what these behaviours are and what they mean.
A growth mindset: A growth mindset allows students to see failure and setbacks as opportunities to learn.By developing a growth mindset and effective strategies, students can use these setbacks to improve. This is in contrast to a fixed mindset where learners believe that no matter what they do their level of ability is fixed.
Perseverance: Perseverance is related to drive and grit, which are qualities that are linked to resilience. There has been a lot of attention given to ‘grit’ and, while it’s really important, we should also be encouraging and nurturing behaviours including tenacity, self-discipline and self-control. Studies have shown that where students feel that they belong, have a positive mindset and effective learning strategies they are also more likely to persevere.
Self-efficacy: Self efficacy is related to self-confidence, belief in yourself and self-esteem. In other words, self-efficacy is a person’s belief in their ability to succeed in a particular situation. Our belief in our own ability plays a significant role in how we think, how we act, and how we feel about our place in the world.
Self-regulation: Self-regulation involves managing the causes of impulses that are inhibited by self-control. I guess the easiest example of self-regulation is not always chasing instant gratification but sometimes being patient and working towards a goal. The ability to self-regulate comes from both internal factors such as temperament, as well as external factors such as rules and modelling from adults. Self-regulation helps learners to achieve their goals by understanding the steps they need to take to achieve them.
While this work may not answer all of the questions we might have about kids and learning, it does shine a light on some important issues around the place of self-belief, perseverance, confidence and temperament in education and learning more generally.
Enjoy the weekend.
Dr Frank Pitt
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