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Seeking to master the challenge

Published on 01/11/21

Our character quality for November is Endeavour, something that would be remiss to discuss in an educational context without first mentioning ‘Growth Mindset’, a term so commonplace in schools nowadays that it is all but impossible to ignore. Assemblies, posters and various pastoral initiatives all recognise and use Dr Carol Dweck’s famous work on motivation, developed and refined during over 40 years of research. In general terms, a growth mindset is a can do attitude; a belief that hard work and effort will get you there. The opposite of this is a fixed mindset where you avoid something difficult because you feel you will fail: if you can’t do it, why look silly trying?

Some of Dweck’s work is based upon theories of intelligence which offer a little more detail to the notion of mindset: the incremental theory which believes intelligence is changeable, and the entity theory which sees it as largely fixed.  Schools and educational establishments (and parents) can actually influence these through the goals and tasks they present to students and the value we attach to them. Are pupils learning so that they can pass a test or are they learning because they enjoy the process and seek to master the challenge? In other words, are we asking students to prove or improve their ability?

This brings me on to the wonderful, and very current, example of the tennis sensation Emma Raducanu.  Her unprecedented success at the US Open was heralded as a perfect model of a growth mindset in action. Storming through the qualifiers she went on to sweep aside all who stood before her at Flushing Meadows without dropping a single set; her grit and determination bringing her a victory for the ages. Global stardom arrived with a huge Instagram following of over 2 million admirers and fashion deals with Nike, Dior and Tiffany and Co. to name but a few, all by the age of 18. But then the defeats arrived too: departing in the first round at Indian Wells and in the quarter final at the Transylvania Open to an old childhood rival, the Ukrainian Marta Kostuk. What is so striking to me about this roller coaster journey is the language Emma Raducanu uses to describe it. There is an honesty and acknowledgement that she still has much to learn and so very far to go, that even more hard work will be needed alongside her considerable natural talent. She talks about needing a top coach and full pre-season, of developing her physical stamina and her mental strength over the coming months. In all her recent interviews it is clear that her focus is on improving her ability ahead of stepping up to a full year on the pro circuit.

My next assembly in the Pre-Prep will be the story of this remarkable young athlete and how she sees set-backs and disappointments as challenges to be mastered through the effort she puts into continually developing her talents. She is a shining example of endeavour and someone I know our children will respond to, learn from and be motivated by!

Mr Michael Williams
Head of Pre-Prep and Nursery School