Skip to main content

Professional Learning: A Tale of Two Meetings 2/2

In my last post I was writing about the first meeting of two I took part in last week. The second followed hard on the heels of the first and involved in travelling across Edinburgh by car during the rush hour. I thought this might be easier now that all the tram works were complete and in place. It wasn't!

Anyway, I arrived at my next destination, Easter Road the home of Hibernian football club, for what was billed as 'Education: The value of making mistakes: Helping children and young people develop a growth mindset'. The main speaker was Professor Carol Dweck from Harvard University in  the USA. Carol is famous for her work on, and identification of, 'fixed' and 'growth' mindsets and their respective impacts on learning and development. I have read a couple of her books and have seen her before at the Scottish Learning Festival and through various YouTube clips. I am a fan, so when I heard she was back in Scotland, at the invite of the Winning Scotland Foundation, and that she would be speaking when I was already in Edinburgh it became a no-brainer that I should go and listen to her.

Her presentation started with a quote from Benjamin Barber which she said she likes to start with as she likes that he 'divides the world into learners and non-learners.' She felt this was particularly apt given the nature of her research findings and her life's work on mindsets. Whilst she was in Scotland she was going to be speaking to various audiences and the one I was part of consisted of representatives from schools and local authorities from across Southern Scotland and the central belt. We mainly seemed to be teachers, school leaders, community educators, educational psychologists, quality improvement officers and managers from various local authorities. We were very much an educational audience.

Professor Dweck began to recount her research and her findings from her investigations with learners of all ages and explained how this led to her identification of 'fixed' and 'growth' mindsets, and how these impacted on learning. I started to experience deja-vue. If you have ever been to see her speak, or you have read any of her books you would have perhaps felt the same. Her presentation was almost identical to those I had experienced before. I was disappointed. I was hoping for some new insights from Professor Dweck, new evidence and nuances, new anecdotes and examples. There were none. I felt like someone who had gone to see a comedian I had seen on TV and was then left disappointed as they repeated their whole routine that got me to go and see them live.

Is this fair? There were well over a hundred people in the room and I would say all of them knew exactly who Carol Dweck was and were aware of her work. Did they learn anything new? Certainly there were lots of people making copious notes and the whole event was being filmed and put on Glow, the Scottish Educational web platform. My own thoughts were that if you had not seen her before, what she was saying would certainly be thought provoking and perhaps challenging. But I am sure there were many in the room like myself who left feeling disappointed by the experience. Would I go and see her again, probably not, unless it was on the back of a new piece of research or book with new insights. I still remain a fan however, and we have used her work in all our local schools as we seek to promote the value of effort and resilience in all our learners. I certainly applaud Winning Scotland for extending the invite to Professor Dweck and only they, and time, can be the judge of the cost effectiveness of her visit. The true value will be measured in the impact for all learners and the sportspeople over time, so the jury is out.

Which brings me to my thoughts on the value of one off events for professional development such as this one. Is there a value in them and is their impact sustainable? These to me are two key questions we need to ask. I certainly believe that we need to expose our teachers and leaders to the very best world class thinkers and leaders in education. We cannot remain insular and parochial in our approach to education and learning. We learn from others, as they in turn can learn from us. I have always argued that teachers and school leaders need to engage with research in order to develop their own thinking and practice, in order to improve what we do for all our learners. We should not be passive recipients of new knowledge and research but rather critical thinkers and examiners, so that we understand what is real and what might be snake oil. One off events will only have impact if they generate new thinking, and new practice that is sustainable. On their own they can't achieve this but they can act as a stimulus for the development of a new pathway on our continuous journey of development. If they fit in and support a pathway already being travelled so much the better. They are at their worst when they are just seen as a smorgasbord of activities that lead some into a continuous programme of change that has no depth, no sustainability and is backed by no vision.

One-off events and speakers do have a place in professional development when they are well thought out and stimulate thinking. Far better is a continuous journey of development, based on sound values, a vision and a determination to make a difference for our learners.

'Mindset-The New Psychology of Success'
'Self-Theories:Their Role in Motivation, Personality and Development'
'Mindset: How You Can Fulfil You Potential'
All by Carol Dweck

Popular posts from this blog

The Power Within

I sent a tweet the other day which seemed to generate a deal of resonance with some on my PLN. What I said was that meaningful school development can only come from within and cannot be imposed from outside. Now 140 characters on Twitter does have benefits but, as anyone who tweets regularly knows, it also has huge limitations in what you can say. So what I would like to do here is offer some further explanation of what I was trying to convey in my tweet.

For many years well meaning and informed people have increased our understanding and have made constructive suggestions  on how schools can develop and move forward. We also know that there have been lots of other suggestions made by less informed but vocal contributors to this debate! As all in education and schools know, everyone has an opinion or view on what should be going on in our schools. The media loves to feed on all of this and much of it stokes the fires of debate and gives oxygen to some of the wilder suggestions.

As som…

Testing Times for Scotland

'These are not high stakes tests; there will be no 'pass or fail' and no additional workload for children or teachers.' John Swinney 25/11/16

I start this look at the introduction of the Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs) with  statement above from John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, made when he announced the contract for our new standardised testing had been awarded to ACER International UK, Ltd. This organisation is a subsidiary of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), whom have been responsible for the development of the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) regime of high-stakes testing in the Australian system since 2008. I also believe they were one of a very short list of providers who tendered a bid for this contract.

I was drawn to this statement as I reflected on many of the responses I have received after I put out a request on Twitter …

Play not tests

Last night I attended the launch the 'PlayNotTests' campaign being led by Sue Palmer and the Upstart organisation in Scotland. This campaign is aimed at getting the Scottish government to think again about their decision to introduce standardised testing into Scottish schools, particularly in Primary 1. Upstart is a group whose main aim is the establishment of a play-based 'kindergarten stage' in Scottish schools, and they want to delay children's introduction into the formal education system until they have reached seven years of age. Before that, Upstart and their supporters, of which I am one, believe that young children learn best, and begin to develop the attributes they will need for life and learning, through play based learning, most of which should be located outside of classrooms and school buildings. This is a model that has been successfully developed by a number of Nordic systems, with positive impacts on the well-being as well as the learning of young…