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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


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