Is talent really over rated??

“The major factor in whether people achieve expertise is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement”
Robert Sternberg

“The ‘growth mindset’ is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way..everyone can change and grow through application and experience”
Carol Dweck

“To practice isn’t to declare, I’m bad. To practice is to declare, I can be even better”
Dan Heath

“With practice you’ll get stronger results if you spend your time practicing the most important things”
Doug Lemov

The inspiration behind me writing this two part Blog post, is that I will be delivering some CPD on ‘Great Learning’ as part of our induction process in August, therefore, I thought it might be helpful to my colleagues to condense what I’ve learnt over the past 4 and a half months on this subject and suggest some links for further reading.

My interests are in staff development, look after your teachers, value and support them and in turn this should benefit the students in their classrooms. I am particularly interested in what separates consistently ‘outstanding’ teachers from the rest. I have had it said to me more times than I care to mention, by many people, that what sets certain people aside is talent, a natural ability to perform or inspire other people. Some people just ‘have it’..

I have always disagreed with this. The notion of ‘talent’ suggests that only certain people can facilitate ‘outstanding learning’. Which isn’t the case, no one is born ‘Outstanding’, the label (should you want it) is open to everybody. From my point of view, this is what we should all aspire to, providing the very best experiences we can for our students.

What separates the best is firstly about mindset, attitude towards your own professional learning is key. A second requisite is the ability to be self reflective, never stop learning from your professional experiences, always question how you can be better. The third? deliberate practice Dylan William suggests “What distinguishes experts from others is the commitment to deliberate practice”
Deliberate practice is:
an effortful activity that can be sustained only for a limited time each day
it is instrumental in achieving further improvement in performance.

Through my Twitter mingling I’ve been pointed in the direction of two excellent summer reads, ‘Mindset:How you can fulfil your potential’ by Dr Carol Dweck and ‘Practice Perfect: 42 rules for getting better at getting better’ by Doug Lemov etal. Both provide substantial evidence that to succeed in our field requires the right attitude. As does professional practice, ‘practice makes perfect’ or more to the point ‘practice makes permanent'(Lemov).

Passion/ Mindset
I have mentored PGCE students and NQTs for many years and the first qualities I look for in a teacher is passion and enthusiasm. The skills that we develop as teachers, questioning, classroom management, how to differentiate etc etc can all be learnt but you cant teach someone to be passionate. Having the correct mindset and drive is essential for outstanding teaching.
This is not to confuse attitude with motivation, your motivation will go up and down, it may even change on a daily or hourly basis, we all have our bad days. Regardless of motivation though, your attitude will stay the same. I cant think of any other profession where having a positive mental attitude is so important.
Dweck calls this a ‘growth mindset’ people with this mindset do not believe that intelligence, talent etc are fixed but that everyone can change and grow through application and experience. Anything can be achieved with ‘passion, toil and training’.
What also resonates is Dweck’s comments about ‘effort’, a fixed mindset would suggest that you don’t need effort, that talent should come naturally and you should hide mistakes and deficiencies. In a growth mindset, effort is what makes you talented, you should capitalise on mistakes and confront deficiencies. ‘Those with a growth mindset find success in doing their best, in learning and improving’.
It is possible to develop a growth mindset, it can be taught and just being aware of the difference between ‘fixed’ and ‘growth’ is helpful to us all and encourages the right attitude. Dweck uses examples from School, Sport, Business and relationships to illustrate her point. Her advice pertinent to both adult and child learners, success in any field is dependent, not on talent but mindset. Here Dweck talks about helping children to reach their full potential.

Also read

Vision meeting: Growth mindset via Shaun Allison

Teaching strategies to create growth mindset  via SEC Ed

Growth Mindset (via excellence and growth in schools network)

Self reflection

One thing I have learnt is that you can’t force anyone to learn or to want to, this goes for both students and adult learners. Learning comes from within and isn’t something that gets ‘done to you’. The very best teachers start with the attitude that we never stop learning. Undoubtedly Twitter has made me a more self reflective teacher, it challenges my thinking on a more or less daily basis. The 400 odd Blog posts I have favourited and am gradually working my way through are changing my thinking on education and learning. As David Fawcett puts it in his post Can we all be that little bit better? “It has made me think about what the various core ingredients that I could improve in my practice, to become that little bit better at what I do. It has made me wonder if what I am doing in lessons is the best it could be and actually effective at all”
Twitter has also made me realise how important taking control of your own CPD is, to all teachers, regardless of position and experience. I am convinced that teachers not using social media as a professional development tool are putting themselves at a disadvantage. Never has there been such a wealth of research, insight, advice and inspiration available to us all in one place. In a world of cuts in education, the onus will fall more on the individual to seek their own development and we all have a duty to be the best we can be. Alex Quigley writes in his post Becoming a better teacher: teachers doing it for themselves “There really is no bigger prize: better teachers improve the life chances of students. It should be our personal focus as committed professionals. It should be the core purpose of school leaders to develop great teachers.”
Self reflection is key to self improvement as is reading. Alex states “We should be prepared to read and research like we did when we were at university. If we are serious about being an expert we must undertake the research habits which we would demand of our best students” I for one am definitely guilty of having under estimated how important reading is to learning, reading Blog posts has ignited a new found passion I have for reading about education, it does takes time and a certain level of commitment to be a self reflective teacher, however the rewards play themselves out in our classrooms and comes down to our professional responsibility to the students in our care.
As David concludes “Put yourself in charge. Read, connect, discuss and debate. But all in all, take the step to improve your practice. Not because you’re not good enough, but because you (and I) can be even better.”

Deliberate practice
In Lemov’s book he quotes from Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’ that explains the 10,000 hour rule. “Exceptional talent equals an exceptional quantity of practice-10,000 hours to be exact..of course what you do in practice matters as much as, if not more than, how much you practice”. No getting away from the fact that being a successful teacher is hard work, also essential that we concentrate on the important things in our daily routine, the things that matter and make a difference to our student’s learning. Being ‘great’ is not that far away from ‘good’. Small tweaks to our practice can lead to major gains in our classrooms.
Lemov calls this the 80/20 rule, to become great you should concentrate on practicing the 20% of things that create most value, practice the highest priority things more than everything else combined “Being great at the most important things is more important than being good at more things that are merely useful” He uses an example from Spanish football to illustrate the point:

Xavi Hernandez describes a single practice activity that characterises Spanish soccer and explains its dominance. “It’s all about rondos,” he says, referring to a game in which four or five players pass a ball rapidly around the outside of a square and one or two players pursue the ball. “Rondo, rondo, rondo. Every. Single. Day. It’s the best exercise there is. You learn responsibility and not to lose the ball…the drill is so useful that players do it over and over-at the expense of something new. The value of the drill doesn’t decrease as they get better at it; it increases.”

Practicing things we are already good at is sometimes an area we neglect as teachers, preferring to concentrate on our ‘areas for development’, Lemov borrows a term from Dan and Chip Heath (Switch), ‘bright spots’ to point out that there is value in emphasising those things individuals are already good at- and making them even better at it. Practicing our strengths reminds us of what we are good at. Important also for sharing and collaboration between teams, “one person’s bright spot becomes another person’s model”.
To get practice right we must ‘analyse the game’. Observe and analyse top performers and describe the skills they have in common and provide a clear map for those who want to replicate them. Lemov also places emphasis on feedback and to practice using the feedback we get from our peers. Using it being a different skill from accepting it. Important that we practice putting feedback we get to use as quickly as possible.

“In short, the sequence that practice should generally follow is
1. Practice
2. Feedback
3. Do over (repractice using the feedback)
4. Possibly do this multiple times
5. Reflect”

ALex Quigley puts his own slant on this in his excellent Blog post Becoming a better teacher by deliberate practice “‘Deliberate practice‘ is not ‘mindless‘ repetition, where a teacher uses the same resource or strategy willy nilly, in a loose ‘trial and error’. It is not trying lots of fun, new resources or teaching strategies out on a pliant group. Instead, it is about a deeply reflective process, that is highly rigorous and specific.” Alex sees 4 key steps as essential to a successful ‘Deliberate Practice’ process:

  1. Define the time and place High quality ‘deliberate practice’ requires a careful consideration of time and place.
  2. Research your evidence thoroughly, then define, and refine, your focus. Share with a coach/critical friend.
  3. Record your evidence and your reflections systematically. Have an open and frank dialogue with your coach on a consistent basis.
  4. Share, reflect and repeat…and repeat…

Shaun Allison in his post How to be an expert teacher argues that schools should be doing more to encourage deliberate practice amongst staff. He cites evidence of the ‘teacher plateau’ that occurs after the first few years of teaching and that most teachers through experience alone, do not get better. Shaun goes on to emphasise the importance of coaching in schools to ‘encourage teachers to reflect on and refine their own practice’. Coaching is something we are committed to implementing throughout our school this coming academic year.

Read also ‘What makes a Great Teacher’

Ped Pack (via Toby Fox)

Teaching and Learning website (via David Fawcett)

and ’12 steps to a great teacher reputation’ by Tom Sherrington

Joe Kirby states 10 checklist points for effective teachers in his post ‘What can we learn from John Hattie?’

Ten checklist points:

Effective teachers…
◾Use CPD to enhance their deeper understanding of their subject.
◾Use CPD to understand how to provide effective feedback.
◾Use backwards design from success criteria to learning intentions then activities and resources.
◾Provide multiple opportunities for practice.
◾Teach students how to practise deliberately and how to concentrate.
◾Teach students how to ask for, understand and use feedback.
◾Recognise the power of peer feedback, and deliberately teach students to give each other appropriate feedback.
◾Monitor the progress of students regularly throughout the year.
◾Use this for planning and evaluating.
◾Evaluate the impact of their teaching based on evidence of student progress, and strive continually to maximise their impact.

So we know practice makes permanent and the other key essentials for being an outstanding teacher are a ‘growth mindset’ and ‘self reflection’, alongside the points made by @headguruteacher and @joe_kirby. In our classrooms, how do we decide what makes learning great? and what are the important features of great learning? What are the ‘important things’ we need to keep practicing?

In the next part of this Blog I shall deal with these questions..Part 2 (of 2) Great Learning: What are the ‘important things’ that make learning ‘GREAT’?

Rachael Edgar

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