Elizabeth Gilbert presents a powerful argument for the need to acknowledge the inherent pressure associated with success and achievement. In her case, she draws on her experience of the pressure of writing a novel which can follow the huge success of her first novel. For me, this highlights the pressure that learners experience when they start to get identified as gifted and talented, or simply just by being, ‘…the one who’s good at (x)’. It’s at this point, often hidden from public view, that some learners will start to sabotage their own success. They’ll stop contributing in class discussions, reject any accolades or public celebrations of achievement or simply take the other route and start disengaging from the learning altogether.
Elizabeth Gilbert presents a useful strategy that links with Professor Carol Dweck’s work on Mindsets. Gilbert suggests that we need to separate our ability from ourselves. We need to step away from describing what “I have achieved” and move instead to “This is what my ability has produced”. Now, using such clunky language is not such a great idea, but you get the picture. We need to recognise the endeavour and effort invested in learning and achievement, and celebrate THAT, rather than label the individual as ‘brilliant’ or ‘genius’. Gilbert offers a get-out clause for those who wish to be quietly successful in her presentation.
Alternatively, or possibly, in addition, it is worth taking a look at ow we celebrate achievement in our schools, and, for that matter, society as a whole.
For many who aspire to be the very best at what they do and who seek only to express their passion for what they do, where in school will they find a warm and supportive environment that will guarantee a full-bodied, non-judgemental welcome to their most precious and personal creative offerings?