A vision for learning and the importance of GRIT

From The Young Foundation

I have written about the idea of GRIT before, inspired by creative thinker and writer, Jonah Leher (@jonahleher). His website is well worth a visit, not least because it is a thing of beauty.

This morning, I came across this report all about GRIT, from The Young Foundation, which provides a really detailed analysis on both the importance and benefits of developing GRIT and RESILIENCE in all our learners. With an array of useful links, case studies and practical applications to curriculum redesign. If you are currently developing your vision for learning, this is a great place to start.


The best teachers are the greatest learners & vice versa

I have always loved the work of the Innovation Unit. One of the most inspirational talks I have ever heard was from Valerie Hannon at a Cape UK where she delivered a powerful keynote speeches at a conference about 4 years ago. It was here that she referred to the need, in the 21st Century, for the ‘Expert Pedagogue’. It is this concept that I had been working on for many years, but framed as she did on that day, I was use her words and thinking to bring together a whole range of ideas and approaches that have continued to shape my thinking and my own work to this day.

Anyway, rather than go on here about the great work of The Innovation Unit, why not go and take a look at some of their projects? A good place to start is their partnership with The Paul Hamlyn Foundation on ‘Learning Futures’ (with @DavidPriceOBE).

But before you leave this post, take a look at this video (you’ll also find it on their site).

What a way to promote the essence of excellence in learning and education and big up, deservedly so, the qualities of all the fabulous educators around the world. I’m sure I’ll be using this as an inspirational film ahead of INSET and twlights…I’ll let you know what happens when I do! If you use it – please let me know!

Oyster Learning with GriT: A new definition of Gifts & Talents?

(www.flickr.com/photos/annak/441319206/ by http://www.flickr.com/people/annak/ under Creative Commons License)

I really enjoyed this WIRED article by Jonah Lehrer, (@jonahlehrer) “Which traits predict success” (The importance of grit).  I have developed my own approach to gifted and talented education using similar principles but as with all great pieces of writing, this one provided a bit of a side-swipe on my thinking, which is always good.

Here’s my approach to how to foster gifts and talents in all our learners (rather than seeking to identify the gifted and talented learners) requires that we design opportunities where learning is underpinned by the concepts of:

1. Deliberate  & mindful practise (see Anders-Ericsson’s work on this)

2. Positive “Growth Mindsets” (see the recent publication, “Mindsets: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol S Dweck)

3. Task Commitment (Joseph Renzulli) .

Jonah Lehrer’s article made me consider an additional angle on the whole discussion about what we are looking for when we are identifying the ‘gifts and talents’ in our learners.

What Jonah says about measuring talent and intelligence by exploring the degree to which somebody displays resilience, stickability (what he refers to as ‘grit’) is a refreshing way to consider how schools might provide for their most able students. 

So often, we identify high ability and attainment first and then find ourselves looking for inventive ways to develop resilience, determination or ‘grit’ through the learning opportunities we provide. What if we flipped this model around and identified the ‘grit’ first and then, with the collaboration of the learners, designed activities that allowed them to really thrive? We would then have an approach that (a) provides opportunities for learners to demonstrate ‘grit’ (b) identifies it when it shows and (c) explicitly develops this ‘grit’ as a talent in its own right.

What would a cohort of learners who are identified as having the talent of ‘grit’, resilience and determination look, sound and be like in school?

Would a ‘grit’ talent pool include the same learners as a ‘high ability’ talent pool?

Could such an approach be used as an early intervention strategy. We spot the grit before the intellectual ability, celebrate this and then, through quality learning conversations, seek to apply the ‘grit’ talent to specific subject domains. What if they were yet to show high ability in a particular subject or domain area, but were picked up on the simple fact that they had stickability and determination to do their best. How would identifying such a cohort of learners inform the provision we then design for them?

A whole new cohort of young people may well be identified as ‘talented’ if we were to incorporate this in our definition of ‘gifted and talented’ in schools. Not only that, if we then design learning opportunities that explicitly seek to nurture resilience, tenacity and determination, then we can provide young people with the opportunity to deliberately and mindfully practise just the ‘talent’  of ‘grit’ that we are seeking to nurture.

As I said to Jonah when I wrote and thanked him for his insight, I LOVE the metaphorical connection that can be drawn between ‘grit’ and the way in which oysters make pearls…something we can easily latch on to. And Jonah very kindly said that he liked the metaphor too.

I’d be interested in your thoughts about this…



Curiosity as a route to intellectual risk-taking

I have had the most amazing week of learning. It began on the South Coast (see previous post), working with a group of teachers who are bravely searching for ways in which they can give permission to their students to take intellectual risks, and, more importantly, encouraging their students to accept this offer. Without doubt, one of the hardest tasks for us all. They are well on the way to develop ways that explicitly foster the characteristics of independent learning and that generate a love for learning in and of itself.

The following day, I was on the train, travelling to Nottingham ready to meet with some inspirational educators generously sharing their approaches that offer opportunities to ‘learn-things’ differently. This was an absolute treat. I was introduced to a diverse range of ways to encourage deep thinking, learning design that offers creative immersion and common-sense, insightful ways to foster positive attitudes towards learning.

Whenever I have the opportunity just to sit and listen to what others are doing to drive learning forward, my brain goes into overdrive. New connections are inevitably formed in my brain and any existing connections and ideas are consolidated. In the frenetic world in which we all work it shames me that I do not manage to do more listening and less doing, as I know this would most certainly make my ‘doing’ far richer. After all, I spend a whole heap of time banging on about this as one of the fundamental characteristics of an ‘expert pedagogue’: the need to be a professional reflective practitioner [Note to self: must try harder].

On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of meeting an Agent Of Wonder. Really. That’s his job title. I think that he must be the only “Agent of Wonder” in the UK Education system, if not the world. Dr Matthew McFall is an extraordinary man. He is leading an amazing project in a school that aims explicitly to foster curiosity across the whole school community. He has created a ‘Wonder Room’ which is packed full of interesting, unusual, out-of-time, out-of-context, thought-provoking objects (see photos). All members of the school community are encouraged to come into the room and simply explore, think and marvel at the objects on display. There are puzzles of all descriptions, abstract photographs, petrified animals, a typewriter, illustrated books, keys upon keys upon keys…

He held up a woolly mammoth bone. He explained that he had carried the bone around the school, inviting students to suggest what it might be. He invited them to look closely, to hold it, feel it and to sense it properly. Once they had decided that it was a bone, he asked them to look even closer, pointing out two distinct bulges; “What do you think happened here?”… “This mammoth must have had a tough life, don’t you think? A couple of serious blows that resulted in breaking his/her rib in two places…I wonder what sort of character the mammoth needed to be?” And then he went on his way, leaving students to imagine and to wonder.

When we were there, Dr Magic (for he also does magic tricks…well why wouldn’t he?), had just been into a Year 7 English lesson to work alongside the teacher and the group on developing their curiosity using appropriate objects from the wonder room to enhance their imagination and creative writing. Delightful.

I wish I could have reversed my week. If only I could have shared this very deliberate ‘curious-learning’ methodology with the group of teachers I met on Monday. I am sure that they would have loved it just as much as I did! What a great way to encourage learners to take those intellectual risks..to imagine…to question, to speculate and to take those much needed but very risky intellectual leaps of faith into the world of ‘there are no stupid questions; so have a go and enjoy seeing what happens.’ Now there’s a route to full on learning.


Creating ‘liquid networks and nurturing ‘slow hunches’

I cannot believe that it is already the third week of term. I haven’t written a post for all of that time, apart from transporting a couple of posts here from a sister site. Despite all good intentions, my regime of all-things-writing has also gone by the wayside. Note to self: ‘MUST do better.” And this blog isn’t going to shed too much light on my full head of thoughts right now, either. Instead, I though I would share this TED talk that I’ve just been watching (notebook in hand, for this is how I recommend watching all TED talks).

This talk is a fascinating journey through the history of ideas by Steven Johnson. For me, always the learning geek, I translate all that is presented into questions around school and learning. So when he makes observations about the ‘Architecture of Spaces’, for me, it raises the question of how we might consider working with our existing (and new) learning spaces; nothing new there, granted. But the heart of this talk is to observe the way in which humans are a social species where we spark off each other in order to innovate. How, then, do we organise learning, not just the physical aspects of it, to ensure that they encourage opportunities for the establishment of networks and the collision of ideas and nurturing as ‘slow hunches’. I have a few ideas about this, but in the meantime, make a cuppa and put your feet up for 20 minutes and enjoy learning from another great talk. I would embed it here but posterous appears not to be co-operating with me, so here’s the link instead.

Let me know what you think.


“If everyone could educate, we could educate everyone”.

First thing this morning, I was uploading a file to my @DropBox account and noticed that they were hiring. Out of interest, I had a look at what working at a company like DropBox might entail, and saw this:


How cool! It describes how it offers a working environment that appeals specifically to to the way in which they want their employees to think and live.

How might we define the ‘benefits’ of learning to reflect the type of mindsets we want our learners to develop, I wonder? Could we write a Job Description for a learner that truly reflects the skills and dispositions we are seeking to draw out of them? And how would this same rule apply to educators? I would have loved ‘sense of fun, play and exploration’ to have been listed under ‘essentials’ in my job description when I was starting out in the classroom. That’s certainly that type of learning environment I always sought to establish when I was teaching. I would like to think that I still express this quality as ‘essential’ now I work with teachers and teaching assistants.

It chimed with the work I’ve been doing recently that incorporates the concepts of Daniel Pink’s book DRIVE into an educational pedagogy. In particular, his TED Talk and RSAnimate talk about Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. I’ll be posting about this very soon, with some very simple ‘think-resources’ that I’m testing out, but take a look at the talk(s) and see what you think.

I then came across this TEDx Talk by John Werner and MacCalvin Romain from Boston TEDx and was reminded of the @theRSAorg   RSA Area Based Curriculum Projects; something I would love to start developing with schools in my own work. As I continued to listen to the talk, however, an alarm bell went off. I love the sentiment of ‘if everybody could educate, we could educate everyone’ but ONLY if they are supported to share their thinking through the channel of an effective pedagogy. In this way, we would create a truly collaborative environment of learning:

1.Teachers and students would learn about their subject as it is applied in a wider and applied context
2. Industry would learn from educators about how to the develop skills, gifts and dispositions found within in their workforce
3. Industry would gain an insight into the perspective of young people, their next generation of consumers, participants, employees and leaders.
4. Young people would have access to mentors, role-models and indutry-trained and experienced practitioners
5. Schools and colleges would connect with local business and employers to form a community hub

All of this would ensure that they schools can offer the best possible ways in which students can access the curriculum, in addition to the offer of an enhanced curriculum in itself. 

Not only that, but it then makes me think of how powerful would it be if we, as educators, shared our own expertise about how humans learn and develop with those who run businesses, laboratories and retail outlets. I wonder what impact that might have on the way in which the workplace is organised, how we encourage innovation and how organisations can nurture the capacities of not just our children and young people but those who are already in the workplace, seeking fulfilment in what they do, how they act and how they contribute to the future economies and communities which we are preparing for our young people to enter. How this might support the development of life-wide (rather than life-long) learning?

Some random musings for a Tuesday morning, at least.