Saint Ignatius College Geelong

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    From the Principal

    Article by Mr Michael Exton

    It's not enough to just praise students for their hard work.

    To encourage students to improve their performance, teachers and parents have been advised to praise effort more than achievement.  However, for teenagers, it may not be enough just to praise hard work.

    At our College, like most schools, we encourage a ‘growth mindset.’  We encourage a mindset where students think of their intelligence as something that can grow over time.  This contrasts with a fixed mindset that believes you are born with talents and innate gifts.  Everyone is a mixture of both mindsets.  Our mindset mixture evolves with our experiences.

    Promotion of a growth mindset to improve learning stems from the work of Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Standford University.  In “Harvard Business Review”, 13th Jan., 2016, Prof Dweck explains, “Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning.”

    Professor Dweck warns against the misconception that a growth mindset is just about praising and rewarding effort. She affirms that outcomes do matter and unproductive effort is never a good thing. Professor Dweck says, “It’s critical to reward not just effort but learning and progress and to emphasise the processes that yield these things, such as seeking help from others, trying new strategies, and capitalizing on setbacks to move forward effectively. In all of our research, the outcome — the bottom line — follows from deeply engaging in these processes.”

    During the teenage years, students can find it challenging to apply themselves to their studies.  Sarah Sparks in “Education Week” 27th March 2018 points out that for adolescents, only praising effort can backfire.  Sarah Sparks explains this as follows. “We really admire people who are effortless achievers; they just ‘get maths’ or ‘get science’ without having to work too hard. When adolescents are told to work harder, they may wonder why they’re being told that when some of their classmates put in less work and still do well. Maybe the person being told to work harder isn’t smart!”

    To more effectively encourage and promote our students’ learning, teachers and parents need to praise the development of other strategies along with effort too, such as persistence and tapping into the strategies and examples of classmates and mentors; those who appear to be effortless achievers.  In this way, we will encourage our students to better see learning challenges as an opportunity for growth and development rather than a reflection of inadequacy or an opportunity to look bad.

    In supporting our students on their learning journey, it is important for us as parents and teachers to consider how our students currently view learning and themselves as learners. We also need to consider what we are doing to promote and model growth mindsets ourselves as well as discern what we might be able to do better to encourage greater persistence and perseverance amongst them as they strive for the ‘Magis.’

    What sort of learners do we want to develop?

    I want us to encourage and support the development of growth mindsets for our students. This will better move us toward realising our College mission that seeks to develop lifelong, persistent and curious learners.

    Michael Exton  Principal


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