Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Implications about "Potential" for educators

In a recent piece titled, The Surprising Secret to Selling You, Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson summarizes a hand full of research projects that suggest most "people are much more impressed, whether they realize it or not, by your potential than by your track record."  After reading it, I couldn't help but think about the implications this research has for educators. 

Here are four.

1.  New students

Every year, schools enroll new students.  Each of whom went through some sort of process to apply (mostly private schools) and/or register.  Each student has a file with records of past work, recommendations from teachers, etc.  All of this is a record of the past.  It is the facts that make up the student's academic story.  It is NOT, however, a measure of who you will be.

Your new student file might suggest potential, but it doesn't determine it.

2.  Honor Roll

Making the Honor Roll is a wonderful achievement.  In most cases, it is the result of hard work and dedication.  On the other hand, it doesn't guarantee any future achievement.  Getting to the top is hard.  Staying there is harder.  Now that you have shown us what you can do, show us where you are going (and take us along for the ride).

3.  Growth mindset

You cannot believe in greater potential unless you believe that there is room for growth.  A fixed mindset cannot function in a world of potential because the fixed mindset doesn't value the search for better.  Much like Steven Johnson uses the concept of the adjacent possible to explain innovation in Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, potential includes the achievements just beyond what a student has already done.  However, to truly work towards attaining that next best level of growth, you need to value getting to the next level more than you value the one you already attained.

4.  Effort

From a recent address I gave (and a recent blog post):
Discovering your potential is an exercise in finding and pushing your limits.  Success is found in a similar way.  It takes effort, willpower, resilience, perseverance, and grit.  Notice I said nothing about grades, honor rolls, test scores, or IQ.  Those are important and have their place, but alone cannot consistently find success nor discover potential.

Tomorrow, we get another chance to discover more about our own potential and to inspire others to do the same.  How do you plan to do that in your class?

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