“You will become clever through your mistakes.” German proverb
Background and parental influence count FOUR times more than the school attended for achievement at 16; experience and opportunity up to age 4 would appear to be the most influential factor on academic success and Ofsted give many more outstanding judgments to schools with low FSM and high KS2 performance. What does this mean? Well, it is True … But it is also Useless that context is important (TBU, Jerry Sternin, in “Switch”, Dan and Chip Heath). None of this is or should be surprising. When faced with the inertia of context and entrenched assumptions about success, it pays to seek anomalies; examples of where individuals and groups excel and under what conditions – it is this insight that may allow Schools to think differently and win an unfair game.
The first example highlights that winning an unfair game is about innovation, not accepting historical assumptions and using rigour to seek an advantage…
The Oakland Athletics Baseball Team: The year, 2002, Oakland As had a budget of $40 million compared to the $130million budget of the New York Yankees. Another true but useless fact. The assumption: money determines success – it is impossible for Oakland, through the drafting system, to afford a team that can compete – performance is pre-determined, hope lost. None of this surprised Oakland, but it took an individual, Billie Beane to find an innovative way to buck the trend… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiAHlZVgXjk (3 min)
Through rigorous statistical analysis he demonstrated that on-base and slugging percentage were better indicators of offensive success, and that these qualities were cheaper to obtain on the open market than more historically valued qualities such as speed and contact. By re-evaluating the strategies that produce wins on the field, the Athletics made the playoffs in 2002 and 2003, despite ranking 28/30 of the Major League Baseball Teams…an amazing achievement.
Where in education do we see similar gains in performance? Where is the next game-changer? What innovation, change of view or change in approach could create game-changing conditions for our students? Do we think long enough about our long held assumptions and create innovative approaches that buck trends?
Billie Beane’s different view dissolved long held assumptions and created success. Similar anomalies are also present across that globe where unbelievable clusters of success are achieved by growing cultures of greatness…
Daniel Coyle’s “The Talent Code”: Greatness isn’t born it’s Grown. Dan Coyle has visited and researched “hot-beds of talent” around the globe, music school in Dallas, tennis academy near Moscow, baseball players from the Dominican Republic etc… He argues that talent is grown through purposeful practice…deep practice.
“We all have the ability to profoundly change our levels of talent, our level of skill. Where clusters of great talent emerge there has been a culture created where individuals are constantly reaching and repeating, making mistakes, receiving feedback, building better brains, faster more fluent brains…inside the brain myelin acts like insulation on the pathways and connections in the brain – each time we reach and repeat we earn another layer – signal speeds in the brain start to increase from 2 mph to 200 mph – neuro broadband – (or the difference between normal and great).”
Dan Coyle identifies three important conditions that support this brain development :
- Maximise reachfulness in the presence of an expert– illuminate passive learning
- Embrace the struggle – “You will become clever through your mistakes.”
- Encourage theft – use feedback and copy others.
How do we create these conditions? Is it possible that short intervention that maximises reachfulness and embraces the struggle can accelerate a student’s progress? This clearly links to Angela Duckworth’s GRIT and the need to move to action, Gladwell’s 10,000 hours and his insight that practise must be intentional, aimed at improving performance, designed for your current skill level, combined with immediate feedback and repetitious. All of this challenges the way we teach and intervene – how often do we maximize reachfulness and embrace the struggle? Dan Coyle’s excellent Talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aq0pHpNy6bs (17 mins)
The challenge then is not to accept poor or wrong assumptions about what our students can achieve, but to develop a culture that generates the conditions for over-performance. We create this culture whilst we seek innovative ways of changing-the-game; subtle or outrageous approaches that deliver an advantage presently hidden by our long held assumptions.
By thinking differently and innovating to find game-changing approaches like Billie Beane’s depth of analysis at the Oakland As and if we seek to create the conditions in lessons and across the Academy where progress is grown like in the Moscow tennis academy – we may build deep practice into what we do and ignite a culture that overturns the power of context and releases students into greatness.
“Excellence is a habit” (Aristotle)…one that is reaching and repeated, makes mistakes, uses feedback to build a better, faster and more fluent brain. (adapted, Dan Coyle, 2009)