Principal's Blog - The Myth of Talent

Above is a picture of me with some of one of our Year 11 pieces of art. It's fantastic.  I would never be able to paint something like this now. My drawing ability is limited to stick men. When discussing this piece of art though I found myself falling into a particular trap. "She is so talented" I mused.

This is actually slightly insulting to Jade, the Year 11 artist who painted the picture. It ignores the hours and hours that she has spent practising her art. The mistakes that she has made.  Where we initially referred to Jade's "talent" what we actually should have referred to Jade's "hard work". Jade too probably started off drawing stick men like me.

Jade represents the hardworking students that are open about their weaknesses, who understand that the path to success has barriers and bumps along the way. This is known as the growth mindset. It contrasts with the fixed mindset of many who see challenge and stop learning.

All young people start their lives surrounded by the values and ethos of their school and the education sector in general. So it's important that this sector encourages a lifelong love of learning, a growth mindset and a capacity for growth. Recently I heard a speech my Matthew Syed, the author of one of my favourite books of recent years "Bounce" which articulated this beautifully.

He contrasted two different commercial sectors; aviation and medicine. Aviation constantly evaluates and learns from its mistakes. It doesn't accept that it has the final answer.  As a result aviation has an astonishing safety record of one crash every 8.2 million take offs. In contrast surgery is wrapped up in defence of its position and does not confront its weaknesses and mistakes. There is an attitude that "we have done everything that could". As a result it is estimated in the USA over 400,000 people die a year from preventable medical malpractices. It is the third biggest killer behind cancer and heart disease.

Therefore young people, teachers and all other staff need to be open and honest as to our weaknesses and the mistakes we make. We must also accept our capacity for change no matter what stage of educational lives or careers we find ourselves at. We are all malleable. We can all grow.  Once we have accepted this and we combine this with hard work maybe we can all produce work as amazing as Jade.

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