A Message from Mrs Cohen

21 July 2017

This week on the Middle Years and Senior Years assemblies, girls who had achieved very well academically or in their commitment to studies, were acknowledged. Below is the address I made to the Middle Years students. I will be presenting a similar one to the Senior Years girls next on their next assembly; we ran out of time this week.

Today we honour students who excelled academically or in their commitment to their studies in Semester One. Well done girls, your effort, hard work and perseverance certainly paid off.

Some of you sitting here may think that in order to achieve at the levels that some of these girls have, you must be born clever. Some may think that if you are a C average student or a B average student or an A average student, that is what you will always be. That is your level of intelligence and there is no way of changing it.

Well let me tell you this - the brain is a powerful thing and should never, ever be underestimated. You are in charge of your brain and you can train it and develop it. I'll come back to that in a bit.

I read an article recently where it was pointed out how ‘some people love challenges, thrive on them, roll with the punches, are resilient in the face of setbacks, and other people, just as able, wither, shy away from challenges, don’t want to make mistakes, crumble when they do?’ (Attard and Quarry, 2017). Why is this? I was one one of the latter - I was an A student (not A+) most of the time, but if I got a B or made a mistake - I believed I had failed - it was as if the bottom had fallen out of my world. For this reason at school, I did not rise to challenges in case my marks dropped or I failed to achieve what I had set out to achieve. I would choose the less challenging essay or speech topics; ones in which I knew I could achieve well without taking myself out of my comfort zone. And I wasn't much better at uni. I had a fixed mindset.

I wish that someone had taken me by the shoulders and given me a good shake and told me that there was so much more to learning than the marks - it is about being immersed in the learning, knowing things, developing skills, being interested and interesting people - that’s what it’s about! When this happens, when you enjoy learning and seek out further information or extend yourselves in your own time then learning becomes easier, then the good results follow suit. I am sure this is what a number of you who are receiving awards today already know, as well as a number of you who are not - but are working towards them.

Effort is an important factor that leads to growth, progress, learning and ultimately good results. But it is only one factor. There are many other things like using resources, getting advice, seeking and using feedback productively, receiving guidance and mentorship from teachers and parents, being engaged in lessons, developing strategies (of  how to learn, how to plan, how to approach your work), and, of course, being responsible for your own learning. Your teachers aren’t responsible and neither are your parents, the responsibility of your learning lies purely on your shoulders.

All of this is called a Growth Mindset (quite the opposite to the Fixed Mindset that I suffered from in my youth). I have spoken to you about it before and I will again, and again! I wish that I had a growth mindset when I was young, but thank heavens I have developed one in my later years. I know that my talents, abilities and intellect are not fixed - I can develop them. It takes time, effort (yes), hard work, many failures, but most importantly a knowledge that I can do it and having the resilience to persevere if I don't achieve this time or the next or the next. That's the most difficult part - not giving up.

Easy to say, but how do we put it into practice. Well, the answer is that our brains can and do grow and we can guide the direction in which this happens. There are things called synapses which are really the interactions between the neurons in our brains. Simplified (and not very scientific) - the cells in your brain talk to each other. When they do this, physical pathways are formed - these are weak to start with, but strengthen if the communication happens often. In fact, if these pathways are used often enough - a layer of fat is formed around them making them permanent. An example is when you learnt to walk - you had to think about putting one foot in front of the other every time you took a step. It was hard, but the little you persevered. Very soon you no longer had to think about it, it just happened - because these pathways had become permanent fixtures. The same is true for riding a bike, swimming, driving a car. You have probably all heard the saying, ‘you never forget how to ride a bike’.  Well, that’s true - because the pathways have been formally laid down and are permanent.

And the same can be said for learning. Think about learning to write - concentrating on each letter, learning your tables etc. When you practise a way of thinking, memorising facts or strategies for learning often enough - these pathways will develop and eventually become permanent in your brain.

So this talk is for every one of you here today - those who are to receive awards, those who aspire to achieve awards and those who are happily plodding along content with where you're at. Don't let your brain down - it's one of God's amazing gifts to you and it is your responsibility to make the most of it. Sometimes that may not end up with an academic achievement award, but it will certainly result in growth and development and none of us can say that’s a bad thing.

Congratulations to all who are receiving awards today. I salute your dedication, hard work and, above all, perseverance when times got tough.

Mrs Kim Cohen

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