The start of a new school year is filled with emotion and activity; nostalgia for a long and hopefully restful summer but excitement for the year ahead. New diaries and planners adorn desks, wall planners are primed for being decorated with signs of organisation, classrooms are tidy and everyone is ready to make the year brilliant. After two weeks of term, does that rigour and vigour still exist and if not, how do we get it back?
Last Saturday, I went to ResearchEd. A 06.55 train from Manchester to London, a scurry through the underground and a day filled with speakers and workshops could seem like the last thing one would choose to do the weekend after the first full week back at school. Yet I was there, filled with enthusiasm and it also didn’t deter the other 1,500 teachers who also gave up a Saturday for their own professional development. That is incredible and not only a credit to the quality of the event but also a representation of the brilliant and committed teachers who work in our schools. However, it did make me wonder, if the event had been scheduled for a Saturday in mid-November, when the start of a new school year is a distant memory, would the attendance be the same and if not, what is it about the power of new term that gets us motivated?
The CPD theme at MCA for 2019/2020 is ‘Empowering student learning through metacognition and self-regulation’. Each half term we will focus on a different element of this, as shown below:
|Autumn 1||Autumn 2||Spring 1||Spring 2|
|Empowering pupils through motivation and goal setting||Empowering pupils with an understanding of cognitive and metacognitive strategies||Empowering pupils through modelling of thinking||Empowering pupils through their talk|
In preparation for this, teachers read the EEF guidance report on metacognition over the summer and a common idea continued to emerge through reflections: Is it possible to teach motivation? Our research here has looked at the importance of building competence but like most teachers, I have noticed with my own students that they currently seem very motivated. We are all striving towards our mantra to Be Brilliant. That is great! But how do I maintain that motivation when the freshness of a new school term has worn off and what is it about these temporal landmarks that get us so motivated in the first place?
Dai, Milkman and Riss (2014) discuss the significance of these temporal landmarks in their article ‘The Fresh Start Effect’. They propose that time markers, such as birthdays, new school terms, new months and weeks, make people feel disconnected from the past-often imperfect-self and interrupt and disrupt the day-to-day minutiae, promoting a big picture view of life. It is therefore at these points that we feel greater motivation to pursue new goals. However, effects weaken as people perceive themselves to be further from a temporal landmark. What their research also explored was the importance of self-perception. They make the point that ‘If people perceive themselves as moral they are more likely to pursue moral actions’. So if this is the case, if our students perceive themselves to be brilliant young people and brilliant academics, are they more likely to pursue the actions to help them fulfil this self-perception? Taking all this into account, it seems clear here that the combination of these things could lead to success: Positively reaffirming with students that they are brilliant and they are academics, acknowledging temporal landmarks, and providing them with the skills and competence to be these things will go a long way to supporting students in maintaining their motivation and commitment to long term goals.
Part of this pursuit of brilliance for the students is the importance of working hard and of having ‘grit’. I’m about to deliver an assembly to Year 11 on some key elements of the science of learning and this concludes with a discussion of grit, linked to the idea of revisiting learning, doing something with what they have been taught. But is grit really what I mean?
The concept of grit has been widely discussed in schools since Angela Duckworth defined this as ‘the passion and perseverance of long-term goals’ and suggested that those who demonstrated grit were more likely to achieve academic success. What I found interesting from Duckworth was her recognition that at those times where we hear that self-talk of failure or weakness then this is completely normal. A metacognitive understanding of that can help us to nod to the self-talk but refocus our behaviours to move past it.
In 2016, Daniel Willingham in his article ‘Grit is trendy but can it be taught?’ posed the question does grit differ from motivation and if so how? Willingham makes the point that the characteristic of conscientiousness is similar to grit; both encompass orderly and industrious behaviours and alongside the possession of self-control it is actually this which is likely to lead to greater academic success. No teacher would argue that passion is important but is this going to get the job done? Reassuringly, whilst we can exemplify passion in our roles as teachers, it is much more difficult to teach this as it is to teach the composite elements of conscientiousness and self-control.
So as the new school year becomes less new, and the motivation of our students and our own motivation to pursue personal and professional goals begins to dwindle, let’s see every new week, or new day as a fresh start. Let’s keep our eyes on the long-term goal of achieving the best outcomes yet for the students in our care and practise the behaviours that will get us-and them-there.
As the novelist Arnold Bennett said ‘You can turn over a new leaf every hour if you choose’.