Excellence Versus Success
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  • Post published:13/05/2021
  • Post last modified:13/05/2021

I wonder if you have heard of Carol Dweck’s work on Fixed and Growth Mindsets? Her years of research have revealed what she calls ‘mindsets’. In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success – without effort. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work – brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

Interlocking 3d puzzle pieces
The BrainPickings website writes that “at the heart of what makes the ‘growth mindset’ so winsome, Dweck found, is that it creates a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval. Its hallmark is the conviction that human qualities like intelligence and creativity, and even relational capacities like love and friendship, can be cultivated through effort and deliberate practice. Not only are people with this mindset not discouraged by failure, but they don’t actually see themselves as failing in those situations – they see themselves as learning.”

Joe Paterno said “there are many people who think that success and excellence are the same thing. They are not the same thing. Excellence is something that is lasting and dependable and largely within a person’s control. In contrast, success is perishable and is often outside our control. If you strive for excellence, you will probably be successful eventually. People who put excellence in the first place have the patience to end up with success. An additional burden for the victim of the success mentality is that he is threatened by the success of others and he resents real excellence. In contrast, the person that is fascinated by quality is excited when he sees it in others.”

This quote is an eloquent summary of the ways of thinking about these mindsets because it encapsulates for me a subtle difference in attitudes, the difference between excellence and success which strikes a chord with me.

Why do I bring this up? Well because it not only connected to what I’ve been thinking about the last few weeks but these are habits and dispositions that I actively promote in my after school maths clubs: persistence hard work, love of learning and so on. This year we have decided to award two annual prizes across all the learners I work with. The first one is for two club children showing exceptional collaboration in their mathematical learning in clubs and the other for the child showing the most dedication and passion for mathematical learning in clubs.

After my son’s prize giving a few weeks ago, I’m still dwelling on the topic of how schools reward excellence in their students and today I’m extending it to Universities and higher education institutions. Do the learners / pupils / students who do not excel academically get public recognition for their efforts and merits? For me that would be the ideal world but it takes a bit of a mind shift for all of us, parents, grand-parents, educators, mentors and so on…

Today in reading an article from the MindsetWorks website, I discovered that there is a school in Delaware in the US that has an intriguing awards wall that honours students who exhibit habits that show they have a growth mindset! The Principal of the school said, “We wanted to celebrate kids for having a growth mindset – not just for academics.” The school’s “staff were encouraged to think about honouring students for their behaviours that suggested a growth mindset – not just looking at high-achieving students, but including those students too”. The school reported that the teachers benefited too! as they were able to see how to create very meaningful and motivating awards for students even when they are not “number 1.” Aaah, a school after my own heart…

I was chatting to a colleague yesterday in a project we are working on about community engagement between my son’s school and two less well resourced local schools. We agreed that this is where children who don’t excel academically or on the sports field may find a place to shine and be the quiet, humble leaders of tomorrow. My wish then is that they get acknowledged. The university where I work has a very comprehensive Student Community Engagement division and each year students and groups of students who engage deeply with their community outside the university and contribute in some worthwhile manner are acknowledged at a ceremony. I believe this is a fabulous initiative to go alongside the celebration of academic and sporting excellence and I would love to see my son’s school (and other local schools) doing something similar.

Photo Credits

Photo is (c) Deborah Ann Stott 2015/2016


Guest Author Bio

Debbie Stott

Debbie Stott (Greasley)I have been involved in education of one sort or another for my whole life – primary teaching, university teaching, corporate teaching and training, as well as creating educational resources for primary and senior school teachers and learners. I completed my PhD in primary maths education in 2014 with a focus on after-school maths clubs for young primary pupils. Education and learning are important to me in all its forms – formal and informal. I am passionate about encouraging people, particularly children to learn new skills and knowledge, to think for themselves, to understand so that they can grow, be independent, make their own choices and decisions and be empowered to own their own lives. My other passions are photography and non-academic writing in the form of blogging. I have been taking photos since 1997 when I bought my first film SLR and am in the third year of a 365 photography project. I started my “Everyday Delights” blog as part of a 2015 100 Happy Days challenge as a way of combining these two passions.

Blog / Website: Dibz-zen

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