Wrong question. Let's think about it.
Do we really want to classify our students as either winners or losers by the time they leave school? Categorizing students (and employees) as winners or losers, intelligent or not, talented or not, goes against the evidence from top performers.
Winner/loser thinking encourages a fixed mindset
A fixed mindset makes students and employees:
- less willing to take on anything in which they might fail
- less resilient
- less inclined to see life as a series of opportunities to learn
Top achievers and the importance of a growth mindset
Top achievers see life as a series of opportunities to learn. That's a growth mindset.
Researchers report that high-performing athletes will bat praise aside. They just want to know what they did that stopped them going faster, higher or further. Failing to produce a top result is just a temporary setback and an opportunity to learn.
Entrepreneurial investors will tell you they prefer to invest in people who have tried business ideas that haven't worked out, but learned from the experience. Losers? The serious investors don't think so.
Late bloomers and their experience with education
Then there are the late bloomers. How relevant was winner/loser thinking for them?
- The student who was in the bottom of his class for four and a half years - Sir Winston Churchill
- The dyslexic student who left school at 15 - Sir Richard Branson
- The 'lazy, insubordinate' teenager who failed his polytech entrance exam - Albert Einstein
- The 15 year-old who scored six per cent in his geography exam - Ray Webster of New Zealand, first CEO of Easy Jet - the airline that thrived when others were struggling after 9/11
- The student whose gym teacher rolled his eyes and asked, 'What will they send me next?' - Sir Edmund Hillary
You may know people who have thrived after their school years or later in their careers. Think of young people who found just the right job for them, mothers who began university as mature students, maybe your own experience.
So what's a better way of thinking about learning?
The real question is how we can best promote a growth mindset. Let's encourage striving to achieve more. Let's also promote resilience and with it the belief that we are not defined by our failures. They are simply opportunities to learn.
Sound a bit tree-huggy?
There's nothing soft about a growth mindset. It doesn't mean that we tell people they are succeeding when they are not.
Adopting a growth mindset is more demanding than believing that if you fail, it's time to give up. It's more demanding than avoiding anything risky because people might discover that we are not as talented, intelligent or able as they thought we were.
Think of a growth mindset as the key to 'mental toughness', because it is.