Success really does breed success

Over the course of Term 2, I have continued to participate in a one-hour weekly conversation with other Principals leading schools across the globe. What started in early March as five colleagues extending a hand of friendship in challenging times as the pandemic dawned upon the world, has now morphed into 18 Principals representing many countries across the globe. We share professional ideas relevant to what each country and school is currently facing across pedagogical, wellbeing and staff matters, in addition to future thinking for education post Covid-19.

This week, our global Principals’ conversation was marred by the raw sadness gripping school communities in the wake of the racism and associated intolerances enveloping parts of America. Coupled with significantly higher rates of Covid-19 infection in their cities, the journey for these schools quickly became so much more challenging and complicated.

As their lock down continues and they grapple with the logistical challenges of school closures now extending well into August, I was greatly saddened by the predicament facing my colleagues. With this in mind, we must applaud the words of Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations: “we must now also raise our voices against all expressions of racism and instances of racist behaviour”.

As I looked out my office window, I could not help but notice the stark contrast. Our St Catherine’s girls smiling, laughing and capturing the last warmth of the Autumn sun, and the Barbreck girls running around the campus each day on their orienteering expeditions, joyfully finding markers left by Sports Coordinator, Mr Tom Crebbin. Their transition back to school has been one of relative ease, supported by teachers eager to pivot their learning back to the classroom environment.

It is with great anticipation that we look forward to welcoming the Years 7-9 girls back to Campus next week, together with the remainder of our teaching staff. This has been a long awaited integration of our whole student cohort and staff component. I am sure our School Community joins me in applauding our students and teaching staff for their outstanding and positive approach to online learning during this challenging and unprecedented time. The extraordinary lengths our teaching staff went to in ensuring the girls maintained and kept up with their schooling and lessons is unparalleled, and I thank them for their dedication and commitment to the students in their classes. I also acknowledge and recognise the ability of our students in embracing all aspects of their educational programs. The combined effort of our teachers and students enabled a seamless transition from classroom to online learning.

I recently had the opportunity to read an article from the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia which focused on a research summary for School Principals.

One of the underlying factors highlighted in the article was Is failure overrated? Not if you have a growth mindset.

The article focuses on investigation as to whether we learn better from failure or success. Interestingly academics at the University of Chicago have found that despite our culture celebrating failure as a ‘teachable moment’, failure can undermine learning because it threatens our ego and causes us to tune out. As a result, we learn more from personal success than we do from personal failure. It was also found that while we do not learn from our own mistakes, we are happy to learn from other people’s, underlining the fact that when our ego is removed from the equation, we can tune in and learn the lessons of failure.

To investigate whether we learn better from failure or success, Dr Lauren Eskreis-Winkler and Professor Ayelet Fisbach from Chicago University’s Booth School of Business, undertook a series of studies. Two of the studies examined the role of ego (self-esteem) and what happens when people receive no feedback. Not surprisingly, those who received failure feedback “were significantly more likely to feel that their self-esteem had been compromised”. Possibly more surprising is the finding that participants who received failure feedback performed worse than those who received no feedback at all.

Eskreis-Winkler and Fishbach conclude that telling people they are wrong leads them to tune out more than, if they receive no feedback at all. Eskreis-Winkler and Fishbach’s research went on to further reveal that participants “learned significantly more from others’ failures than their own failures” but “the same amount from personal successes and others’ successes”. In other words, people learn more from personal success and the success of others than personal failure but they learn most from other people’s failures. Researchers concluded that, “the more failure is dissociated from the self, the less people tune out, and the more they learn from failure”.

Finally, it is worth noting that negative feedback not only stops us from processing information, but it may also undermine our goals based on the theory that failure threatens our egos. By utilising success feedback rather than failure feedback, separating ego from feedback by analysing other people’s failures, and teaching growth mindset, feedback becomes less threatening, learning is promoted and we stay motivated to pursue our goals. As they say – and the research now shows – success really does breed success.

Key Dates for the Remainder of Term 2

Tuesday 9 June – Years 7 – 9 Return to Campus

Friday 19 June – Staff Report Writing and Curriculum Day (Non-teaching day for students)

I take this opportunity to wish you all the best for the three-day break, and eagerly await the return to school next week of our students across all the School Campuses.

Mrs Michelle Carroll, Principal