Two things have changed in the last thirty years that schools, in general, still do not know how to deal with. The sad thing about it is that both changes are hugely advantageous to young people and, when well applied will hugely enhance the work that schools do. Schools have to break down the walls of their empire and let young people excel in the new world of information, knowledge and skills.

The first change is that schools are no longer the gatekeepers of knowledge in any subject area. The internet and the vast improvement in the quality of book publishing (forced upon publishers by the internet) has destroyed that role. An interested and motivated child can access all subject and skills areas with no prescribed upper limit. In those areas the school’s role becomes that of encourager, guarantor that there are no gaps, and for ensuring that the child gains a great set of output skills along with a work ethic.

The second change has been the massive improvement in our understanding of how the human brain works (including the concept of “plasticity”) and just how capable humans are at developing skills and abilities through guided dedicated practice and persistence. Brilliant Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has termed the right approach to ability, skills and knowledge acquisition a “growth-mindset”.

The master of understanding and popularising this concept is author, Times journalist, and former Table Tennis Olympian Matthew Syed. His books Bounce, Black-Box Thinking and The Greatest are repositories of knowledge on how to become good in a chosen area. As an organisation deeply interested in providing a first class education for young people we have used them, Syed’s talks and his authorised speakers as a source of information and inspiration.

Syed has now put his thoughts and the concepts of a growth-mindset and marginal gains into a form that is superbly accessible for parents and young people. It is an essential “how” of becoming good in education, sport, drama, music, etc.

Syed is smart enough not to talk at length about the “why” of this process in terms of what a young person and their family might value. That truly is up to them. But as a young person thinks about their future, a coach of parent hopes to guide someone, or a teacher wants to bring out the best in every child in their class …. this is an absolutely essential read and something to return to again and again. It is also an excellent bridge into Syed’s other work and that of the people he references.

You Are Awesome by Matthew Syed retails in New Zealand for $25, but it is available from Villa Education Trust schools for $20 pick up (or with postage and packaging). Contact Alwyn Poole: alwyn.poole@gmail.com.

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