What are the strongest signs of success?

McKinsey & Company is pretty much the world's largest, most well-known consulting firm. They use data and research to help their clients--businesses, governments, non-profits, even the United Nations--make better plans and strategies. 

I bring this up because last week McKinsey published some preliminary results from a massive, worldwide study they've conducted on education [all the McKinsey quotes here are from this article about the results]. They went through survey responses from more than 500,000 people in 72 countries to try to answer some big questions people are asking right now about education: "Do mindsets matter? If so, to what extent? What teaching practices work best? Does technology help?" In last week's introductory teaser, they say they found two main factors for academic success that are consistent around the globe. 

The first finding is that mindsets are even more important than many of us may think. McKinsey found that student mindsets--their attitudes and beliefs--are the best predictor of academic success as measured by the Program for International Student Assessment. (When you see stats about which country has the best education or see America's rankings for math education, those are usually from the PISA.) In fact, "student mindsets are twice as predictive of students’ PISA scores than even their home environment and demographics."

What do they mean by mindsets? "Several mindsets emerged as highly predictive of performance. Top of the list was the ability to identify what motivation looks like in day-to-day life, what we call 'motivation calibration.' Students who can recognize that motivated students prepare for class, do more than expected, and work to perfection outperform those who do not by between 12 and 15 percent depending on their region. Similarly, students with a 'growth mindset'—those who believe they can succeed if they work hard—performed 9 to 17 percent better than those with a 'fixed mindset'—those who believe their capabilities are static."

Their second big finding has to do with the question of which type of instruction is best, teacher-directed instruction or inquiry-based instruction. When they looked at the results, they found that teacher-directed instruction, where the teacher leads, had more success than inquiry-based, in which "students are given a more prominent role in their own learning—for example, by developing their own hypotheses and experiments." However, the style that had the highest rate of success was a blend of the two: "what works best is when the two styles work together—specifically, with teacher-directed instruction in most or almost all classes, and inquiry-based learning in some. This “sweet spot” is the same in all five [global] regions, suggesting there is something akin to a universal learning style."

These findings have some very big implications for you as a high school student looking for academic success. The mindset finding is especially great. There's no doubt that having a stronger home environment and higher-quality school are better than not, but those things are rarely in your control. But your mindset largely is in your control, and it may be even more important for your success than those other things. So how can you improve your mindset?

First, meditate. For our purposes of educational and academic success, it really doesn't matter which kind of meditation you practice. Here is an introduction to 23 different styles of meditation, some religious and others not. Each will take you down a slightly different path, but they'll all help you become more aware of your mind, your self, and your choices. That's a huge benefit to yourself. 

When I google "fostering growth mindset," almost all the hits that pop up are strategies for parents and educators to foster a growth mindset in someone else. Here is a blog post with "25 ways to develop a growth mindset," mostly within yourself. Some are vague platitudes like "acknowledge and embrace imperfections," but some are practical and actionable, like "emphasize growth over speed" and "reward actions, not traits."

Most writing on mindsets, especially the "growth mindset," will reference Carol Dweck. She's the psychologist that has really brought the growth mindset to everyone's attention. You can read her best-selling book Mindset, and you can watch her Ted talk from a few years ago.

While the teaching style of your individual teachers and overall school program are not as within your control as your own mindset, it can still be very useful to know that the seemingly boring and old-fashioned style of teacher-directed learning is actually believed to be the best. If it gets frustrating and confusing that your school has an inconsistent approach, where teachers do things differently, take heart that it's an even better way. 


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