IPEN Festival 2016 | Elizabeth’s Blog

Photo courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

What do you get when you have Angela Duckworth, Martin Seligman, Anthony Seldon, Shawn Achor, and a large audience in a room together? You get, quite possibly, the happiest, most optimistic conference the world has ever seen, and it would be called IPEN Festival 2016. It was the IPEN (International Positive Education Network) Festival 2016 that I attended last week in Dallas, Texas, with my RWS colleague Frederika Roberts. Together, Frederika and I presented a poster, and were part of a panel - “Going Beyond the 3 R’s: Developing the Character Skills Kids Most Need.” We were excited enough to be presenting at the conference, but to also be given the opportunity to see the TOP academic researchers in positive psychology and positive education was amazing. No, it was more than amazing, to hear these brilliant minds speak on the importance of developing the wellbeing, grit, resilience, and determination of our young people, it was a privilege.

To tell you everything I learnt and took in would take more than this blog post is capable of holding - hence why Frederika and I have decided to write a joint report for those of you interested in getting the latest, most up-to-date research in positive education / character education.  This report will be an in-depth look at the keynote talks, as well as touching on the breakout sessions that Fred and I both managed to attend (and when I say managed, I mean there were only two of us to cover upwards of 25 breakout sessions a day!). The report will give you key learning points that you can take back into the classroom with you, and provide you with further resources to look up and explore ….. However, I don’t want to leave you reading this blog post without anything to take away with you, so I am going to give you a brief overview of Angela Duckworth’s keynote and a learning point that I think will help you, come the new academic year.

Angela Duckworth was the first keynote speaker, and boy was she a tough act to follow. Using authenticity, humour, and her boundless wisdom, she spoke about her research into grit, passion, and perseverance, and how this research is benefitting schools, teachers, and ultimately students, to hang in there through the tough times, bounce back from life’s obstacles, and pursue their full potential with dogged determination. For me, the biggest point to come out of Angela’s talk was the idea of developing 'deliberate practice', and how this could impact on the entire culture of the school.

Angela quoted celebrated choreographer, Martha Graham:

“Dancing appears glamorous, easy, delightful. But the path to the paradise of that achievement is not easier than any other. There is fatigue so great that the body cries even in its sleep. There are times of complete frustration. There are daily small deaths.”

This quote speaks of the grit and determination needed to really achieve one’s full potential, using the passion for the activity, action, or job, to drive one forth in a kind of joyful frenzy. It is about balancing this passion with perseverance.  Angela advocated for 'deliberate practice' - a way to set a stretch goal, focus on it 100%, get feedback for the work done thus far, reflect and refine the practice, the setting a new stretch goal and repeating the cycle again. This definitely reminds me of my old swimming training sessions:  Set a goal for training, focus on that time or technique, get feedback from coach, reflect and adjust, and try and achieve the same if not a new goal. It works. And ultimately Angela’s research shows that it works.  “Learning about the science of deliberate practice can be powerful", Duckworth said. “Low-performing students who learned about the science of deliberate practice … increase report card grades over the next marking period without any other intervention,” she said.”

Powerful stuff.

So a learning point for you? Bring deliberate practice into your classroom, actively have the pupils chose goals to work on over the term, and keep the cycle of stretch goals, focus, feedback, reflection, going. Essentially the process is short term tasks and continued effort. This is a skill not only for the school years, but for life.

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Elizabeth Wright

ELIZABETH WRIGHT | TRIPLE PARALYMPIC MEDALLIST | GOAL JOURNEY COACH | AUTHOR | Since moving to the UK from Australia and starting her speaking business in response to the amazing success that was the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, Elizabeth has spoken in primary and secondary schools all over the UK. Elizabeth addresses such issues as disability, the Paralympics, goal setting, and goal achievement. Elizabeth’s story intrigues and inspires across generations, with her ability to cross between primary schools, secondary schools and corporate/business, illustrating her adaptability and passion for speaking. Elizabeth is a professional speaker who believes in the power of stories to inspire and motivate those who hear her speak.