Head of Education, Andrew Foster, gives another insight into how Tougher Minds programmes for education have benefits throughout a whole school…he also embellishes this latest blog with tales of his exploits on the rugby field!

People sometimes assume that Tougher Minds techniques are intended for those that are considered to be struggling in the classroom. My experience at Skinners’ School this week further confirmed my understanding that our approach can help young people across the entire range of current attainment.

Skinners’ is a fantastic organisation, achieving examination results to that place them in the top ten state schools in the country. Their hall is lined with photographs of recent and current pupils, each of whom have excelled academically, or in sport, the arts or within the community. 12 A*s, a go-karting championship, the lead in Oliver – all can put you on the wall, and are highly visible manifestation of the pride the school takes in the success of its students.

Where Skinners’ are all the more remarkable is in their refusal to rest on their laurels. They know that they and their pupils can go even further. The work we did with their pupils on Friday will help them learn why even the highly motivated and highly able among them will find themselves procrastinating, losing concentration, running up against challenges that they fear they might not overcome.

These may be most significant not at school, but beyond Year 13. I had the pleasure of returning to my Cambridge college to play for our Old Boys rugby team (and the fortune to score after just sixty seconds of play, albeit from approximately six inches out). Speaking to very recent graduates I was struck by how underdeveloped their learning habits had proved.

Even in the run-up to finals, young men and women that had all excelled throughout school found it difficult to keep away from their phone while studying, seized by examination-induced anxiety, unsure as to the most effective methods to revise.

These problems run right through to absolute pinnacles of academia. Let us assume that the single person that will prove to be most responsible for the cure of cancer is already born. It is likely that this person will be seen as highly accomplished, someone who many of his or her teachers’ feel is beyond help, in the best way possible. As it stands this person is highly unlikely to receive any explicit teaching in how their brain learns, how to manage their motivation, concentration or confidence. They may well come up with some metacognition techniques of their own (successful people often do) but they are unlikely to excel in this regard as they might if they had been taught.

So what. They still cure cancer. That is a life well spent, surely? Absolutely. The human race’s achievements up to now, with our brain designed for short-term gratification, are themselves truly astonishing. But imagine if we do things just a bit better. Imagine that this person is taught how to deliberately exercise self-control as a schoolchild. Imagine the benefits accruing over a lifetime. Imagine them curing cancer maybe two years earlier. Their life: perhaps not so different. The lives of millions around the world, radically changed, perhaps dramatically extended.

Skinners’ and Tougher Minds each appreciate that every time we think we’ve topped out, we’re actually on a launchpad to the next level. I feel very fortunate to be part of this project: seeing young people flourish is a pleasure and a privilege like no other.

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