Andy Falconer

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Persistence & Growth Mindset – My Speech Day Address

7 Jul 2014 | Leave a Comment |

Mark sits beside a hospital bed in Italy, surveying the wreckage that is his best friend Jonny. persistenceJonny is connected to this world by nothing more than humming machines and tubes. Jonny doesn’t realise that he’s been in a coma for the last 4 weeks. Jonny remembers nothing of being knocked off his scooter in a hit and run accident. Jonny doesn’t know how close he came to being killed.

If you are interested in cycling you will recognise the names of successful British cyclists such as Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins, Victoria Pendleton & Mark Cavendish but you probably haven’t heard of Jonny Bellis. Jonny is a European champion and he competed for Team GB in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. His best friend Mark, who sat beside his hospital bed, is Mark Cavendish, one of the world’s top cyclists.

Jonny thinks he’s in for a minor operation & will be back racing with the GB cycling team in Belgium the following week. Jonny has no idea that doctors have just told his parents that he will be paralysed from the neck down.

What happened to Jonny Bellis, who was told in 2009 he would never walk again?

Well, if you turn on your TV this summer to watch the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, you will see Jonny competing for England. Ten months after the crash he wobbled on his bike for the first time. Jonny’s recovery may have been miraculous in some ways but it was also due to his courage and persistence. He approached his physiotherapy and rehabilitation with the same focus, determination and persistence that he had previously shown in his approach to Olympic training.

One of our eight Habits of Learning at St Olave’s School is Persistence. Why? Because persevering is about being determined to stick with challenging situations. It is about knowing how valuable it is to have to struggle and to try hard. It is about using failure as a learning opportunity. This is what is at the heart of growth mindset. Jonny certainly had to stick with a challenging situation – it doesn’t get more challenging than being told you will never walk again. He had seen throughout his competitive career how valuable it is to struggle and try hard – he didn’t make it to the Olympics by easing off when things were tough.

Spend a few minutes on search engines and I’m sure you can find all sorts of amazingly heroic stories of great persistence. But I’ve come across a multitude of much smaller, day to day, but no less significant examples when reading the pupils’ end of year reports. There are countless references in those reports to children sat here who have come across challenging situations in their learning. Children sat here who have persevered and worked really hard. Children sat here who have been able to react to failing as an opportunity to learn and who understand that most successful people had failures along the way.

The author Mary Ann Radmacher said, “courage doesn’t always roar, sometimes it’s the quiet voice at the end of the day whispering ‘I will try again tomorrow’”.

Every time we have a music concert, or I present music exam certificates in assembly I am reminded of the unseen persistence that has gone on behind the scenes to enable such a performance to take place. The Gala Evening on Monday was all wonderfully produced by the Year 8 pupils (with an occasional guiding hand): writing scripts, forming bands, rehearsing between lessons, preparing food, setting tables, as well as selling their products at their Enterprise Fair. They also raised over £200 for York Against Cancer, this year’s school charity.

All eighty J5s performed on stage. All eighty helped behind the scenes. All these pupils have provided fine examples of persistence, but also collaboration, curiosity, empathy, flexibility of mind, initiative, originality and risk taking which combine to make up our eight learning habits. You received a leaflet with the reports, explaining in greater detail what we mean by these habits of learning. I find it rather thought-provoking when I read through the definitions and ask myself how I think I measure up. It can certainly open up some interesting conversation at home if you discuss them as a family.

My favourite example of a lifetime of persistence is a man who was born into a very poor family in Kentucky, USA. His family were forced out of their home when he was a teenager & he had to get a job to support them.

Then his mother died.

He wanted to make a difference so tried to get into politics, he ran for the State legislature & lost.

He lost his job, wanted to go to law school but he didn’t get in.

He borrowed some money from a friend to begin a business but was bankrupt by the end of the year and spent the next 17 years paying off that debt.

He ran again for State legislature, and won, got engaged to his childhood sweetheart, who then died & he was heart broken.

He had a total nervous breakdown & was in bed for 6 months.

He tried to become speaker of the State legislature – but was defeated and tried to become an elector – but was defeated.

He ran for Congress, and lost, ran again for Congress, and won and moved to Washington.

He then ran for re-election – and lost.

He ran for Senate of the United States – and lost, sought the Vice Presidential nomination at his party’s national convention – & didn’t even get 100 votes.

He ran for Senate again – and lost, again.

But he tried yet again, and this time was elected the 16th President of the United States of America. He was Abraham Lincoln.

I wonder what I can do in the future if I show a more persistent approach to something I don’t find easy?

I wonder what our St Olave’s pupils will accomplish in life if they stick at challenging situations; if they remember how valuable it is to struggle and to try hard; and if they use failure as a learning opportunity.

I wonder what stories they will have to tell in thirty years’ time, when they might be sat here as St Olave’s parents, having embraced the importance of persistence and developing a growth mindset? An exciting prospect!