For teachers making a positive impact

Dear Teachers,

Your students do have natural talent, abilities and intelligence in some areas- but that’s not the end of the story. These things are not fixed traits.

Some may have a gift for story writing, art, maths or sport, but it needs to be grown.

Some may not be good at science, history or working with others…YET!

Whatever the case for each student in your class- the reality is that natural talent, abilities and intelligence are developed over time. Through effort, persistence, practice and focussed attention.

The brain is a highly adaptive organ- it changes like a muscle through a process called neuroplasticity. From the cradle to the grave- our brains are always changing. The malleable brain is one of the most interesting, meaningful discoveries of the last 15 years. As educators, we are in a brain-based industry, so it has a huge impact on our work as educators of young people.

Let’s help our students by helping them to understand the growth mindset.

Because smart is not something your are- it’s something you get. Fit is not something you are- it’s something you get. Good at sport is not something you are- it’s something you get.

Jonathan Thurston had to learn to catch the football the same way everyone else does. Einstein learned how to start counting to 10, just like everyone else.

Every skill we can perform has been acquired- through applying ourselves to it. Reading, walking, talking, swimming, riding a bike.

We must stop telling our students that they are smart, gifted, talented, bright, clever, or a “natural”. This might “pump up their tyres” and make them feel good for a moment- but it doesn’t help them keep growing their abilities. 

They can’t control how naturally gifted they are- so let’s not praise them for it.

Instead, praise them for their efforts, persistence and the way they tackle challenges when they arise- they can control these things, and this will grow their abilities. Real learning only occurs when it is hard- when it stretches them.

As Master Shifu says in Kung Fu Panda 3, “If you only do what you can do, you’ll never be more than you are now.”

How do students respond to the struggle of learning? How hard do they work at growing their talent, abilities and intelligence? Let’s encourage the process of learning.

We should encourage the behaviour that we want to see the most.  Value the process, more than the performance- then the performance will look after itself.

What teachers understand and say makes a huge difference in the lives of young people. Teach your students the growth mindset, and help them thrive in learning and in life.


Luke McKenna- a teacher committed to making a positive impact for young people by building resilience, wellbeing and leadership in schools.



Check out UPP resources and training for Primary and Secondary schools here.