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New Year and the change for the better

"Self-belief does not necessarily ensure success, but self-disbelief assuredly spawns failure." - Albert Bandura

It's again the time of the year when many wishes are wished, and now it's all about hard work to complete them. Most of us dream of achieving success but only a handful of us actually achieve it, while others keep going with dreaming. At this point, it's good to open up what success means in this context. Simply said, success is something that you feel when you challenge yourself and practice how to expand your comfort zone; now, it's up to you to decide what you want to achieve.

One of the eye-opening sessions during the year 2021 was the conversation we had with our GetFinnishED podcast with Markus Humaloja, one of the authors of the book "Flipped Learning in Finland" and developer of DigiOne. We discussed different kinds of pedagogical approaches during this conversation, which were very insightful. But, of course, this is not a big surprise when you talk with someone who has a lot of knowledge. While we covered many topics regarding education, the most impressive example from my point of view was related to the unpredictability of the future shown and proved by the COVID- pandemic. As a result, most schools were forced to move online on short notice and adopt new quality education methods. These phenomena led to not wanting results where students, parents, and teachers felt overwhelmed for many unquestionable reasons like limitations of social contacts onsite. However, I would say that one main issue was the lack of self-discipline, self-regulation skills, and perseverance.

Interestingly, these skills are not fixed and can be developed during the whole lifespan, especially while learning. During our conversation, an engaging notice was brought up that those students who were taught and guided by flipped learning principles (not just watching videos before entering the classroom!) were better positioned to adapt to the situation and continue their learning without adding more pressure. One of the key reasons was that they had already practiced using digital platforms and devices. Still, at the same time, they could collaborate, take the initiative, and focus on their goals even the classroom and teacher went entirely online. I bet we all would have practiced and paid attention to these so-called non-cognitive skills more if we had known about the coming changes...

Education in itself seems to be not enough in our flexible and rapidly changing world. We can be educated but is it equal to being knowledgeable? For being a knowledgeable human being, you need more than education, which concentrates merely on cognitive skills. Cognitive skills are the fundaments of our development and include skills like thinking and understanding, which are crucial for acquiring and connecting information that leads to the accumulation of knowledge. Achieving the real state of knowledge still needs skills like self-control, persistence, critical thinking, etc. As we can see, cognitive and non-cognitive skills interact while learning emerges. The key here is to see a positive correlation between non-cognitive skills development and increasing cognitive skills, leading to significant academic outcomes and better possibilities in future labor market success. Being successful in the 21st century means having the skills to solve problems collaboratively and communicate work in different groups.

Creative mind combined with the skill of prioritizing what matters the most

We all have a crucial tool that helps us succeed: our mindset. Thoughts and beliefs that we produce can be used as a resource of creativity while setting short and long-term goals. Now the question is how to fulfill those thoughts? Thinking alone is not enough. It needs concrete actions to take the next step, like writing them down or visualizing the path you want to go. There are a lot of scientific data about the power of writing and visualizing your goals*. So if the goal-setting practice is so easy, why don't we just set more goals and achieve them? The answer is that most of us lack training and don't know how to develop practical plans and stick with them (perseverance). So can you find any better place than schools to practice these skills?

The keys to how and why to practice goal setting that will benefit more individuals in the future:

1) Specific and detailed-focused goal(s). We all know that the better objectives or goals you provide to the students, the easier they can achieve them because of a better understanding of what they are asked for. However, it's also easy to agree that goals like "I want to learn more" or I want to be happy" are too vague and don't provide checkpoints to measure the progress.

Another issue is that we spend too little time engaging with serious, important questions about the value of our goals – and instead jump straight to trying to make those goals happen. It's easy to say that every successful goal starts with a good plan.

  • We spent the whole first part of the year practicing the goal-setting approach in our class. It included that students set one to two goals for the week every Monday, which were checked up on Wednesday and then analyzed on Friday. This goal-setting practice will also be continued during the second part of the year and enhanced to the next level, where students will keep going on their own self-development pace and practice to break down goals into a series of steps to follow.

2) Visualisation and Measurability, including a time frame for accomplishing a set goal. While mapping your way to achieve your goal(s), you need to spend time sitting down and imagining all possible ways to succeed. This process encourages visualizing and organizing your thoughts and ideas. It will also teach you to consider all pitfalls and prepare you for different scenarios.

  • A good plan is a promising start of constant learning and self-exploration. Our class is used to rate their emotional state by using "The Zones of Regulation." and academic progress by assessing their academic progress in the "Weekly Schedule" - model with traffic lights or thumb emojis. Students are also asked to describe learned topics in their own words in written or oral ways to themselves and their peers depending on the topic and skills inquired. One of the most remarkable initiatives in this area was taken just before Christmas when students wanted to create their own "tests" like writing news, stories, functional "Seppo Tuesday" questions, or problem-solving maths tasks for themselves and their peers.

  • Making progress visible is crucial when it comes to promoting students' self-esteem and self-efficacy. The latter has been seen as a predictor of learning outcomes by affecting individuals' effort, persistence, and mindset to set challenging enough goals (Albert Bandura).

Here are a couple of well-established tools to promote progress we have been using in our class:

  • Laskutornit / Maths towers - Concreat tool which shows the number of tasks done (during lessons or 1/3/5min basic calculation task game) to the student. In the long term, data reflect learning and expands the understanding of all factors that affect learning processes. For example, a student can notice lows and ups in the number of completed tasks which gives an excellent opportunity for conversation about what might have been the reason for that (emotional state, the difficulty of tasks, energy levels, etc.)

  • Reading self-assessment box - The idea is to provide immediate feedback to the student, practice self-assessment, and support teachers' work (assessment, guidance, etc.). The tool includes six evaluation targets that challenge students to analyze their reading moment (we have every day 20min reading moment in pairs): 1) Starting reading felt effortless. 2) I succeed in reading long and challenging words fluently. 3) I was able to concentrate on my reading part. 4) I was able to concentrate on listening. 5) The reading environment was sufficient for reading. 6) Ending reading felt easy / difficult / welcome / sad. 7) The reading moment was enjoyable.

Maths towers show progress and can also include honest feedback like one student described after one session calling it "SHIT". You can download ready to go template from here (University of Jyväskylä).

Reading self-assessment box is a good tool to support students' reflection skills and helps adults spot individuals' emotions during and after reading. The tool provides also great ground to show successes and areas of improvement. Created by me.

3) Challenging enough with the possibility of failing. It's always easier to say you can't learn without failing and learning from it than putting it in action, at least as an adult. Learning from mistakes is relatively easy to understand because whenever we fail but don't give up, we usually create alternative ways of accomplishing the wanted outcome. In other words, we develop our problem-solving skills, which are labeled as essential skills in the future.

  • Here it's all about combining and learning from the two areas mentioned above. When you understand your strengths and areas to develop, you better know your zone of proximal development, which gives you a better chance to set challenging enough goals. As a teacher, I always try to provide enough time to the students when they are developing and planning their goals while guiding them to assess their current level in contrast to the set goal. Still, as we know, an essential aspect of development is not to listen and try to do everything without any support. This leads to failures and mistakes, which have been avoided by more careful planning or better focus. Still, at the same time, all these "failures" create a productive environment for discussion and evaluation afterward. As a teacher, these situations also offer me chances to evaluate my guidance and teaching related to the skills needed for planning, measuring, and assessing learning processes.

*For example, a well-established tool like SMART-goals or debatable Harward Business Study which found that the 3% of graduates from their MBA who had their goals written down ended up earning ten times as much as the other 97% put together, just ten years after graduation.

2022 will not provide more time, but we can start to invest more into practicing time management in classes

The main issue in schools is still lack of TIME or at least if you ask school representatives. Of course, there will not be more hours in our days in the future. Still, hopefully, we will finally start to understand that the best time for practicing time management is during individuals' formal school time. During that age period, most of them do not have any other duties to worry about than to participate for 4 - 6 hours per day at school. Schools can't teach how to control time, but schools can support individuals to understand how to manage themselves and spend their time. Time management is one of the skills that can lead us to be more focus-oriented whenever needed and equips us to distinguish between high- and low-value tasks, and that way gives us a chance to learn how to be present and enjoy those moments. The goal-setting approach mentioned above can be seen as one tool to develop self-discipline skills that come while planning the route accurately and at the same time creating the ability to delay rewards and gratifications until reaching the checkpoints.

If you managed to read until the end, you might notice that this post has nuances that mirror personal development growth coaching. Even I like to read the self-help book genre, and my goal is to take charge of a school at some point. However, this new year post shows that the Finnish Core Curriculum includes non-cognitive and cognitive skills practicing, which can influence future lives and provide the tools to help individuals succeed and find harmony in their lives, which seems to be a challenging task nowadays. The best part is that we don't need to have a conversation about it because our primary guidance tool demands us to promote and practice these skills in every subject and the work we do in our classes. The conversation we need to have is how to do it in the most diversified way. One path is to finally start relying on scientific data and not only on the experience gained while working. I hope you will have many forward-looking conversations where all these skills are practiced and viewed as an investment in the bright future.

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