Going for Mastery – The Journey of Learning
- On 05-02-2014
One of the sports I reintroduced myself to when I first began university was track and field. I was a reasonable athlete as a junior, nothing special, but I wanted to get involved in something that would challenge me personally. I had played team sports for years, and still did at the time, but I wanted an activity where I could compete against myself and challenge my personal bests.
In some ways it wasn’t a good time to be in the Athletics team when we went to the Australian University Games. The team happened to have quite a number of Commonwealth Games Athletes and future Olympians and I couldn’t compare to them in any event apart from the 5 km walk (which no one wanted to do)! So I learnt to race walk and in the meantime trained for a range of other events.
Over the years, as I kept training and getting better I started to be able to compete relatively well at a few events. I ended up finding that I could be a decent competitor in the Decathlon … and that is what I did during my university years (12 years including the PhD and post-doctorate). I had a number of top six finishes in the Australian University Games and was even able to compete in A Grade competition in the Discus. In the meantime I won academic awards, made it to a State Training squad for Mixed Netball, competed in indoor cricket at a decent level, won a Sport Award at my university, and so on.
In reflecting back on my sporting career, and its links to my academic and job career, one of the facets I noticed is somewhere along the line I realised that I would always be learning and developing. Not because there was something wrong, but because I enjoyed developing mastery over myself. It isn’t surprising that I became involved in a personal development program for a number of years. I wanted to know myself better so I could be more effective at making the difference I was passionate about.
Mastery is not an end point but a journey and a mindset. It never ends.
When we don’t challenge ourselves we don’t grow. It is in overcoming our struggles and challenges that we can expand our capacity. That has always been the case in our lives. In fact, it is how are brains are wired.
If we want to develop life-long learners then the way our schools are structured, the pedagogy, the learning environment, the habitual practices all need to be aligned to develop each student to have the mindset and practices to become masterful. As Daniel Pink pointed out in Drive, mastery is one of the big three intrinsic motivators for human beings.
There are many hindrances in schools, including (and not limited to):
- Teacher mindset – we need to be on the journey of mastery, continually developing and reflecting upon our skills and capacities to support ALL our students to journey towards mastery
- A lack of a scope and sequence progression of skills, attitudes, understandings and knowledge across the year levels. How can we continually challenge students to grow and develop if we aren’t clear about the developmental stages of learning ourselves?
- A lack of a spiral curriculum that allows for the building and transfer of learning across many years. Often there is variance within a year level let alone the progressive building of skills, knowledge and understanding through the years.
- Poor assessment practices that don’t reward the development of mastery (quite often grades don’t reflect that a student has developed competency in something but it is used to rank them)
- Not allowing students to grapple with and struggle with learning whilst encouraging them to persist.
- Using extrinsic rewards to motivate students rather supporting them to develop intrinsic motivation
- Timetables that limit learning
- Teacher centred learning
What mastery learning requires is for learning to be personalised to meet the points of need for each individual, in the same way that we as educators need to have our professional learning addressing our points of need to become more masterful in our profession. It also requires that a school pay attention to the mindset and norms that it is developing within its students, teachers and parental community.
Both of these elements do take time (many years) to develop and grow within a school. To kick start the thinking about the possibilities, practicalities and discussions of mastery learning I have linked a range of articles about mastery learning.
If you want to find out more about how Intuyu Consulting could possibly support your school on its journey check out the Scope of Works documents on our website or feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.