At Revolution Prep we think there are three keys to student success: 1) Finding your passions and talents, 2) Cultivating good habits, and 3) Developing fluency of thinking. Certainly, having good study and work habits are important and critical thinking skills are a key component to college readiness, but why do we group finding one’s passions and talents as part of being a successful student?
One of the reasons is that students truly excel when they are operating within what speaker and leader Ken Robinson calls, the Element. Once a student finds where his or her passions intersect with talents, he or she will become self-motivated rather than motivated by fear of consequences. Self-motivation and personal responsibility are keys to success in college and beyond.
One example in Robinson’s book is that of Gillian Lynne. Gillian was a fidgety little girl who did not pay attention in class. When she was in school, people did not know about things like ADD or the different learning styles (i.e. kinesthetic, visual, and auditory). She would move around too much and had trouble sitting through a class. At her teacher’s request, her mother took her to a psychologist to have her evaluated. The psychologist found that Gillian wasn’t sick; she was a dancer. She loved moving to music and thinking by movement. Gillian enrolled in dance classes, practiced every day after school, and become a world-renowned dancer and choreographer.
There are two points in Gillian Lynne story that applies to any student. First, when it comes to school, it is much easier to endure difficult or even uninteresting classes when you have a goal or a big picture in mind. Sometimes, when you have a context for why you need to pass your classes, they may start to be more interesting. Gillian Lynne commented that she improved in every subject once she started dancing. Moving helped her think. Even though she didn’t dance in math class, being a dancer helped her do well in math.
Secondly, doing those things that are within your natural inclinations and your passions does not mean you are taking the easy road. Gillian Lynne went to dance practice every day. She spent hours rehearsing. Most people who are successful in a particular field spend hours doing it because they love what they do and they want to continue to improve. Malcolm Gladwell illustrated a similar concept in his book, Outliers. He discusses the 10,000-hour rule. According to Gladwell, success comes from practicing something for more than 10,000-hours. Few people can spend 10,000 hours doing something unless they truly love what they do.
The other two keys to success are cultivating good habits and developing fluency, or critical thinking skills. These take time and discipline, and can be tough if you are motivated solely by a fear of consequences. However, when someone is self-motivated, the tasks become less arduous. This is why we think starting with finding what motivates a student, his or her passions and talents, provides the student with a context that allows him or her to look at things like study skills, time-management, and setting priorities as step towards pursuing their goals.