The discovery of mirror neurons in the human brain confirms what teachers of young children have always known; that we are set up to learn through imitation. It means that the teacher’s role model as an experienced learner is potentially a powerful tool in the classroom; but curiously it’s one that we generally under-use, operating instead with a sense that the teacher has all the skills and knowledge they need, has successfully completed their journey through the education system and is now focussed on helping the children to get through theirs.
A few years ago I was asked to give a talk at an event that was being filmed. Things went well until the organiser approached me afterwards to apologise for forgetting to turn on the camera when I was speaking. I was invited to repeat my talk without the live audience. I found this incredibly difficult to do and the result was a clunky and embarrassing presentation. As I headed out of the venue with my young daughter in tow, I ran through a series of excuses about how I was not a performer and that I hoped I would never be put in such a difficult position again. I caught her eye and realised how unhelpful my defensive and closed mindset was to a child who was inevitably learning from my example.
Carol Dweck’s Mindset Theory tells us that struggle is to be embraced because it is the pre-requisite for learning. It is an invitation to collaborate, to be curious, imaginative and persistent as we seek out possible solutions; to respond in ways that allow our brains to literally grow as new learning takes place. Thankfully I was reading about Dweck’s research at the time of my performance disaster and remembered a trick for retrieving a moment of negative mindset behaviour. I picked up the pace, repeated that I was not a performer and then in a commitment to my own determination to offer the best possible example, added ‘… I’m not a performer yet’.