This may be shocking to you but you will rarely hear me say to a student, “You are so smart and talented!” What? The principal admits that he doesn’t give praise to students for their intellectual abilities? It’s true. I believe that talent and natural ability are over-rated. Some people may be born with a little talent in some areas but I believe that most success comes from lots of practice and hard work.
In fact, scientific research tells us that most successful people are the hardest workers who have put in at least 10,000 hours of purposeful practice into their craft (see the Malcolm Gladwell’s work). The coach of the NBA basketball team, Oklahoma City Thunder, Scott Brooks, went to my high school. People said that he was too small to play in the NBA but he worked hard and persevered. Legend has it that he would sneak into the East Union High School gym and spend 3-4 hours every night just dribbling the basketball from one end of the court to the other. He dedicated himself to mastering the details. When others said that he couldn’t make it, he worked harder. He made it to the NBA and learned the game inside and out. He studied the game so much that he eventually became a head coach in the NBA. A few years ago, he was voted Coach of the Year in the NBA. He took one of the worst teams and made it one of the best teams. He once said that his teams are good not because they have the most talent but because the players understand what it means to work hard and be dedicated to getting better.
What does this mean to our students? Students need to learn to practice until mastery. From the multiplication facts to the scientific process, students need to put in the time and effort to learn and master these academic concepts. Giving up is not an option. Research shows that students who are praised for working hard and putting forth outstanding effort are more likely to not give up when they are challenged. They are more likely to achieve more as they understand that success comes from working hard, not some talent that they are born with. So parents, the next time your child does well in school, instead of praising them for how smart they are, praise them for their effort and say, “You are such a hard worker! You must have studied and practiced a lot!”
Don H. Vu, Ed.D