Effort vs accomplishment

It is Friday afternoon and my inbox is again featuring our children’s school weekly newsletters. (I’m sure I just read the last one yesterday!) Today, however I was struck with the sheer volume of congratulations and achievements of students over the past weeks – the newsletters are always filled with this, however suddenly I saw this in a different light.

Screen Shot 2014-11-01 at 9.56.03 pmI have been reading and studying in more depth the work of Carol Dweck, Stanford University psychologist. She speaks and writes about Mindset in relationship to success and achievement and advocates there are two types. A fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

People with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence or talents are fixed – and success happens without effort.

People with a growth mindset believe their basic qualities can be developed with effort, focus, training, coaching and hard work.

This graphic outlines some of the differences …



My sudden challenge with the school newsletter is that what is being rewarded is the achievement – not the effort. Now this is not to say that the people being featured have not been successful through extensive efforts, it is just that all we usually see is the end result.

I often reflect on the dangers of taking social media too seriously – if you are not metacognitive, you could be mistaken to believe ‘everyone else’s’ kids are always winning awards, getting top in class, excelling at something… and of course they are not – social media is like the antithesis of the news media – focused on reporting bad news (because it sells). Social media tends to be about showcasing the good – now I’m all for this. The challenge is when you take it out of context – the more friends you have the more likely you are to see posts about achievement. You are unlikely to see posts that say, “My kid is the reserve on the B team” or “woohoo – straight C’s or B’s on the school report!” or “Yes! Our darling came 17th.”

Without the metacognative processing, you could be lulled into a sense of ‘everyone else’s kids are doing well and mine isn’t.’

Developing a growth mindset is essential for success, especially in a fast changing world where problems and challenges are going to randomly pop up throughout life. A growth mindset means that as teachers and parents we must create a love of learning and ensure that developing resilience is high on our agenda. Carol Dweck suggests teaching a growth mindset creates motivation and productivity in business, education and sports. She says it also enhances relationships.

So how do we develop this learning culture? I deeply believe that to learn to learn you also have to be willing to fail, to make mistakes, to screw up and then be able to learn from these opportunities and experiences. (See a previous blog Why is learning so scary?) This takes reflection and time. To learn to learn, you must know that is it hard to learn new information, but the more we do it, the easier it gets. (See my earlier blog Everything is hard before it is easy.) As adults we need to step back and let children struggle and work it out for themselves. I see so many  children displaying learned helplessness because a teacher or parent is constantly jumping in to rescue and help them. We need to showcase the effort and the journey not just the result.

When praising people, praise their effort, concentration, strategies and give specific feedback. Comments such as “Your persistence really paid off in completing your work today” is far more effective than “great work.”

Avoid comments such as:
“Good boy/girl.”
“Wow, your voice is amazing, you are my rock star.”
“You got a wicket in your first game of cricket – you will be a star.”
“You got an A without studying – well done.”

Instead use phrases such as:
“Taking the time to go back and check your work has produced a great result.”
“Wow, you really stopped to think about your answer and plan your project.”
“Outstanding effort in writing neatly today.”
“Your focus and attention to detail is why you got such a great mark.”

Reflect on the praise you often hear yourself giving – is it the effort or final result that you are acknowledging?

The next time you read a school newsletter, go to prize giving, read your social media feed, be sure to stop and reflect on the effort versus talent.




Published on Sunday, November 2nd, 2014, under Learning, Success

Karen Tui Boyes is a champion for Life Long Learning across nations, industries and organisations. Winner of the NZ Educator of the Year 2017 and 2014 and the NZ Speaker of the Year award in 2013 & 2019, Karen is a sought after speaker who continually gets rave reviews from audiences around the world. Her dynamic style and highly informative content—which turns the latest educational research into easy-to-implement strategies and techniques — sets her apart from others in her field.

13 Responses to “Effort vs accomplishment”

  1. Mary says:

    A valuable read today Karen. We do need to be jogged to acknowledge effort. I am reflecting on our school newsletter and even the report form. Neither acknowledge effort. I will be more aware of that in my syndicate and remind others. Thanks.

  2. Karen Boyes says:

    Oh yes Mary – reports – had not thought of that perspective as well – thanks for reminding me 🙂

  3. Meg says:

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts Karen, so important to reflect on regularly, as parents as well 🙂 Perhaps asking questions around the dinner table like ‘what did you work hard with today?’ might be useful… hey that could also be a great question to ask at the end of the school day with our kids as well.
    At home with our wee man I used to say ‘you are kind’ etc but changed that to ‘you were kind and helpful today when you helped me do the chores’… I was taught that saying “you are xxx” can make people feel really bad about themselves when they have a moment where they don’t exhibit that behaviour, it increases guilt and damages self esteem and self image. (Not sure i have explained that particularly eloquently!)
    Thanks again for sharing your learning with us so we can all become smarter 🙂

    • Karen Boyes says:

      Yes – praise the action not the person 🙂 Great idea about the after school/dinner question… will have to add that to our nightly routine at dinner…

  4. Jan Hawkins says:

    Yes Karen an important point. Focus on the “why”. And know you don’t have to be the best but be the best that you can be.
    On our travels through Kenya we came upon this school motto carved onto the rough front fence with a shelter behind that was the “classroom”. The fence said…”Always try to better your best!” And that is what we have for our class motto. We can’t ask for more than that from our students and for you to acknowledge what was done to achieve the improvement

  5. Kathryn Carey says:

    Thanks for this timely reminder Karen. I will reflect in my next newsletter.

  6. Gaylene Denford-Wood says:

    Thank you Karen
    I’ve just returned to my room on the 33rd floor of the Boston Marriott to reads your blog after Arianna Huffington’s keynote address in which she mentioned that one of her early books was initially rejected by 36 publishers! How’s that for effort! (I’d give it a ‘P’ for persistence, perseverance and continuing to trust its potential.)

  7. Paula Reynolds says:

    Gosh, you must have read my mind Karen! I have been thinking about exactly this in my daughters school newsletter over the last few months and their facebook page reads of the same successes. I think I might use Dwecks work as an example of when I challenge the Principal on this exact issue….Your timely words have inspired me to have a discussion about it – thank you…

  8. Great post Karen. I agree, it’s definitely important to be clear in our communications, as much with adults as with children. Because we often base our interpretation of what is being said on past experiences, it’s too easy for ambiguous statements to cause misunderstandings in relationships.

  9. Alan Cooper says:

    Right on Karen!
    I first became aware of this phenomenon in my role as an age group sports coach, up to national level. The question was why do kids who are truly outstanding at year 7 and 8 level, continue so for a number of years, but start slipping in relation to their peers in year 11 or 12 and by year 13 are no longer standouts and when leaving school either continue as an average player or give up. The answer is that at year 7 and 8 and for a while after they had a physical advantage so effort was not required. The others who wanted to achieve had to work on their game and put in the effort needed to do so. They worked on their game and moved ahead.
    When I first read Dweck’s book I had a rationale for explaining this.
    Incidentally in the distant past I a Professor of Education once advised me that if you want to solve an educational problem look for a parallel in sport.

    • Karen Boyes says:

      Ha – so true in my home – Mr 14 with natural talent does not have to try – while Miss 12 is a plodder and works away slowly towards success…

  10. […] important piece here is to understand and discuss with students the work of Carol Dweck and the role of Mindset. Do you and your students fully understand that intelligence is not fixed […]

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