education | August 21, 2013

Learning About Learning: Review of a Keynote By Education Speaker Paul Tough

Paul Tough delivered an educational—and quite funny!—keynote speech yesterday at the K-12 Summer Initiative conference in Toronto. Drawing from the material in his highly talked about book, How Children Succeed, Tough had the full house of educators busily taking notes on the hidden power of character. Drawing together research that isn't often connected, the education speaker showed the audience that building on character traits, like grit and self-control, is an important factor in a child's ability to thrive. The key takeaway was that cognitive intelligence doesn't trump all. Even though our intelligence is, technically, unalterable, believing that you can do well and developing the perseverance to overcome adversity can be as vital to achievement as your IQ.

Tough had proven research and inspiring case studies in tow to back up his lecture points. Citing numerous studies—and his own experiences teaching his son new things—he shared stories of teachers who are doing things a little differently. And, of students who were thriving in spite of the odds stacked against them. He didn't bog us down with numbers and stats. Rather, he wanted us to see that scoring high on a standardized test is only part of the equation. And, that scoring low doesn't mean you can't achieve greatness. Tough's message was a heartening one. And, one that was delivered with conviction and a few laughs along the way.

Helping our kids to do well, both in the classroom and out in the world, requires us to think differently about education. Tough joked that he's often asked for the magic equation for success; a formula he admits he doesn't quite have yet—though we're getting closer. What he does have, however, are new strategies to help fill in the gaps in the traditional educational structure. We can teach kids that failing at a task does not mean they failed as a person. We can show them that despite their shortcomings in the past, they can do well in the future. If we want to help kids succeed (which it's evident that Tough does thanks to his passionate speech delivery) we have to be willing to think differently about what drives them to that success.

I walked away from Tough's talk feeling optimistic about the future. I learned a lot about the complex nature of education, and even about the way that I learn today—despite my school days being long behind me. How do children succeed? Paul Tough taught the audience that it will take a joint effort between educators, parents, students, and policy makers to help our schools meet the unique needs of all of its students. He showed us that we do need to teach kids their times tables—but we need to help them succeed at non-cognitive challenges, too.

If you're interested in exploring a new approach to education, contact the Lavin Agency to book Paul Tough as a speaker.

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