Thursday, 7 January 2016

Discovering 'The Element'

I've owned this book for a few years now. I found it in a second hand bookshop at the ferry terminal in Auckland. At the time I thought, 'that looks like a good read,' but every time I tried to read it, I got to a certain point and switched off. Clearly, I wasn't ready for it's message. After finishing the past year though and being surrounded by the positivity of mindshift, it was time for me to give it another crack - and I'm really pleased I did. I think that it was a great way to sum up everything I had consciously and unconsciously learnt this year about the future of education and the children that we are teaching. 

The importance of the element, I believe, is far deeper than happiness. It is what is going to make things happen, make things change in an ever developing (and complex) world.
The book defines The Element as "the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion."

Below I have listed some of my take-aways from the book:

  • Sir Paul McCartney recalled in an interview that he had been through his entire education without anyone noticing that he had any musical talent at all. Even in the hierarchy that was English and Maths during his education era, this astounded me and made me wonder if that could happen in a school today - I know that I would struggle to pick out a student who had specific talent here, so do we have enough musically talented teachers, evenly spread from Y1-Y13, that each student would definitely come across at least two or three during their education? What about other areas - do we have enough talent seekers to inspire, mentor and coach across a wide range?
  • "Many of them (children) will certainly have jobs we haven't conceived yet. Isn't it therefore our obligation to encourage them to explore as many avenues as possible with a eye toward discovering their true talents and their true passions?"
  • The book places emphasis on The Element requiring passion, not just natural aptitude. It is possible to be very good at something, but not feel like it fills you with joy. 
  • Intelligence comes in many, many, many kinds and combinations too. If it weren't for this a number of things would never have been created - ballet, abstract painting, hip-hop, design, self-service checkouts.... They all require different abilities.
  • "A lot of my work with organisations is about showing that intelligence and creativity are blood relatives. I firmly believe that you can't be creative with acting intelligently. Similarly, the highest form of intelligence is thinking creatively."
  • Working in your Element is being in a zone that means your 'work' becomes effortless and time becomes something you no longer 'feel'. Using a thinking style that comes naturally to people things become easier. The example used was that of his daughter who was unable to recall information from lectures. However, being a visual person, when she mindmapped the timelines and information she was able to recall, with understanding, everything she needed to. It's important that we give our students multiple ways of 'digesting' the same information. 
  • "To make the Element available to everyone, we need to acknowledge that each person's intelligence is distinct from the intelligence of every other person on the planet, that everyone has a unique way of getting in the zone, and a unique way of finding the Element."
  • Part of finding your Element, is finding your Tribe. This point was a great reflection for me as it has helped me to articulate why the move I made at the beginning of 2015 was such a significant one for my career. Although I've enjoyed every other teaching job I've had, and each has contributed a great deal to the teacher I am today, I feel now that I have found my tribe, I have found the ones that speak my dialect. 
  • Creative teams are able to achieve more together, than they can separately. Three key features of intelligence enable this: they are diverse, dynamic and distinct.
  • Diversity stuck out to me more than any of the others. It speaks about different sorts of people that compliment each other and I know that is something that has been considered greatly in building teams and workgroups within my school. It has such an importance to raise the level of achievement.
  • When elaborating on the feature of distinction, I found it interesting that a creative team was compared to a committee. Committees don't require everyone's full attention all of the time and the people are usually only there to serve a particular interest. A creative team, on the other hand, is there to get a specific job done in whichever way it needs to. This made me think about my role as a BOT member and the continuum of management to governance. I can see similarities between the BOT that manages / is a committee and I suspect there may be a number of boards operating in this manner...
  • I found the section on 'groupthink' fascinating, where intelligent and well-meaning people were willing to give up their thoughts and beliefs based on what their peers were saying. My thoughts were exactly as it was written: "It raises questions about our ways of education and and the values that guide our conduct." We must allow our students opportunities to think for themselves and to be proud of their beliefs.
  • The roles of mentors: to recognise, to encourage, to facilitate and to stretch. It is this last one that I think is the hardest one to achieve, particularly in a primary school setting where teachers are often a 'jack of all trades, master of none.' Because of this, they must seek whatever assistance is required to continue to mentor or to pass the student on to. Mentors "take a unique and personal place in our lives... open doors for us and get involved directly in our us the next steps and encourage us to take them." Heroes don't do that.
  • When you look at people who have done well for themselves, including the stories throughout the book, there are a number who didn't do well at school. I wonder if the changes that we're making going to encourage them stay and do well? Is that going to benefit them? Or will it just lie 'the problem with education' elsewhere? Is the change happening in the primary sector and halted by the secondary or tertiary?
  • "The key to this transformation is not to standardise education but to personalise it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions."
  • Should we stop thinking about school as separate subjects and more as sets of disciplines. "The idea of disciplines make possible a fluid and dynamic curriculum that is interdisciplinary."
  • People need the right conditions to grow - they need synergy with the people and environments around them. It is the job of our schools to do that. "For all our futures, we need to aim high and be determined to succeed."
I am the type of person to reread books (or rewatch movies) and pick up something new every time. I will be adding this one to my 'revisiting' pile.


  1. And... you've made me feel a need to re-visit it as well, Alice. I think you have summed up some of the key messages really well. I'd love a chance to unpack relevant points and our journey so far at some stage. :)

  2. Thank you - it really was a good read and now so many things I'm coming across (not just in Education, but life in general) relates back to the messages in that book. Would love to have a 'book meet'!