Program for
Program for

The Culture of Excellence

  • The ptsx perspective
  • 18 Nov, 2022

The pursuit of high performance is the most important aspiration for every student. In the constant search for it, students adopt various methods, strategies, and behaviors based on their understanding and others' suggestions. Consequently, different results are bound to take place for different students, making it difficult for them to differentiate between what worked and what did not for achieving high performance. Hence, this creates an environment of increased ambiguity among students that prevents them from focusing on their preparation.

In this context, adopting a culture of excellence is the most effective and efficient way to ensure high performance. The culture of excellence affects and shapes our mindset, attitudes (beliefs towards learning), and behaviors (practices) for high performance by providing clarity of what actually contributes to success. This clarity enables us to focus our full mental energy on work to actualize the desired results.

The culture of excellence is a self-consciously built mindset, attitudes (beliefs), and behaviors (practices) that create excellence in performance on an ongoing basis.

The culture of excellence is consist of three fundamentals -

  • The mindset of excellence: A growth mindset and the psychology of high performance
  • The science of learning (attitudes towards learning)
  • Adopting the best practices (behaviors) of learning

The mindset of excellence: A growth mindset and the psychology of high performance 

A growth mindset and the right psychology (the psychology of high performance) are prerequisites for learning new knowledge, skills, and attitudes.

A growth mindset is a learner’s belief that success in any field is not determined by the innate talent of a person but by his deliberate efforts of learning and development. Hence, he can learn anything (knowledge, skills, and attitudes) with the right learning strategies and practices. A person with a growth mindset tends to achieve more success because he worries less about maintaining the sense of being skilled and puts more energy into learning.

Our mindset is the result of our lifelong experiences, observations, and education. Generally, it’s not easy to attain a growth mindset. The reason is we all have our fixed-mindset triggers. When we face challenges, receive criticism, or fare poorly compared with others, we can easily fall into insecurity or defensiveness, a response that inhibits our growth mindset. But with practice, determination and effort, we can develop a growth mindset.

People often confuse a growth mindset with being flexible or open-minded or having a positive outlook—qualities they believe they’ve simply always had. But this is a false growth mindset. Everyone is actually a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets, and that mixture continually evolves with experience.

The “psychology of high performance” is to be in the right emotional state and frame of mind that will bring out our best and maintain interest, motivation, and a deep sense of satisfaction while pursuing our goal.

The psychology of high performance is comprised of four elements – 

  • Acceptance - we should not be complaining, be it our past issues or present problems. It serves no purpose in dwelling on problems. Rather, we should dedicate our full time and energy to solving the problems and moving on. Acceptance allows us to see what can be done to change the existing reality. And also, motivates us to shape our future for the better.
  • Presence in the moment - our working memory has limited capacity. We should not over-burden it with our past issues, present problems, and wishful thinking. Rather, we should keep our full attention on the task at hand. We should think and plan properly before starting and should focus on daily targets and small steps without much lingering on either past or future plans.

" If the mind is employed on the past or future, the book will be held before the eyes in vain. " 

Samuel Johnson

  • Taking responsibility – nobody else is going to solve our problems so we should take full responsibility for our actions. Taking responsibility channelizes our full mental energy on work (sustaining our attention) to bring well-thought actions. And, these well-thought actions convert into the desired results. Blaming others for our problems and failures will only provide us with self-deception but not success.  
  • Humility – it allows us to learn new knowledge, skills, and attitudes by negating the feelings of boastfulness and self-pride.

The psychology of high performance is a training of the mind to inculcate these four elements in our thinking and make them an integral part of our mindset so that all our efforts are focused in the desired direction to create high performance. 

The science of learning

The science of learning is to summarize cutting-edge research in neuroscience; cognitive psychology; and real-world experiences related to how we learn. The science of learning affects and shapes our attitudes (our beliefs) towards learning. The science of learning explains -

  • The way our brain makes, stores, and retrieves memories – we learn new ideas by reference to ideas we already know. Learning is mostly about transferring information that enters short-term memory, into long-term memory, where it is stored for later use. It's the dialogue between these two that causes memories to be formed. We are only conscious of the information currently being held in our short-term memory and we are largely oblivious to the enormous amounts of information stored in long-term memory, that is until it is retrieved back into short-term memory for use as we interact with it in the world around us.
  • Importance of working memory and ways to prevent it from getting overloaded – we have limited working memory capacities that can be overwhelmed by tasks that are cognitively too demanding (too informative). Understanding new ideas can be impeded if we are confronted with too much information at once. Making content explicit through carefully paced explanations, modeling, and examples can help ensure that our working memory is not overwhelmed.
  • How our mindsets and beliefs about learning can help or hinder success – our beliefs about intelligence are important predictors of our behavior towards learning. We feel motivated if we believe that intelligence and ability can be improved through deliberate efforts. Self-determined or intrinsic motivation (a consequence of our beliefs) leads to better long-term outcomes than controlled motivation (a consequence of reward and punishment).
  • And common misconceptions and misunderstandings about learning that can prevent us from learning at our fullest capacity and ways to correct them – There are several myths and misconceptions that stop us from taking action. Knowing about them makes it less likely that we will fall for them. It will also take away some of the excuses we may have to start learning. Some misconceptions and myths about learning are as - students have different learning styles, humans use only 10% of their brains, people are preferentially “right-brained” or “left-brained” in the use of their brains, novices and experts think in all the same ways, we could only learn while we were young and it was not worth pursuing learning at a more advanced age, learning is fun and it should not be challenging, etc.

The science of learning-based learning uses insights from neuroscience and cognitive psychology and focuses on the deep/true learning of students i.e. it brings out fast and effective learning outcomes and supports the development of students' Higher-order skills. Therefore, the science of learning-based learning is student-centered learning. Whereas, the traditional learning environments are largely driven by pedagogy with its roots in social and developmental theory with little or no input from neuroscience or psychology. Traditional learning methods are generally teacher-focused; that’s why they are of limited success in terms of students’ deep/true learning.

The science of learning also empowers us to avoid all types of distractions and fallacious practices (such as - rereading, blocked practice, and massed practice) that provide us—the feel of learning or shallow learning; overload our working memory which adversely affects our intellectual development and thinking process (i.e. Higher-order skills); narrow our horizons, and consume a good amount of time and energy with a little contribution in our learning to put us in a disadvantageous position in the competition and real life.

Adopting the best practices (behaviours) of learning

The best practices are the ones that are based on the science of learning; therefore, they are extremely effective and efficient to gain new knowledge, skills, and attitudes. The best practices are also called the modern tools of learning. The best universities in the world such as MIT, Harvard, Oxford, Stanford, etc. include modern tools of learning in their learning strategies to create the best learning outcomes for their students.

These practices create excellence in our performance by bringing out high-quality learning outcomes. The learning outcomes are the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are stored in our long-term memory as an outcome of our learning practices such as reading, writing, interaction with real-life, thinking, lectures, deliberate practices and learning by doing, etc. Our learning outcomes determine our performance in the examination and in real life.

The best practices (the modern tools) of learning are - 

Active learning and reflective thinking- Active learning is any learning activity in which we participate or interact with the learning process, as opposed to passively taking in the information. Active learning requires us to engage actively in reading, writing, discussion, and thinking, and most importantly in Higher-order cognitive functions such as observation, understanding, applications, evaluation, and examination.

Active learning encourages our brain to activate cognitive and sensory networks, which help process and store new information. Our learning is enhanced and we perform better when multiple neural pathways are activated at the same time. Active learning nurtures the brain, giving it an extended opportunity to connect new and old information, correct previous misconceptions, and reconsider existing thoughts or opinions to develop new understanding.

Reflective thinking means taking the bigger picture and understanding all of its consequences. It is a process involving dialogue with others, self-reflection, and personal discovery. Reflective thinking requires us to be curious, but also receptive to challenges. Generally, we learn from our experiences. However, It is not sufficient simply to have an experience in order to learn. Without reflecting upon this experience it may quickly be forgotten, or its learning potential lost. It is from the feelings and thoughts emerging from this reflection that new understanding (i.e. depth of understanding of real-world experiences) is generated to allow new situations to be tackled effectively.

Interaction with the world around us - We live in a highly complex and dynamic environment of the 21st-century and we are constantly interacting with it. Close observation and reflective thinking on important issues, events, and happenings help us to understand and perform in today’s world in the best way.

The issues, events, crises, and problems that define our world today arise from underlying structures, paradigms of thought, and source. Generally, we just react to the symptoms that we are facing but ignore their deeper dimensions (root causes) due to our narrow horizons and limited mind. It is kind of the 90% of the system that is below the line. And, when we look only at the symptoms, we have clusters of current challenges and problems. 

If we want to understand how various issues, events, crises, and problems impact people and how our society responds to them, we need to closely observe, rely on logic and evidence (high-quality knowledge), and use critical thinking to understand the root causes of them (i.e. their underlying structures, paradigms of thought, and source). This will deepen our understanding of real-world experiences and will broaden our horizons and develop a profound mind. As a result, our worldview will be close to reality and our responses, actions, and performance will be intended and outstanding.

However, if we engage in shallow thinking and the deeper dimensions (root causes) of the issues, events, crises, and problems are ignored, it will keep us locked into re-enacting the same old patterns of thinking time and again and we will develop a shallow understanding of real life, narrow horizons, and a limited mind. Consequently, our worldview will be superficial and far from reality. The result of our actions will be unintended and counter-productive.

Deliberate practices and learning by doing - Deliberate practice refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention (mindfulness) and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.

Learning by doing is the simple idea that we are capable of learning more about something when we perform the action i.e. we learn more when we actually “do” the activity. Real/true learning happens through application and practice in the real world. This approach upended the traditional notion that learning happens through lectures and rote memorization. Our attention to the task is the most important determinant of learning. Learning by doing practice naturally holds our attention on the task for a long duration to engage deeply with the work.

Some deliberate practices and learning by doing are -

  • Project-based learning - it allows students to learn by doing and applying ideas. In project-based learning, students gain a deeper understanding of material or text as they actively construct their understanding by participating in real-world activities to solve problems and develop artifacts. In project-based learning, students work on issues/problems that are authentic and often interdisciplinary. They gather information from various sources and observe, evaluate, examine, and understand it. Their learning is inherently valuable because it's connected to something real and involves reflective thinking. In the end, students demonstrate their new understanding and are judged by how much they've learned.
  • Retrieval practice - the retrieval practice (including formative and summative assessments) deliberately recall knowledge and forces us to pull our knowledge out to examine what we know and understand. Retrieval practice makes learning effortful and challenging. Because retrieving knowledge requires mental effort, we often think we are doing poorly if we can’t remember something. We may feel like progress is slow, but that’s when our best learning takes place. Retrieval is much more effective than re-reading or re-listening to lectures.
  • Spacing - the spacing effect refers to the benefit of incorporating time delays between learning and practice, leading to improved performance over educationally relevant periods compared to ‘massed’ items, where practice sessions occur close together. Specifically, it helps us to retain information for longer periods compared to sessions during which learning is "massed", commonly known as cramming. After learning something new, the learner should give time to his brain to forget so that the brain, in subsequent study sessions, must struggle to recall the information that was learned previously. In the meanwhile, the brain creates new connections which improve the quality of learning.
  • Interleaving - it is a process where we mix, or interleave, multiple subjects or topics while we study to improve our learning. Blocked practice, on the other hand, involves studying one topic very thoroughly before moving to another topic. Interleaving is more effective than blocked practice for learning. It improves the brain’s ability to differentiate, or discriminate, between topics and strengthens memory associations, and hence it leads to better long-term retention and improved ability to transfer learned knowledge.
  • Desirable difficulty - a desirable difficulty is a considerable but desirable amount of effort in learning, thereby improving long-term performance. It requires constantly adopting the strategies, practices, and feedback that lead to enhanced learning. If we don’t undertake the effort to make learning a little more challenging, then we risk not experiencing optimal learning. It’s initially harder, and at first, it may seem that our performance is worse than easier practice. But when desirable difficulties are practiced well, they ultimately lead to the desired learning outcomes (long-term learning).
  • Quality discussion with peers and asking relevant questions - the discussion provides learners an opportunity to reflect on, discuss and share knowledge, understanding, ideas, and experiences. The learners go beyond a mere review of information or retrieval of previously acquired knowledge to engage in reflective thinking to construct new understanding, solve new problems, and address new issues. This process deepens their understanding of real-world experiences and supports the development of their Higher-order skills. Asking relevant questions is a huge part of thinking critically, yet so often we either don’t ask enough questions or even the ‘right’ questions. This is because we don’t slow down long enough to either listen or understand. Yet the more we ask questions the more understanding, creativity, strategic solutions, and breakthroughs we encourage.
  • Prompt, clear, and focused feedback - effective feedback is essential to acquire new knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Effective feedback is designed to determine a learner's level of understanding to plan the next steps towards achieving the learning goals. And, it enables the learner to reflect on their learning strategies and practices to confirm them or make changes to improve their learning. Good feedback is: specific and clear, focused on the task rather than the learner, and explanatory and focused on improvement rather than merely verifying performance.

The ptsx perspective