The School Doctor: Five TED Talks for the New Academic Year

In the latest column for Schools Improvement, The School Doctor takes a gander through the world of Ted to highlight the five best talks for the new academic year from building a new-found self-confidence to embracing classical music.

The summer is over and, as the temperature dips and the days begin to get shorter, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the rigmarole of day-to-day school life: marking, departmental meetings, yet more changes to the curriculum or methods of assessment. With all this in mind, it is also important for teachers to have some coping mechanisms to focus on their personal wellbeing (and therefore the wellbeing of their pupils), and to be encouraged to focus on the many positive aspects of teaching: the reasons most of us went into the profession in the first place. As many people in education have already realized, TED talks can be a great resource for personal development, as well as for classroom use, especially when it comes to PSHCE (or whichever acronym your school has developed). Yes, they can become clichéd; yes, they are easily parodied (; yes, some are better than others. But here are five, out of the many available, that might come in useful towards the start of a new academic year:


Carol Dweck: The power of believing that you can improve

Fast becoming established as a given, but worth revisiting: psychologist Carol Dweck discusses the power of the word ‘yet’, or rather the words ‘not yet’. Instead of giving students a ‘fail’, Dweck argues that changing our terminology to ‘having not succeeded yet’ has a powerful impact on students’ progress. This change, she argues, emphasises that those students’ abilities can be developed. If a student is told they have ‘failed’, Dweck says, they are more likely to cheat next time they attempt the task, or look for someone who did worse so they can feel good about themselves. They are more likely to run away from the difficulty or error, rather than engaging with it, processing it, and correcting it. Dweck worries that we are producing generations of pupils who live in the ‘tyranny of now’ rather than embracing ‘yet’. These pupils focus on their biggest goal of getting the next ‘A’, then carry that need for constant validation into their adult lives. By praising wisely (their effort, strategy, focus, perseverance and improvement) we can change those students’ mindsets, argues Dweck, and help to create future generations that are hardy and resilient and who engage and persevere when they are hit with hard problems.


Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend

Chances are that teachers will encounter stress in some form over the course of the academic year. We all know, or think we know, that stress has a detrimental effect on our physical health. Kelly McGonigal argues that stress in itself is not necessarily physically harmful, but believing that stress is harmful is more dangerous. People die, McGonigal claims, because they believe stress is bad for them. Changing how we think about stress can apparently make us healthier by changing our body’s response to stress: a pounding heart prepares us for action; breathing faster gets more oxygen to our brains. If these processes are viewed as positive, McGonigal argues, our blood vessels stay more relaxed and therefore less damage is caused to our heart and body. McGonigal also suggests that stress makes us more social, through the release of the hormone oxytocin, which makes us more compassionate and caring. She argues that oxytocin motivates us to seek support, to tell someone how we feel instead of bottling up our worries, as well as helping our heart cells regenerate or heal after stress.


Guy Winch: Why we all need to practise emotional first aid

Guy Winch says that, as a psychologist, he is often not considered to be a ‘real doctor’. He seeks to counter that assumption by promoting ‘emotional hygiene’. We spend more time caring about our teeth, he says, than we do looking after our minds. Winch argues that failure, rejection or loneliness are all ‘injuries’, and we should seek support to heal those injuries, in the same way that we would seek medical attention if we had a broken leg. By using psychological techniques, we can close the gap between psychological and physical health, stop our ‘emotional bleeding’, and protect ourselves from the stress (see above) and anxiety caused by low self-esteem. For example, Winch recommends the distraction technique, which short-circuits our tendency to ruminate over things that have gone wrong. Winch concludes that changing our response to failure, battling our own negative thinking, will help build our emotional resilience.


Bert Jacobs: The power of optimism

Bert Jacobs uses the story of his T-shirt business to promote optimism as a ‘strategy for life’. He talks about how his mother used to sit him and his siblings down before dinner and ask them to tell her something good that had happened that day. By pouring our physical and emotional resources into what is right, rather than what is wrong, Jacobs underlines the positive impact we can have on the individuals and communities around us. Pessimism is destructive and corrosive. Jacobs concedes the obvious point that humanity today is by no means perfect, but he suggests that we are moving in the right direction. We are more likely to continue moving in the right direction if we maintain the childlike optimism with which we were born.

Benjamin Zander: The transformative power of classical music

This is only about classical music on the surface. Conductor, musician and corporate speaker Benjamin Zander does indeed suggest that we all have the capacity to love classical music (we just don’t realise it yet). But in doing so, Zander promotes the efficacy of enthusiasm and inspiration. He recommends ‘one buttock playing’ (watch the video to find out what that means). Building on his career as a conductor, he notes that his job has been to awaken possibility in other people. ‘If their eyes are shining’, Zander says, ‘you know you’re doing it’. And if their eyes are not shining, he says we have to ask ourselves the question: ‘who am I being that their eyes are not shining?’ Life is not about wealth or power, he says, but how many shining eyes he has around him. That’s not a bad way to think about our teaching.


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