From the Head of Crowther Centre – Dr Ray Swann

Choice, autonomy and learning

One of the curious things that comes up a lot in the research (into student learning outcomes as well as positive psychology) is just how powerful a force for change goal setting is. Without oversimplifying it, we know that for a boy where he ‘sets the bar’ is actually often where he will get to (results-wise).  We also know through coaching, that having clear steps and accountability are factors that can drive change and improvement.

Let me share a brief anecdote: I can remember vividly a former student returning to talk in a Senior School Assembly a few years back as a high achieving scholar. Remarkably, only 12 months earlier this student had a grade point average of 76 in Year 11, yet had somehow managed to outperform 95% of the country the following year. In his speech to the school he said: “I was sitting here in the hall, just like you are now and I realised that the only thing I needed to change was my attitude. I just wanted to perform, then sit up here on stage in the Honours Assembly with the other boys that did well.”

Whilst this story may not be generalised to all students (as many are already working at capacity) I think there are a couple of important lessons from it. First, as international best-selling author of Drive, Daniel Pink tells us that the keys to motivation are: purpose, mastery and autonomy (the latter of which is correlated with choice). Similarly, self-determination theory teaches us that our boys are driven by relatedness, competency and again autonomy.  Having the ability to choose is vital.

So, how do we tap in to the idea of autonomy with our boys? How do we get them to see more broadly and understand the impact of what is happening? The key is in assisting them to expand their thinking and to start to make connections between actions and reactions. Sometimes, we need to build in a time during the week to simply reflect and plan, to help see the bigger picture. So here is something you can try at home:

Using a ‘Periscope’

We often think of periscopes on submarines, but the idea of a periscope is to look at something that is not in the ‘direct line of sight.’

Here is a simple routine to create a periscope:

Step 1:  Choose a time in the week (that’s the same each week) that you can hold a conversation.

Step 2:  Review the previous week (looking behind with the periscope).
For example: How did the week go? Did you get to where you needed to be?
For some boys a simple process of using an idea like PMI (what were your pluses, minuses and interesting’s from the week) can work. The point here is to start a conversation and listen.

Step 3:  Plan the next week (looking ahead with the periscope).
The second part of the routine is to have a ‘heads up’ of what the week is looking like. You might like to share your week too: when are you home, or back late, when are the peaks and troughs? Are there things that you can do together to help iron out some of the harder times in the week?

There is enormous power in having boys and young men choose, and to assist in this process we need to help connect them to the bigger picture.


Crowther events

This week we kicked off our Effective Learner workshops in the Wellbeing Centre, exploring the model and how to build some routines into your home life.

To register your interest for future workshops, please email us at: