September 19

10,000 hours... is this the magic number?

Both Mrs Chandler-Thompson and Mrs Stevens mentioned the ‘10,000 hour rule’ at our prize-giving ceremony and one of our section assemblies last week. This got me thinking about my own goals and how our girls sometimes become frustrated when results are not as quick as they would like. 

This week alone, as a parent I have experienced this with my four year old son trying to tackle cursive handwriting (trickier than I can remember) and as a Chemistry teacher when a Year 11 student felt like she would never be able to describe the process of electrolysis through half-equations, thus achieve her goal of a top grade in the subject. Also, on a personal note, feeling like I will never be able to reach 13.1 miles of continuous running that I have in previous (much younger) years!  They don’t necessarily need 10,000 hours of practice, I would hope, but do need a sustained level of commitment.

I can understand why there is frustration around these issues, particularly for our students who very often set their own very high standards for achievement. Whether they are practising a musical instrument, developing an app, preparing for a dance exam or putting in the hours at football training to be selected for a team, our students are working hard every day to achieve their goals, both in and out of school.

Many are incredibly focussed but often put too much pressure on themselves. Of course, they must push themselves to achieve academic success; this is important. There is also often a hobby that forms a large part of their lives on evenings and weekends. However, it is important to balance this with activities for the sake of relaxation. Do we have to be expert in everything we do? Is 10,000 hours realistic across multiple platforms?

The argument put forward by Anders Ericsson in 1993 states that if you practise anything for 10,000 hours, you will be an expert in your field, irrespective of innate talent. Regardless of the number of hours of practise you put in, one thing is does correlate to is commitment.

At the Senior school, we have a vast array of clubs and societies on offer. Some of these develop skills, such as sporting activities, music clubs, or an understanding of martial arts and will count towards the girls 10,000 hours. Whilst they are still developing skills, others are there purely for relaxation. I joined the Year 10 book club this week to force myself to relax more and cannot wait to return to discuss the ins and outs of Eleanor Oliphant!

We think it is really important for girls to have a mix of the two. We encourage them to review their options each term. They may wish to commit to one club for 7 years or change after one term and that’s completely fine. There is a difference between giving up on something and trying something for fun without commitment. This is ok as long as we, and students, do not expect to become experts without putting in the time and energy. There is obviously a correlation.

The realisation may kick in for girls in Year 4 and sometimes it will come after they leave school and they wish they had put in more hours of practising the piano like their parents asked them to, or studying more around the Maths curriculum for their GCSE. If there is one field in which this is especially important to them, hopefully it’s a realisation that will kick in whilst they still have the opportunities in front of them.


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