Performance or Learning?

Learning Leads to Performance

“Not Learning is bad
Not Wanting to Learn is Worse”
African Proverb

On May 3rd, 2021, Eduardo Briceño facilitated a Learning Omnivores learning event on Mindset hosted by SW Metro District 288 in Shakopee, MN. In addition to Ted Talks and national consulting, Eduardo connects the research on Mindset to classroom activities.

Eduardo began by asking a question. How do I want my students and colleagues to perceive me and think of me? As teachers and leaders many times we are perceived as just smart. When I was an active principal, I interviewed students about a math teacher named Tom. His dissertation was I would coach him in front of a class of geometry students and compare that with another class that I did not coach him. The students in the coached class thought Tom was just good at math. They had no idea of the preparation he did for teaching his class. The students saw the sequencing and activities Tom created to teach the class. It was a major AHA for the students.

Consider being more transparent with our own learning to students. It models a growth mindset versus a knowledge or fixed mindset.

One ‘AHAs’ for the participants in our zoom conference was the concept of Performance Zone or Learning Zone? Most of us have heard student learning is the most important. Consider a prerequisite, wanting to learn, believing I can learn, and that I, as the student, can continue to get better. Increased educator efficacy results in more student learning. Jeff Howard, at the Efficacy Institute, has done great work on accelerating adult and student efficacy.

As Eduardo explained on the webinar, our focus on performance may be inhibiting learning. If our only measure of assessment is test scores, a winning score, or being judged in competition, many students (AND ADULTS) tend to revert to what we are already good at and has worked in the past. We all like to get positive comments e.g. ‘you are a good teacher.’ Students like to hear things like ‘you are really good at dance,’ ‘you are a great writer,’ ‘you are a natural at solving math problems,’ etc. However, this may cause people to stop learning and rely on the past.

What worked in the past will probably not be enough for a future VUCA world. We also know that praise tends to signal conformity and possibly an end result. We keep doing what we are good at so we get accolades. From the writings and research on Mindset by Carol Dweck (2006) and Jeff Howard, at the Efficacy Institute, feedback without judgment can be growth-producing. Being specific about what worked, what didn’t, and what you might do different can accelerate learning.

Praise can be helpful when acknowledging effort, creativity, collaboration, etc. Be careful with praise because it may signal an endpoint. Praise may be interpreted as, if you are already good, why change? I find this in coaching education and business leaders. Humility to say, ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I am not as good as I want to be’ will help all of us learn more. If ego and seeking approval is the goal, learning is less and risk-taking is diminished.

Eduardo also referred to a K. Anders Ericsson’s (2016) book, Peak. Ericsson’s research over the years has been foundational and insightful. One of his quotes is, “ Getting out of your comfort zone means trying to do something that you couldn’t do before. The solution is not “try harder” but rather “try differently.” Ah, continually learning new ways of doing things.

Ericsson’s approach is to set a goal to accomplish just outside or at the edge of the comfort zone. I call it the Goldilocks’ Theory. Not too easy, people get bored. Not too hard, frustration and quitting can result. Set a goal at your learning edge. Provide support in giving specific feedback without blame or judgment. Give feedback immediately so the person can self-correct. And finally, give ongoing coaching.

Another resource mentioned in Jon Saphier’s (2017) in High Expectations Teaching. Kids are learning machines. The issue is how do we open up ways for learning to occur and continue learning for the rest of their lives. Jon has provided fifty ways to help students believe that they are learners.

He writes that our job is to:

1. convince them that they can grow their ability
2. show them how
3. motivate them to want to

Further he says the challenge for us as educators is to
• get our students to believe this,
• teach them how to exert effective effort
• make them feel known and valued
• give them high-quality instruction

Watch your language. Eduardo gave several examples of how our language can accelerate learning or diminish it, even with the best of intentions. Use the word ‘YET.’ When a student is not making progress, by adding the word ‘yet’ can signal the student may not have mastered the skill now, but they will.

Focus on honoring behaviors like persisting, collaborating, creating, helping others, etc. signals to the student to do more of that. Language like ‘you are smart’ or ‘you are really talented’ can say you have arrived. You don’t need to continue to learn. There is plenty of research about the use of praise by Pink, Deci, Harlow, etc.

How do we treat mistakes or errors? Are they a source of learning or negative emotions? As Eduardo pointed out, mistakes are learning opportunities, Think of the “F” word as feedback. Did it work? Was it correct? If so, keep doing it. If not, stop it. Try something else.

A final thought is adult modeling. How do we model learning in front of students? How do we model learning with our colleagues? What are we working on in order to get better at learning, teaching, leading, etc? Students are watching everything we do. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying.”

Eduardo is in the process of writing a book. I can’t wait to read it when finished. I am sure it will advance our repertoire and give specific strategies to help ourselves and our students.

Thank you, Eduardo, for presenting to our Learning Omnivores group.


Briceño, Eduardo. LinkedIn, at: OR another contact Mindset Works at or

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset. New York: Ballantine Books.

Ericsson, Anders & Pool, Robert. (2016). Peak: Secrets from the New Science of
Expertise. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Howard, Jeff,

Saphier, Jon. (2017). High Expectations Teaching. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press