“High performance should be a normal and natural goal for all students” – Q&A with Wendy Berliner and Deborah Eyre

Wendy Berliner and Deborah Eyre are the authors of a new book, Great Minds and How to Grow Them. Gathering the latest neurological and psychological research, they explore the idea that most children are capable of reaching high levels of performance if they acquire the learning techniques of the gifted and talented.

This handbook explains to parents the crucial role they can play in guiding their children to success – both at school and in life – with a “high performance learning mindset”. 

BESA members benefit from 20% off the Great Minds and How to Grow them book (print copies only, ordered via the Routledge website up until 31 December 2017). Just use BES17 at checkout.

How did you meet Deborah Eyre, your co-author? How did you decide to partner together to write a book on how to grow great minds? What attracted you to write about this topic?

Wendy Berliner: Deborah and I first met years ago when she was a researcher into the learning of the gifted and talented and I was education correspondent of the Guardian. I already had a personal interest in the topic and went on to write stories on it which looked at her work. I was particularly interested in disadvantaged children who generally do less well at school and how we could help them to do better. As the years went by Deborah’s work led her to the conclusion that instead of looking for gifted children at school we should be teaching all children with the techniques which worked with gifted children. We believe that most children who aren’t learning impaired could do very well at school. Currently, they don’t. We know how the able learn – so we need to share those ways not only with teachers but also with parents who are a child’s first and longest serving teacher. In 2016 Deborah wrote a book for educators called High Performance Learning: How to Become a World Class School and asked me to collaborate with her on a follow-up version written in a language all parents could access. That book is Great Minds and How to Grow Them.

In the book, you question the relevance of IQ tests, at a time when we are seeing “emotional intelligence” and EQ tests becoming the new buzzwords. Is emotional intelligence related to your approach?

Wendy Berliner: IQ tests are a snapshot in time and just as a photo snapshot of you aged five and one of you at 21 or 50 will look pretty different, an IQ snapshot tells you very little about long-term potential. High performance in adulthood does not have strong associations with IQ tests done in youth. Few Nobel prize winners were infant prodigies after all. That all said emotional intelligence is linked to an ability to learn well because it enables you to manage your own emotions, understand others and get along with them too. Self-management – the ability to persevere, be resilient and work hard, for example – are all key to learning well.

In your article in the Guardian, you explain some of the skills, attitudes and values that children need to “grow their mind”. I found that some of your “behave right” points were close to the current trend advocating for body positivity and cultural awareness (which we see a lot on Instagram and raised by celebrities). Would you say that your book is part of this?

Wendy Berliner: I wouldn’t see the book as part of that trend per se but clearly good ideas often find their time as we develop as a society and elements of them can be seen appearing in all kinds of different places. Our book is based on research into learning going back 100 years and also on the latest knowledge of neurological development. That research makes it clear, for example, that the best learners tend to be open-minded, and that includes openness to other cultures because learning lies along routes like those. But it also makes it clear that a learner who thinks they are a good learner generally is a good learner. Positivity can breed positivity.

Deborah Eyre developed the approach of “high performance learning”. Could we look at it as a new learning style?

Deborah Eyre: High Performance Learning isn’t really a new learning style. It is a research-based, pedagogy-led philosophy that responds to our growing understanding of human capability. The core idea is that high performance should be a normal and natural goal for all students although some may take longer and have to strive harder to get there. So schools should move away from dividing pupils into more and less able and instead expect everyone to be able to perform highly and systematically develop the cognitive habits that we know lead to success in school and later life. These habits are captured in the High Performance Learning Framework which is outlined in detail for schools in the book High Performance Learning: How To Become A World Class School and also provides the main structure and content of this new book for parents. 

While the book is addressing parents, could you please explain the role that teachers can play in enabling a growth mindset in children too?

Wendy Berliner: Teachers have an enormous role to play in encouraging growth mindset – in which a child (or an adult) approaches a problem with the idea that they can do this with effort on their part, rather than that they can’t do it because they aren’t good enough. But it is a message that children should be learning from the beginning in the home so that by the time they get to nursery or school they think of themselves as capable learners, not bad learners. If parents start them off as learning capable, teachers can then reinforce the positive approach to learning rather than having an uphill struggle to introduce it against a background of a bad learning habit.

What do you think educational suppliers can do to help foster the development of great minds?

Wendy Berliner: Given how innovative and entrepreneurial educational suppliers can be, I think if they read the book they could probably develop a wide range of learning products from the ideas within the pages…


BESA members benefit from 20% off the Great Minds and How to Grow them book (print copies only, ordered via the Routledge website up until 31 December 2017). Just use BES17 at checkout.