Learning Agility – Lessons form South Africa

Last week, I collaborated with a wonderful organisation: Thinking Schools South Africa (TSSA). Together we worked with more than 600 educators from all over South Africa in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, It was my third trip to South Africa, and each one has been a truly amazing experience.

My first visit in 2011 left a very deep impression on me. I was struck not only by the enormity of the challenges facing South African education, but more so by the passion and commitment of the South African educators.

Every educator is passionate about his or her students, and about preparing them to thrive in the 21st Century. But in South African I find that they have a very clear extra dimension to their work – they are also passionate about the opportunity for change that currently exists in South Africa and the role these young people must play in rebuilding a country ravaged by the legacy of racism and apartheid. 

During my first visit I was fortunate to connect with a group of visionaries who went on to establish Thinking Schools South Africa. Their goal was to empower schools to develop a culture of explicit thinking so students and teachers learn how to learn more effectively, so students could become passionate, practiced and resourceful thinkers and problem solvers. Since then they have worked to establish 200 Thinking Schools and impacted more than 100,000 students. This is a truly remarkable achievement.

So it was in this context that, last week, I found myself talking about Learning Agility in South Africa. Helping these teachers ensure their students not only understand that they are capable of growth, but also how they can achieve that growth. How by developing their Habits of Mind they make hard things easy. And by applying those habits through Virtuous Practice they can grow in their abilities, and become the sort of adults that are able to take advantage of the opportunity that currently exists in South Africa for real positive change.
Opportunity = Desire + Occassion + Capacity

A true opportunity only exists when three elements are present. Firstly there must be the desire for change. Without desire, there is only indifference. One of the things that struck me most clearly, was the desire by the vast majority of South Africans, regardless of background, for positive change in their country.

Secondly, there needs to be the occasion for change – you have to have the right moment. Without the right moment, you experience frustration. This is the sort of frustration that led to the SOWETO uprising in June 1976. From there the occasion for change began to unfold, ultimately resulting in the fall of apartheid and the moment for change that currently exists for change in South Africa.

Finally, you must have the capacity to change. And it is this aspect that South African educators are now working on so passionately. Building the capacity, as Agile Learners, not just in the next generation, but also in the system that is educating them, to effect real change. It is a noble and honourable pursuit, and one that is reflected in different ways by educators all around the world. And I am glad to be able to make my small contribution to it. 

Thank you TSSA, and thank you South Africa, for allowing me to be a part of your journey. Your commitment to developing Agile Learners and effecting real change in your country is an example to every educator around the world that seeks to help the next generation create a better world for all future generations. 



James Anderson is a speaker, author and educator who is passionate about helping fellow educators develop students as better learners. James’ work combines Growth Mindset with Habits of Mind and Practice to create Learning Agility. He puts the growth back into Growth Mindset. And through creating and describing the Mindset Continuum, he provides the cornerstone for effective Growth Mindset interventions.

James is a Certified Speaking Professional and speaks regularly at conferences around the world. He has published several books including Succeeding with Habits of Mind, The Agile Learner, The Mindset Continuum and The Learning Landscape.

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