A recently- published study carried out by researchers at the University of Edinburgh suggests that personality, and personal qualities which have previously been considered to be relatively stable throughout life are more fluid than expected.
The researchers studied individuals over a 60 year period and found that personal qualities such as self-confidence, perseverance, originality and desire to learn changed throughout a lifetime and that the combined sum of these incremental changes could be a significant change in personality over time.
Should we be surprised by this finding? Some may be, but I have never been convinced of the fixed nature of such personal traits. Some of this comes from meeting former students- those who have perhaps been reticent at school, but who seem to have re-invented themselves in the intervening years. Similarly for the student who suddenly finds their ‘thing’ whilst still at school and doesn’t just blossom, but explodes with enthusiasm and confidence. At 18 years old, if I had been told of my future career as a teacher and that I would be standing up in front of large (and occasionally hostile) audiences on a regular basis, I would have laughed-weakly- and assumed they were referring to someone else. I’m acutely aware that I am not the person I was when I collected my A level results.
I don’t believe that schools turn out a ‘finished product’ by any means. Our leavers are not yet the people they will become, because they have their whole lives ahead of them and every experience and relationship they have will help shape their personality. Not all will be positive, but that’s life for you. The things we do whilst they are with us should not just be about ensuring students are getting the necessary pieces of paper to move onto the next stage, but also about helping them to understand that they will grow to become different people whilst at school and beyond.
A little like the old adage that you only learn to drive after you have passed your test, perhaps this research proves that we really are the sum of our experiences.