An education worth having must include the development of values and character traits. This is something that Guildford Grammar School has always focused on, with the School values and student care and wellbeing at the core of everything we do.
Character traits that are widely talked about are resilience and grit and whether they are innate in people or something that you can teach. I believe this is something we can guide the development of through the experiences we offer students and the type of support we provide when things are tough or don’t work out as planned.
Many highly successful people regularly talk about their failures and how it was through reflection and learning from failure that their success grew. As empathetic humans we often instinctively want to protect children and young adults from the pain and hurt of failure, but we shouldn’t shy away from students feeling these feelings, and in many ways must embrace being present in the moment of failure and truly feeling those emotions. It is through supporting students to work through these emotions, being a shoulder to cry on, and helping plan the next steps, we can help them build resilience.
Students need to fail and learn how to manage their emotional response to failure as well as develop their positive risk-taking skills so that they are not afraid of failing. Resilience is a core element of both social emotional development as well as academic progress. How do you cope when you have an argument with a friend, or when a peer socially excludes you, and what do you do when you get the answer wrong or don’t succeed the first time you attempt the harder course or project?
Learning to take positive risks starts at a very young age. Babies learning to walk are incredibly resilient. Just ponder how many times they fall before they finally get up and walk. And how much they wobble and fall once again even after their early successes. Academic and social learning is no different. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone fails at times and everyone falls down, but what counts is how you get back up and try again. If the baby never took a risk by trying to stand up they would have never succeeded and felt the joy of first walking and then running. If a student doesn’t take that risk and challenge themselves to strive for personal excellence, they often miss out on feeling the joy of success later on.
One of my favourite books is ‘The Blessings of Skinned Knee’ by Dr Wendy Mogel who dedicates a chapter to fearfulness in children and the intense overprotectiveness of some parents that hold their child back from developing and maturing. While no parent wants to think too much about the time their child will leave home to follow their own path, Dr Mogel says that “our job is to raise our children to leave us” and I believe it is the School’s job to work together with parents on this journey. Together we should support and encourage students, while at the same time help them, often by letting them fail, to develop independence, values and character to deal with what life throws at them, knowing they can get back up again when they fall down. We must of course also help them to know it is okay to ask for help, no matter how old or successful, and that there is always a community of people ready to support them, just not necessarily do the job for them.
So how does all of this relate to an education worth having? It is the variety of opportunities and co-curricular options that we offer as a school where unique learning experiences present themselves. It is the outdoor education program where students take physical risks, overcome fears and often need multiple attempts at tasks to achieve success. It is the love and care we show students so that they do not back away from their feelings of disappointment and have a shoulder to cry on if needed. It is the conversation that helps them see that these feeling can spur them on to keep working hard and try again. It is the way teaching and learning programs are designed to push and challenge students and ensure things are not too hard, but that every student, no matter their ability, experiences what it is like to get the answer wrong and have to try again to find the solution.
Resilience and grit are lifelong skills that parents and schools can work together on to support student development, so that when they graduate or leave home, they can embrace challenges and never stop striving for personal excellence.
Find out more about our teaching and learning philosophy in the Preparatory School by downloading our Prospectus.
Dr Holly Miller
Deputy Head of Preparatory School
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