The spark of this blog came to me after an interesting week of obstacles. It seems that my teaching year demonstrates a certain rhythm to it; the beginning of the year is focused upon displaying your boundaries, developing relationships and choosing your battles in what feels relatively similar to that of a chess match in order to get the best out of the individuals in front of you. The second part of the term, I always encounter a battle of a different kind- the I Cants.
The students that I refer to are the ones that finished the previous year on a high. Their achievements were impressive on both a personal and school-wide level, their successes were celebrated in public and they left for the Summer with a well-earned and undeniable sense of pride and fulfilment. However, starting a new year with new challenges results in a feeling that they have not experienced in a time that they remember because the experience does not happen as frequently as their sense of achievement. I am referring to the concept of I can’t; this is the state of being where the student is unable to visualise the completion or success achievement of a task coupled with an inability to liken the sensation to another experience that they have had.
This is not the case, of course- they have reached obstacles (and overcome several) since they were born and during their educational journey. So why is it that these students seem to demonstrate the most resilience to believing that the can do the same with a new challenge, in a new situation?
The students are no stranger to Growth Mindset- they have carried out intervention sessions with our Most Able Coordinator, they are motivated by the very feeling of achievement itself, often with very other incentive because they can quickly recollect the emotions that come with success. They are intelligent, independent learners that will challenge, inspire and even compete with one another with regards to their learning. Consequently, I am always surprised when this point of the academic year arrives and I find that students experience a significant dip in self-belief that presents itself (in my experience) through either anger, anxiety or distress.
My opinion? That perhaps in the journey to success for these students, they have spent somewhat less time in developing their resilience to failure. Angela Duckworth outlines that the top players in their field are those that have worked hardest for longest, but also those that have additionally experienced failure along the way. In order to truly feel embodied by a sense of triumph, a student must be exposed to the reality of failure first. Now, there seems to be a very fine balance between managing a child through the psychological tightrope of success/failure ratio as a teacher. This must be personalised to the child’s own experience of resilience and developing that is incredibly difficult. You cannot simply tell someone that they need to be not so good at something in order to be good at it. You cannot merely outline the journey of learning- they need to not only be able to cope with the scenario, but also believe for themselves in 1)the necessity for failure but also that 2) it is temporary and that every student will go through a similar journey as their own.
This leads me to the speculation that whilst we challenge and motivate children so that they understand the importance and practical measurement of success, we are not preparing them for the emotions that they must experience or develop a certain level of flexibility to understand how to manage their emotions along the way, particularly with more able students. Additional support appears to be lacking for this group of students because of their ability to perform academically, however, I’m not sure that this means that they are at the same level to be able to ‘perform’ in response to their own mental wellbeing.
I will finish with this; a strong mental state is one of the most important factors that a child can develop during their education because with such an asset as this, the rest will follow. Flair and talent is inconsistent- hard work, application and a positive mindset to tackle and improve would always be my first choice. And so how are we equipping children with this level of self-awareness? If their mindset is one of the more vital factors that we have a significant chance to contribute to, how do we ensure that we develop strong, perseverant learners?