Fear of failure is not just an adolescent trait, but a human one.
I have long been sensitive to the ‘emotional journey’ of students, ever conscious of the impact that success and failure has on the self-esteem and emotions of young people. And it is fair to say that schools deliver opportunities for elation and disappointment on a daily basis – be it in the classroom or on the sports field or other settings, including social ones.
In deciphering what makes ‘children succeed’, author Paul Tough tackles the intangible topic – and possibly the immeasurable nature – of character. He presents the view that the best way for a young person to develop character is to attempt something where there is a real and serious possibility of failure. I am confident that most of us – parents and/or educators – would accept this idea, but I am not sure how many (of us) as parents are really comfortable with allowing our son’s self-efficacy or esteem to be put under any real pressure or stress.
In his book, How Children Succeed, Tough (aptly named) offers this inspiration:
“The teenage years are difficult for almost every child, and for children growing up in adversity, adolescence can often mark a terrible turning point, the moment when early wounds produce bad decisions, and bad decisions produce devastating results. But teenagers also have the ability – or at least the potential – to rethink and remake their lives in a way that younger children do not. Adolescence can be a time for a different kind of turning point, the profoundest sort of transformation: the moment when a young person manages to turn [himself] away from near-certain failure and begins to steer a course towards success.”
We have students in our community, of course, who have grown up in adversity, and who we are supporting accordingly; and we have students who emerge from adolescence, strengthened by their failures, with a maturity and sense of responsibility that lights their way.
As a parent, the author’s words inspire hope; as an educator, the text instills in me a responsibility to deliver the environment where such transformation is possible for every student.
From my perspective, the school term has started well and is tracking along nicely. Students have settled into their familiar routine; Community Day and the Mother and Son breakfast were both heart-warming events; and there have been various celebrations of collective achievements already, in music, sport and outdoor education. There have no doubt been some failures too – and this is okay.
Please be assured that we are alongside you in support of your son through the daily challenges he encounters. Allow me to reaffirm that we are set up to support in this regard, and we send strong and consistent messages to students (and families) to reach out for support wherever it is needed. There is character in this too, of course, and tangibly so.
Please continue to keep me updated with feedback on your son’s experience at St Peter’s College.
Deputy Headmaster/Head of Senior School