'Children who lack resilience have never learned the value of failure'

Posted on: 23 Jan 2019
Posted by: Bryan Padrick

Bryan Padrick, vice principal and director of studies at LVS Ascot, discusses why his school views resilience as a fundamental requirement for human progress and success.

A new educational buzzword has appeared – ‘resilience’ – and I fear it will suffer the common, expected fate of all buzzwords: here today, gone tomorrow, replaced with the latest educational focus/fad. However, resilience is not a mere fad, a box to tick on the way to earning an ‘excellent’ or ‘outstanding’ or whatever the next superior grading mark from ISI or Ofsted might be. Resilience is not equivalent to raising self-esteem, identifying trigger warnings or arranging beanbags kinaesthetically during quiet reading time. No. Resilience is far more: resilience is a fundamental requirement for human progress and success. And if that claim appears a bit grand, I challenge anyone to dispute the fact that without the ability to bounce back from adversity, to learn from mistakes – without the sense of robustness these lessons instil – at the very least human history would look a lot … different.

In many ways, it is a shame resilience has had to become an educational buzzword for its necessity to be recognised; as recently as a decade or so ago it was just a part of life. Fell off your bike? You shed a few tears, but climbed back on. Argued with your friends? You sorted the issue or got new ones. Failed a maths exam? Hopefully you learned from your mistakes and improved next time. Didn’t improve? Well, maybe maths wasn’t for you. However, for a number of – mostly well-intentioned – reasons, this capacity has been gradually educated out of students – and their parents. A fear of upsetting someone’s self-esteem or appearing to be too critical, coupled with the desire to wrap children in metaphorical cotton wool to prevent them from needing to bounce back in the first place has produced a generation of students who lack resilience because they’ve never learned the value of failure – because they’ve never been allowed to fail.

Resilience is intimately connected to failure – and for the former to be present, the latter must be allowed and even encouraged. This is where resilience encounters one of its greatest challenges: schools – and parents – who refuse to allow their students and children to fail, to slip and fall, to make mistakes – to, in short, experience the very conditions which enable resilience to flourish. No longer learned through experience, resilience must be taught – and to do that, one must be allowed – encouraged, even – to take risks.

Now, as I explained in a recent assembly, this encouragement to take risks is not permission to do stupid things: there is nothing positive about drink driving, taking dangerous drugs or attempting to shoot an apple off your best friend’s head with an air rifle. But it doesn’t take long to find examples of risk takers (thank you, BBC2 Icons) without whom our world would be a far less colourful and exciting place – a world without whom comfortable satisfaction with the status quo is preferable to challenging ourselves to progress, improve and change.

At LVS Ascot, we have convened a working party composed of subject teachers, department heads, pastoral staff and students to address these issues and identify ways to educate resilience back into children. The whole-school, cross-curricular nature of the party is integral to its success: the teaching staff cannot insist on positive failure if the pastoral staff are not supportive, and the students need to understand the advantages of being pushed suddenly outside their comfort zones. The initial challenge has been identifying the need to address our own difficult relationships with this topic. As educators we have been lulled into discouraging risk-taking and failure and by doing so have diminished resilience – in both our students and ourselves – sometimes without even knowing it. Disagree? Ask yourself about those break time conversations that inevitably include someone’s confession that – though they had been allowed to do X, Y or Z as a child – because of the state of the world today, they would never let their children to do the same.

Whether changes in the state of the world are real or perceived is a topic for another time, but the point I am making is simple: addressing the issues preventing resilience requires a cultural shift amongst the staff, students and parents. It is a challenge and a risk, certainly, but one we must be willing to take – one we must be willing to model. There should be no illusion that it is going to be easy – but if there is one lesson we can already apply from resilience, worthy outcomes rarely are. To be continued.

About Bryan Padrick

Bryan Padrick is vice principal and director of studies at LVS Ascot.