“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”
You can always rely on Winston Churchill for good lines about success, failure, risk taking, courage and, as an aside, a whole manner of ideas that may well be less valuable to learn. However, I have always loved this quote. It speaks of the fact that it is impossible to move forward without facing challenge; it actually implies that failure should be embraced.
The broad themes for assemblies this term have been about facing obstacles, coping with failure, new beginnings and moving forward. Mr Bassett, referencing the uplifting Greatest Showman track “From Now On”, asked the students to push past what might have happened previously and put a best foot forward. Miss Skerten guided the pupils to reflect on Mindset. Relating to the work of the esteemed Psychologist Carol Dweck, the Deputy Head pointed students towards seeing what is possible rather than seeing the barriers to achieving goals. Dweck says that when you say the words “I can’t”, by simply adding the word “yet” it is possible to start a more positive conversation. Dweck calls this a Growth Mind set.
The challenge of new beginnings and changing mind set is overcoming the tendency to look for information that confirms your beliefs about yourself and, indeed, others. Particularly when confidence is low, you are more likely to find the barriers to limit yourself. You are also likely to make judgements about others that might be unfair or unkind – to make assumptions that impede access to opportunities. It is all too easy to set in motion a self-fulfilling downward spiral where failure or opposition is seen as a permanent condition.
Mr Pullin, in his assembly, drew attention to this issue of bias, specifically confirmation bias, and the inescapable difficulty in seeing the world through different eyes – especially when that bias is a negative one. Our role as teachers and educators is to go beyond the superficial learning required to get young people past the hurdle of examinations. We have a responsibility to equip for life beyond school. Deeper education involves the ability to analyse context, to reflect, to think, to be resilient to challenges and in turn to make decisions that have positive outcomes. This is far easier said than done; overcoming confirmation bias requires deliberate action and a toolkit. If young people are to cope with challenge (specifically with the “failure” to which Churchill refers) it is essential schools provide a framework for using feedback to make better decisions.
There is a large body of educational literature that considers ways of educating about coping with failure and developing resilience. The school, as with all practice, continues to explore methods and ideas. In our 450th year however it is clear that there is an ongoing guiding approach to all that we do. Firstly, we ask pupils to participate with others – in so doing they are exposed to alternative views and new ideas – this facilitates adaptability; this helps young people to recognise the power of difference and the possibilities created. Secondly, the school encourages our students to reach beyond their grasp and take risks – we create situations that show what is possible simply by trying. And finally, we provide a safe environment in which we nurture the positive dispositions, values and attitudes that allow students to have an inner confidence and a positive sense of self.
“Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success. I’ve met people who don’t want to try for fear of failing.” – J.K. Rowling
I will write in the coming months in this blog about the practice of teaching and the skill of learning. I write to encourage wider engagement with how Burford School and the professionals within it support students to flourish beyond the gates. If you would like to participate actively in this dialogue, please do get in touch via email@example.com.