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Learning from our mistakes

Our former Second Master reflects on the importance of learning from one’s mistakes...

In my 36 years at Bryanston, both as a teacher and then as Second Master, I have witnessed most mistakes that teenagers tend to make when it comes to breaking the rules. In some cases they are simply looking for ways to shock their elders, who, as each generation grows up, do become increasingly difficult to shock. Although the expression of it may change, the underlying reasons behind most acts of teenage bad behaviour and rebellion remain relatively consistent: the need to challenge societal norms and underlying expectations and also the need to assert identity and position within a world which they are only just beginning to understand. 

Therefore, the rules and regulations, boundaries and guidelines we put in place remain essential handrails for young people, to guide and support them as they find their own way from childhood to adulthood. Along the way they are likely to make mistakes, as they encounter the nuances and grey areas that exist in any society, organisation, school or family. 

It is our reaction, as parents and teachers, to those mistakes that can shape a young person’s future, not necessarily the mistake itself. Make consequences too severe and you risk obscuring any lessons learned with a feeling of injustice; too lenient and the lesson loses its impact. The important aspect is that the young person is given the chance to learn from any mistake and should change their behaviour or attitude accordingly. 

As in other schools, there are clearly defined consequences at Bryanston when rules are broken or behavioural expectations are not met. We aim to offer strong support to pupils after mistakes have been made. The main focus of the weekly tutorial is academic progress, but there is also the opportunity to discuss any concerns which may have arisen outside the classroom. This, along with the close contact between a pupil’s tutor and housemaster or housemistress, is an additional tool to help pupils learn from their mistakes. It can often also help to highlight areas of concern before they become more serious issues, and can also be a sounding board and forum for discussion. 

At the start of each academic year, the important thing that I say to staff is that pupils should have a fresh start and, in terms of perception, a line should be drawn under previous disciplinary misdemeanours. As such, it enables our pupils who have learned from their mistakes to start anew each year, without their former misdemeanours overshadowing their new approach. In this way, we hope to give pupils the best possible chance to learn from mistakes and to change their behaviour.