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It is ok when things go wrong

Former Second Master, Peter Hardy, shares his thoughts on how making mistakes can help to build emotional resilience.

According to Professor Richard Williams of the University of South Wales, “Emotional resilience measures our ability to cope with or adapt to stressful situations or crises” and these stressful situations can also include exams. At the moment pupils across the country are sitting important GCSE and A level exams and, for some, it is not necessarily the subject matter that will cause them an issue, but the general fear of getting something wrong. 

Part of our role as teachers in preparing pupils for life outside school is to help them develop the right attitude and resilience to cope with the stress that comes with exams and, indeed, the many stressful situations they will find themselves in in later life. We need to help young people understand that it is OK when things go wrong. Too often the fear of getting something wrong prevents us from even making an attempt. Yes, there will be consequences, but knowing how to deal with those consequences and learn from mistakes is, to my mind, a key part of any education.

Providing plenty of opportunities for pupils to stretch themselves and leave their comfort zone allows them to learn how to make mistakes and take responsibility for their own success. Extra-curricular activities can play a vital part in this: whether it’s the Outdoor Adventure trip to Skern Lodge in the C year, participating in the Duke of Edinburgh Award, competing for the first team, giving an assembly to the rest of the school or taking part in the D Show, each pupil at Bryanston will eventually find themselves in a situation they are not used to and will, inevitably, make a mistake at some point. These experiences can be just as educational as a classroom task, if approached in the right way and with the right support, giving pupils greater insight into themselves and a better sense of self awareness.

According to research by Dr Suzanne Kobasa, resilient people view a difficulty as a challenge, not as a paralysing event and they spend their time and energy focusing on situations and events they have control over. The importance, therefore, of helping pupils to develop a sense of self awareness and learn how to identify where their efforts can have the most impact is essential to helping them feel in control and able to face challenges that arise. The tutorial system at Bryanston is intended to do just that. Through weekly one-to-one sessions the tutor encourages the pupil to reflect on their progress so far, where they worked well and where they need to focus their energy to improve: it is about teaching pupils to focus and direct their efforts where they can make a difference, rather than worrying about the things over which they have no control. Something we should all, perhaps, ensure we remember in our own endeavours.