Ah, December approaches. That most interesting of months in the school year. Projects are coming due, special seasonal events (…are there any this year?!) fill the calendar and, to top it off, the days are getting shorter. How can any student, parent or teacher be expected to fit everything in during a month when the street lights are telling us we should all be tucked in at home? As educators, we are aware of the demands on the time of our students and their families during this busy month – especially under the current COVID realities. Even getting milk at the grocery store may mean long lines this month! However, if we stick together, we can even enjoy the frenetic pace of the waning weeks of 2020. After all, time pressures and busy schedules can be the perfect testing ground for our ability to achieve balance without sacrificing rigor; for building skills of adaptability and flexibility without becoming lax; and for developing “grit” without opting to throw in the towel.
While perseverance and resilience are the twin sisters of success, the twin sins that impede their development are micromanagement and control. Today, we live in a culture in which most aspects of children’s social lives and school lives are, to a great degree, micromanaged. “Stop swinging from there. It’s too high!”, “Pack your bag this way”, “Let me finish that homework for you”, “Let me contact your teacher about that quiz result”, “What did Billy say to you today? What kind of a voice did he use?”. We are all guilty of some mild forms of micromanagement from time to time, but the majority of adults working with children (parents and teachers) can recognize when being helpful or emotionally available to a child becomes directive, controlling, and ultimately unhelpful. A study from North Carolina State University found that children of super attentive parents and teachers were far less likely to engage in spontaneous social interaction and manage conflict. They also missed out on some much-needed exercise. They learned to become overly dependent and risk-averse in some interesting ways.
Something parents and teachers share in common is a commitment to ensuring that meaningful learning occurs for our children and students. Social learning, academic learning, physical learning, and emotional learning. All of these are essential to living a full life and, as adults, we can see their inherent value. However, our children will never learn the most important lessons without some leeway to “get messy and make mistakes”. Take the playground, for example. Some freedom to experiment on climbing apparatus is necessary if a child is to have sufficient practice to be able to make calculated risks (“If I jump from here to there, will I be successful or will I land on my backside?”, “If I spend too much time on this task, will I be able to complete that much more important task?”). For resilience to become a true possession, we must all look for ways to make space for trial and error, success and failure, comfort and discomfort. Having the opportunity to learn from our mistakes without the feeling that all is lost is a most important – maybe the most important – lesson we can provide our students and children.
If the first time we are ever allowed to experience failure is at age 21 or 45, we will be at a terrible disadvantage in our studies, our work, and our personal lives. We should never grow blasé in the face of failure, but when the stakes are low (…as they so often are during the elementary years), we should embrace those moments of non-catastrophic failure and learn from them. Being able to pick oneself up after low moments is probably the most important skill a child can learn – or an adult! Perseverance and resilience. Grit. Character. No one ever developed any of these by being micromanaged.
Ric Anderson, Head of School