“If you fail, never give up because F.A.I.L. means ‘first attempt in learning’; End is not the end, in fact, E.N.D. means “Effort Never Dies’…”

This quote is attributed to Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, India’s 11th President. He was a world-renowned aerospace scientist who helped to establish India’s leading space program, including the development of India’s Satellite Launch Vehicle. He is considered one of India’s most popular presidents, especially among students, because he encouraged them to take an active interest in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).

At this point in the year, many students are utterly exhausted. For most, term 2 was a frantic scramble, managing overlapping due dates and preparing several assessments at the same time. Outside of school, students managed dance eisteddfods, martial arts gradings, soccer and netball seasons, music exams, and birthday parties. Our kids are busy!

Students, in particular those with perfectionistic tendencies, share common sense of dread as they anticipate half-yearly reports. Questions swirl around their mind:

  • Have I improved on last year’s marks?
  • Have I done enough to score an A?
  • What’s my ranking?
  • Have I… failed?

Even laid-back students wonder at some point: ‘What will mum and dad think?’ and ‘What will this mean for my future?’

Much of this anxiety is a result of our cultural aversion to failure. While the language of success can be a great motivator, it can also imply that “Failure is not an option” (a quote attributed to Gene Kranz, the American engineer who directed the safe return of the Apollo 13 flight crew).

Photo by Sieuwert Otterloo on Unsplash

Both of these space experts seem to have opposing perspectives on failure, but I’d say that they both highlight the values of perseverance and resilience. For Dr. Kalam, failure is synonymous with experimentation, and as all scientists and entrepreneurs know, experimentation is the foundation of innovation. To innovate, we need to bounce back after failure and learn from our mistakes. Likewise, Kranz suggests that failure is not an option because there is no such thing as failure; there is only determined perseverance.

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

Perseverance and resilience are the hallmarks of a growth mindset: they help students to see mistakes as stepping stones to success.

The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset which views fixed markers like grades as good or bad, without acknowledging improvements in skill and knowledge that aren’t measured in formal assessments. This is a very demotivating outlook because it sees learning as all or nothing, and anything less than perfect isn’t good enough.

To develop a growth mindset, we need to focus more on the process than we focus on the outcome. That’s not to say that grades don’t matter, but when we emphasise the long-haul journey of school education as part of life-long learning, successful outcomes take care of themselves.

So how do we calm our children’s anxiety and foster a growth mindset at school and at home?

1. Model Persistence

Children learn to react to failure and disappointment by imitating the way those around them cope with challenges. As part of your child’s learning team, it’s good to talk openly when you have a rough day or when you’ve made a mistake to demonstrate that it’s okay to experience emotions such as anger, frustration and guilt after failure. Modelling a mindful acceptance of your emotions shows your child how to persevere and be resilient through disappointments and challenges.

2. Observe

While your child is doing homework, intentionally look for positive behaviours such as focus, asking questions, creativity, problem-solving and persistence, and praise their efforts. Acknowledging and encouraging  specific behaviours shows students that success is about more than grades. By reflecting together on their processes, what they’ve learned and how they’re strengthening their skills, they’ll see that learning is a rewarding journey.

3. Ask, Don’t Tell

Ask your child questions to help them reflect on their own progress. You could ask:

  • How did you solve this problem?
  • What was the most interesting aspect of that project?
  • What are you communicating though this piece?
  • How did you reach that idea?
  • Why do you think this happened?

There is rarely only one correct way to do something, and in many subjects, especially more subjective subjects like English, History and Art, there is more than one correct answer.

Asking questions helps students to develop the self-reflection skills and problem-solving skills necessary to become independent learners. It also gives them the creative freedom to develop a method of working out Math problems or researching assignments that suits their unique personality and learning style.

Of course, if they’re totally stuck, you can make suggestions or tell them the answer and describe how you got there so they can grow in understanding. Just give them a chance to work it out first.

4. Create Safe Spaces

It’s tempting to want to insulate our children from failure, but it’s important to allow them to make their own choices and experience mistakes.

You can create an emotionally safe space for learning and experimenting at home where mistakes are seen as steps to success. By letting failure happen, even inconsequential failures like missing a shot in basketball or forgetting to add eggs to the cake batter, can help your child to learn vital problem-solving and self-regulation skills that will empower them to be resilient learners in the classroom and beyond.

Tutor with young boy

Photo by Adam Winger on Unsplash

5. The Importance of Time

Allow plenty of time for trial and error. It’s important to start assignments, homework and exam revision early, when the notification is given, to allow time for experimentation and learning from mistakes. When a student feels like they’re under too much time pressure, they’re likely to become apathetic or to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms, neither of which helps them to learn or enjoy learning. Drafting, feedback and revision takes time, but will result in success, and they’ll grow to be intrinsically motivated, proactive learners.

How can a tutor help?

As we’ve seen, failure isn’t a bad thing. In fact, failure is necessary to success. After all, how can you know what works until you know what doesn’t work?

A tutor’s role is to support and guide your child’s learning, rather than to do for them what they need to learn to do for themselves. Tutors are uniquely placed to give your child the individual attention they need, which a busy classroom doesn’t often afford.

Tutors demonstrate methods and explain concepts practically, at the student’s own pace, and they notice and praise improvement regularly. With this encouragement, students learn to explore new ideas and innovative strategies, and fail with confidence knowing that they have the proven skill and capacity to be resourceful and resilient.

If your child is struggling at school or disappointed with their half-yearly report, let Nepean Tutoring help. Even if you’ve got a HSC student heading into trial exams, it’s not too late to start tutoring. Contact Us today for a free consultation and to learn how our exclusive tutor-matching process can help your child transform failure into success..


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