Young women must be encouraged to take risks without fear of failing or being judged, according to a leading headmistress.
Charlotte Avery, president of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA), suggests that pupils should be taught to have the courage to test out their ideas, to help them become more resilient.
In her speech to the GSA’s annual conference in Manchester, Avery also warns that in today’s technology-driven world, youngsters have “less childhood and more adolescence” and suggests it is “futile” to debate banning or supervision of their smartphones.
Avery, who is also headmistress of St Mary’s School, a private girls’ school in Cambridge, says school leaders have an important role in empowering young people to reach their potential and take their place in rapidly changing societies.
“Education should provide young people with the critical tools to examine their and our most cherished beliefs, and to challenge orthodoxy when it no longer provides sustainable frameworks for the lives we are living today,” she says.
“It should give us the courage and confidence to rethink our values and our goals, acknowledge the inevitability of change, and celebrate life as a work in progress.”
She will tell GSA members that students should be encouraged to develop resilience, or “grit”.
“Grit comprises three core qualities: having the courage to face failure; facing down fear of failure; and developing the resilience to bounce back from the disappointments which are an inevitable part of life. I was intrigued to learn that there is a medical term – atychiphobia – for fear of failure.
“The condition is characterised by a pathological aversion to risk, and its symptoms include anxiety, mental blocks and inhibitions, and perfectionism.”
She adds: “But how can we help our students overcome the condition?
“We must encourage them to take intellectual risks gradually in the supportive environments of our schools, habituating them to having the courage to test out imperfectly formed ideas in a non-judgmental context.
“Courage develops with practice and with repetition. Developing courage counteracts atychiphobia.”