I had finished my talk for a group of 6th Formers the other day when one of the students approached me, her friend in tow, a nervous smile gracing her features. I grinned back - it had been a great session, with the students really engaged, and I felt that I had helped them really think about their own potential and how they could achieve their goals. The student asked me if she could ask me a question. "Of course", I said, if I could help her further in any way, I would. This was her question:
What do you do if you can't decide on a goal? I'm scared, 'cause I know I want to go into biology, but I have no idea which direction will make me happy.
I could see the fear in her eyes, the fear that she was going to let others down, fear that she would make the wrong choice, fear that she may end up living with regret. This innate fear is something that I have seen reflected in a lot of our young people, and whereas is may be expected in a 6th Former on the verge of stepping off into adulthood, it surprises me when I see it in the eyes of primary school pupils, this fear of failure, failure to chose correctly, failure to thrive, failure to please their parents, teachers, or other adults they look up to and respect. Having this fear causes issues that directly inhibit their chances for success. It can cause untold stress on the pupil, cause them to develop anxiety issues, dampen their motivation to learn and grow, and create relationship problems and trust issues.
We have to address the issues that lie behind this fear, and remind ourselves that our children's successes are a team effort. The biggest issue is the family / school / community pressure that is put on a child, from a young age, to constantly be striving to please. Remove this pressure to please and take the focus back to having a curiosity about learning, a desire to grow creatively and develop an ability to make healthy choices based on their own feelings and inclinations, and you will see a child start to create success that they want in their own lives, rather than based on what is expected of them.
So what are some of the steps you can take, as a teacher, to develop a child that has no fear of failure?
1. Encourage effort over results: Show the pupil that it is effort that is valued more than the end result. Through effort, you can encourage a development of self motivation, the ability to decide on their own goals, and the curiosity to experiment with different methods to achieve outcomes.
2. Be as neutral as possible: We all have our opinions on things and other people, but a pupil who is being told, by multiple people, what to strive for and what results they should be achieving, is only going to get confused about who they really are, what they really want, and what they want to achieve in life. It's time to step back from your opinions (for the time being) and be a listening ear. Let the pupil talk about how they are feeling, about the pressures that they feel, and let them work through what their own wishes and hopes are, without imprinting your own ideas.
3. Show some compassion: Encourage pupils to show themselves some compassion and also to recognise that to be scared or worried about something is a perfectly natural human emotion. It is more than okay to fear failure, but it is about getting behind the reasons why this child fears failure, and counteracting that with a more "growth mindset" approach to learning and living. 'growth mindset'
So what advice did I give to the 6th Former girl who was so confused and scared about setting her own goals for her adult life? I told her that she should accept the fear she feels, find a neutral, trusted adult she could talk to openly about her worries, and to trust her gut. I also told her she knows herself better then anyone, and if one path doesn't feel 100% right, then she needs to trust that that may not be the right path for her.
This article was originally posted on the RWS website - here.