Little successes build resilience
The other day in the hotel where my English Language exam training was taking place, a young family caught my attention. The group consisted of a mother and 3 boys, 2 aged roughly between eight and ten years old, and the other much younger at four. As they were leaving the hotel all three boys were desperate to go through the revolving door. Their excitement was palpable. The two older boys charged ahead, smiles beaming from ear to ear, but the mother was reluctant for the little one to go through with them, preferring to take the side door. She was clearly a caring mother as evidenced by the warmth in the way she spoke to the boy explaining that she was afraid he might get stuck, and to his credit, the young boy didn’t complain. But what I took from this seemingly innocuous moment was that an opportunity was missed to provide the child with a chance to achieve a small success.
There existed an opportunity for the child to have gone through the doors with either some assistance or some instruction, so that he could have come out the other side with a feelings of contentment, achievement and success. Of course there’s probably about a thousand reasons why the mother didn’t facilitate this on this occasion, and as I stated, she was clearly a loving parent and I in no way mean to disrespect her in describing this situation (I too have been there with three children under the age of six), but it really got me thinking that it is in these types of moments that children build confidence and resilience. It is these little opportunities for successes repeated over and over through an entire childhood that have a significant influence on the amount of resilience and ability we have to persevere in tasks. It was clear from his calm reaction that the young child above had already had access to many little successes and would have many more in the future, but it’s really important to note that some, if not many children we teach, unfortunately come from far less supportive family contexts, and as such, find themselves inevitably hundreds of little successes in the red in comparison. The result is that when the going gets tough, many of these students are not tough enough to get going.
As teachers we need to identify this, and rebuild. We need to rebuild the self-esteem, the capacity to persevere, and we can’t do it by simply putting some posters on the wall or telling the students to study harder or forcing/punishing them to be more resilient. We need to provide differentiation so that these students can slowly catch up their success tally, and we need to be patient but also wise enough to realise that we may need to go back to basics in some areas of the learning to facilitate achievement, even when curricula are demanding full steam ahead. There’s really no point in trying to proceed anyway if there are gaps in the learning, as errors only compound on themselves.
The real benefit of such a consideration is that there are few better motivators than success, so if we concentrate our efforts on providing realistic opportunities to achieve, students will eventually acquire the confidence and capacity to tackle more difficult and challenging learning, and engage with curriculum and indeed life as we would hope.