For anyone who has not read my personal story, I think I have some insight into the potential for life to throw things at you. I am also well aware that some people have had greater things to cope with than me. For all the challenges I am content with my lot.
Life offers challenges, opportunities, experiences at different levels to each and every one of us, unless we live in a self-contained bubble and don’t participate. It is something of a truism that children today don’t enjoy the same freedoms which my generation did, to explore the surrounding area without worry, to play together, or climb trees, until caught, in a local recreation ground. I walked the couple of kilometres or so to school aged 5, crossing roads by myself. These experiences developed personal capabilities and a certain amount of self-reliance.
If children are not able to experience the world through their own eyes and through their own decisions, but have to rely on an adult to make the decisions for them, they are somewhat disabled in their growing experiences. We want our children to be safe and secure and I do remember the first time my own children went off on their own into town, a kilometre away, in the days before mobile phones. That they went, got back safely and wanted to talk about what they had done in the interim was a rite of passage. Their confidence raised our confidence as parents. They had demonstrated their capability and independence in decision making.
Because, in reality, grit, determination and resilience are internalised, personal to each and every one of us. Some have more than others. This can be our ability to tolerate discomfort or pain, in different forms, mental or physical. We sometimes don’t know what we can endure until we are tested.
Independent decision making is a part of this process; making appropriate choices when faced with a problem. Working together as a team can sometimes be problematic, but success can be as a result of collaboration. Life is after all a glorified team work exercise. Getting on with someone can be testing, at times.
Thinking back to my active teaching days, which extended through headship, my aim was always to develop independent learners, with decision-making an integral part of as many learning challenges as possible. My classroom, set up as a “learning workshop” enabled an instruction such as “Make a picture to represent autumn” would allow the children choices of materials, composition and the direction of their working together, as they always made such pictures in twos or threes, so decisions were corporate. Other subjects were treated in the same way. As someone is likely to be asking if teaching occurred, the answer is a resounding yes, with the tasking checking that the teaching had been embedded, and remediated within the task as necessary.
Children will not become resilient through lessons, which are likely to become exhortations to effort. Making learning challenges such that effort is needed, over time, so that grit, resilience and decisions are in-built, might just offer a greater chance of success.
Then again, life might already have given some of the children their life-time’s quota of resilience. Imagine a refugee child, who has had to flee conflict. School does not often mirror real life, so is not always a preparation for those things that will be encountered.
You just need to know them well, challenge them appropriately and support, guide and mentor to need.