• Why are some children more resilient than others?
  • How can we help children to understand the difference between smart mistakes and sloppy mistakes?
  • How can we distinguish and help children understand the difference between ‘Learning-mode’ and ‘Performance-mode’?
  • How can we avoid the Little Britain ‘Lou and Andy’ situation? (children, who are perfectly capable and able to ‘have a go’ becoming so fixated on a crutch of support…)
  • How do we stop challenge being threatening?

The answer to all of these questions, I think, lies with us cultivating the absolute right culture for our children. I seem to find myself hearing the word ‘culture’ more and more – I believe that the climate and culture in any organisation that is interested in human development must be geared towards promoting resilience and encouraging the individuals to face and deal with challenge.

I’d like to share the responses that I gave during a panel session on Wednesday…

”How do we increase the tolerance and aptitudes of young people to deal with challenge?”

Tolerance: To tolerate… allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one dislikes or disagrees with) without interference.

Aptitude: a natural ability to do something.

Challenge: a task or situation that tests someone’s abilities.

Firstly, it’s important to note that young people face challenges of varying proportions and levels all the time. For some children and young people (like it is for some of us as adults!) life itself is a challenge! So before we talk about educational and academic ‘challenges’, we need to consider how we can support and develop young people to be able to cope with the complexities of ‘life’. And in my opinion, challenges in life are not going to get easier…therefore we have to address this with thought and consideration.

Through speaking to various friends in different sectors of education – formal education, sports coaching etc. and raising it for discussion in the pub over Christmas (!), there seems to be a common consensus that to help children and young people develop their own strategies for facing challenge we have to be very deliberate. It has to be planned for within our curriculum, with an awareness and understanding from all of us at all times that children and young people will not be able to learn and progress academically until their ability to not only face challenges but also get past the challenges has improved. Our duty, in my opinion, is to promote resilience and general character traits of grit and determination within their whole ‘being’ for all children. Does that make sense?

A good friend of mine who is a premier league football manager in Sweden (Swedish guy who lived in the UK for a while) said that he feels the key to us helping young people in this way is to give them hope. Hope that we can save the planet, that conflicts in the world will decrease etc. Janne feels that we need to teach children how to cooperate, have empathy, altruism etc. and generally teach and model how to be a good, decent human being in society. This is key. How do we make this happen…VALUES. Strong, solid values. The 8 Windmill values are crucial.

Other discussions have led to me receiving feedback like, “Ensuring that all children and young people have measurable, achievable goals and a clear understanding of the direction of travel and what we, together, want them to achieve.” This was from a MD of an electronics company in Wales!

Another friend of mine commented…

“I would say that the biggest thing I’ve learned is to facilitate environments that promote struggle. Something I learnt from experience is that coaches/teachers step in at the first sign of struggle from good intention. By doing that though they make the default reaction for the child to look for support and help.

I’ve tried to move towards explaining what the players/young people are looking to achieve in the session. Then allow them to have attempts at doing it. If there is struggle, work with them to think about how the attempt went in the moment, then either using team mates or groups think of ways that improvement could take place. This develops ownership, empowerment and collaboration.

Most importantly is to encourage players/young people not to give up and praise their determination when overcoming struggle, reminding them that it might take time to solve the problem but they will never overcome problems if they give up.”

David Ripley, Head Coach of Northants County Cricket Club, said…

”A safe to fail environment is one we use with our academy lads – they know where they are heading and it may be tough, but falling short is ok – as long as you plan for supported review and then off you go again.”

Another viewpoint…(this is my Ollie’s football coach and I think I am a bit in love with him…!)

“Firstly I’d ask what’s challenge and how you define this?
All young people are unique with different characteristics, personalities, things making them tick, the way they like to be treated. Ultimately I’d say invest time in the young person getting to know them, understand them and them me, then you can answer the bigger question.

I would say that within the challenge there are milestones or mini SMART objectives. As you embark on the journey of the challenge, note that there will be peaks & troughs along the way. Celebrate the peaks and ensure lessons are learned during the troughs.

I think you learn more about people when they are going through a trough; are they resilient, can they keep focused, work hard to get through or do they give up? If the latter, re-emphasise the positives to date and work with them to pull through and overcome the current hurdle.”

Finally, I put this question to a top football manager in this country…

“I could spend a long while with that. I think the key to facing challenges is the leaders’/teachers’ mentality to failure. I think that a teachers/leaders response to mistakes and the value of the learning potential following a mistake is key. We have to be brave not to react on the mistake or problem but focus on the next action and the solution. Facing challenges is normally about trying, failing, adapting and then improving. Focusing on the process that in facing challenges builds a positive focus to the challenges…”

So, for me the key messages are that we have to deliberately plan to develop young people’s resilience to challenge and we have to allow (though teaching and modelling) children to realise that it’s ok to make a mistake and get something wrong. Set up opportunities, deliberately, where young people will be challenged.

If you’re still reading now….thank you for your time

Matt Coleman

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