It’s almost the end of the school year and soon we will receive our boy’s end of year report card. One boy has just finished Year 7,and also completed NAPLAN this year. Our youngest is finishing Year 6. Usually their school reports are wonderful and we celebrate that, but this year I am secretly hoping to see an ‘F’ …
My boys are very lucky to have school teachers who take time to care for them as individuals. This year I have trusted these people to help maintain my boy’s self esteem when they have doubted themselves, to show them ways of thinking they would never have discovered on their own and to speak up when they need my assistance on their educational journey. I’m so grateful for the special people who have cared so well for my boys this year. However, as an educational system it just doesn’t do enough. We need to start talking about the value of failure to our young people.
If my boys bring home a report card with a big fat F on it, I’ll be a happy mum, because I want them to know…
1. If they tried their best, that’s good enough for me. We can never do more than our best at any given moment, so there is no point pushing for more. In reality, the only person they need to impress is themselves. I want them to learn to trust their instincts – to be self directed rather than pushed.
2. If they didn’t try their best, that’s also good enough for me. This is the best realisation of all! Suddenly, in this very second my child has a chance to learn the value of reflection.To stop, check in with their feelings, decide if they are comfortable with them or if they make them squirm. At any given moment in time we have a choice and if I can heighten my sense of self I can also better exercise the choices I will make in life because I am aware of my own reactions.
3. It’s okay to be upset, but only if it is for yourself. I want our boys to know that they are loved unconditionally. I want them to see in my face, in my gestures and in my words that a mark on a piece of paper doesn’t change that. I’d like to see a world where kids who fail don’t think “dad/mum/pop/sis are going to kill me when they see this report”. Being annoyed at themselves for decisions made is fine, but don’t be upset because someone else is about to impose their judgement on your actions. To be shackled to behaviours because we seek the approval (or love) of others is not a life fulfilled.
4.Failure is an important part of succeeding. No, not because it toughens us up or because it makes the good times seem better, but because it is inevitable, and importantly, survivable. Situations aren’t good or bad, they simply are – it’s our choice about how we react to it. In fact, it’s the people who accept failure that go on to change the world – Steve Jobs thrown out of Apple, Jim Carrey was homeless, Steven Spielberg was not accepted into university, Dick Smith’s first business was a failure. It took me a long time into my adult life to realise that failure in life doesn’t mean failure as a person and I hope my children can learn this lesson much earlier because they will be better world citizens for it. If they can embrace failure they will be unstoppable.
5. Choices don’t begin and end while we are a school – they are eternal. The HSC is looming out there in the distance and I hope my children are experts at failure by the time they complete their school years. Increasingly HSC students have recorded mental health issues during their final year, and all for an expectation that may, in fact, be irrelevant throughout their lifetime. One thing the educational system has done well here in Australia is to make education available to all ages across all industries. By the time my boys are in the workplace they are likely to have at least four different career paths, and may very well be self employed regardless. If they truly understand that life is what they make it then they will know the same is true for learning – you can embrace it at 18 or return to it at 55…it’s all a matter of choice, and if you want it enough it is there for the taking.
You might think I have created total anarchy at my place when it comes to school work. That’s far from the truth! It’s worth remembering that my views on failure for my children don’t happen in isolation. I welcome success too and the lessons that help achieve it. Life lessons about failure are simply one square in their patchwork life quilt – it’s only effective when sewn in with other lessons to create something that covers the whole person.
Also, I’m not a perfect teacher. I was quite results driven until only recently, and believed traditional education was essential to success in life. The past few years have taught me there’s more to it than that, and I’m grateful to still have the chance to share that with my boys while they are still young. Time to complete my own report card…