THIS is how teachers can deliver character, resilience and grit every day in education. These ideas come from 11 years educational experience through my own teaching and observing the best practice of others.
The DFE & Nicky Morgan MP announced the Character Awards on the 8th December 2014. Educational institutions are to be rewarded who develop and build character, resilience and grit in their learners. The intention being that more schools focus on developing well rounded young people prepared for life in modern Britain. This was brought about following warnings from business leaders that school leavers are entering the workplace without the “soft skills” needed to succeed in the world of work.
About the Character Awards, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said:
“Delivering the best schools and skills is a key part of our long-term economic plan that is turning Britain around.
As well as high academic standards, this means providing opportunities for all young people to develop the character and resilience they need to succeed in modern Britain.
For pupils who may have faced challenges or difficulties in their personal life, these initiatives run by former armed services personnel can offer a sense of greater aspiration and can help build the skills and confidence they need to go on to good jobs and successful futures.
Coupled with the new character awards schools will now have the tools and support they need to ensure they develop well rounded pupils ready to go onto an apprenticeship, university or the world of work”.
These comments came about after a; Review of military ethos alternative provision projects (DFE Report, 7th December 2014). One of the main comments that I unpicked from this report was that ‘the majority of teachers interviewed for this review tended not to view Military Ethos AP as a way of improving attainment. Rather, it was considered a means to support resilience, self-confidence and inter-personal skills, which were thought to influence attainment‘.
This could be viewed as a laudable attempt from the government to make improvements to education. Indeed anything that is introduced into education, and carried out effectively, that improves the life skills of young people has to be a good thing. However, I do have a small problem with the report! While I have no problem with using the military and their ethos, I do have a problem with the fact that it seems to be based solely around alternative provision. Again, no problem with this being provided for an ‘alternative’ learner (as it is proven to engage young people back into learning) but my problem is with why it is not aimed at ‘all’ learners. As an experienced teacher in secondary education I have seen many academic and engaged students who also do not have these key soft skills. I am not suggesting that all learners should be taught by the military. I am suggesting however that educational policy should dictate that teachers should be instilling these skills wherever and whenever they can and not all teaching efforts should be towards the exam.
Let us look for a moment at what these key words actually mean;
Grit: ‘Courage and determination despite difficulty‘.
Resilience: ‘Able to quickly return to a previous good condition‘.
Character: ‘The quality of being determined and able to deal with difficult situations‘ or; ‘The particular combination of qualities in a person or place that makes them different from others‘.
My feeling is that these skills could and should be taught to every young person, by every teacher, every day and in every lesson in schools and colleges. The skills should be developed before young people leave to go into higher education or employment where these skills are required by individuals to be a success.
How can this be done? For me, a very simple common sense approach works that should not add any workload. Firstly, take any opportunity to talk to young people and consistently encourage them. Re-assure them that difficult situation’s should be approached in a systematic way rather like solving a problem. Model this behaviour for young people and help them work out the process to tackle the difficult situation/problem. Help the learner to make their own choices to overcome this. Show them that it is absolutely fine to fail and that is actually part of the bigger picture of learning. Emphasize that using failure and looking at it in a positive and constructive way can help make them become more successful. Demonstrate and show examples of people, both famous and local, who have come back from a particularly difficult or negative situation and returned ‘to a previous good condition’. A great current example that could be used in discussion with older children is that of Stephen Hawking (highlighted in the film; The Theory of Everything). He was struck down at a young age with Motor Neurone Disease and consigned a wheelchair. However, he has shown resilience in continuing his work and being regarded as having one of the most brilliant minds of our time. Another example that could be used is this quote from a man who overcame some initial educational set backs and famously said “I failed my exam in some subjects, but my friend passed. Now he’s an engineer in Microsoft and I am the owner” (Bill Gates).
THIS is therefore what teachers must impress upon young people more than anything. Encourage learners, through discussion, that actually it is the bad times, failures or negative experiences that we overcome and challenge head on that are the ones that make us stronger and a more rounded person. Moreover using these experiences as an opportunity can directly help the learner in becoming more skilled and therefore more successful in life.
Footnote: THIS Education’s mission is to share learning & teaching ideas for skills development in education. I know that the successful teachers will be focusing on skills learning within their teaching all the time. I would look forward to, and thank you in advance for, receiving any comments, ideas or thoughts regarding ways of learning that could be shared with teaching colleagues.