Typically, when you ask a child to define courage, they will turn first to descriptions of acts of great bravery, often of a physical nature. Firefighters are often top on their list of courageous people. One of my Prep pupils told me that ‘Patsy Palmer is very brave because she got up and carried on after she fell in Dancing on Ice last night.’ Well done, Patsy – the ability to pick yourself up, literally or metaphorically, after a setback is certainly an indicator of courage. The very fact that she was on the ice at all, showing fear of this challenge, yet the determination to triumph over it, is a further measure of courage.
Dig a little deeper with the children and they will be able to identify people who have shown great moral courage, such as Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai and Martin Luther King. These are people whose courage involved taking a chance when others would not and following their vision. They were prepared to stand up for what they believed in, even when their views were unpopular; they did the right thing, even though easier options existed. Having the courage to say ‘No’, to take an unpopular stand or even to ask for help are all hallmarks of courage.
At Claremont we encourage our pupils to be morally courageous and a force for good in the world. We want them to believe in the unbelievable, to be see no limit to their potential. This demands a particular type of courage, often referred to in education and business as grit. In school, teachers recognise that it is not IQ or innate talent alone that determines success but the level of motivation, or the level of grit, which individuals have which turns potential into reality. In the classroom, grit is about having commitment to long term goals, and the ability to persevere with seemingly mundane tasks, offering little immediate pleasure, in order to follow a dream. It is about the ability to bounce back from failure and overcome adversity. It is a quality well-recognised by psychologists, such as Carol Dweck, whose theories around growth mindset frame much of today’s thinking in education.
Grit, therefore, is a highly desirable quality to cultivate in young people, in the pursuit of higher performance and increased success. It is an elusive quality, carved out of experience rather than a PSHE lesson. The co-curricular programme provides excellent opportunities to help your child to develop grit. Encourage them to choose something from the programme that is new, that will take them out of their comfort zone. It should be something that they perceive will be hard and provide a challenge. Let them choose something governed by their passions – it could be learning a musical instrument, joining fencing club or ballet. Once chosen, apply some expectations around the new activity: it might be tough at times, but you will keep going; practise regularly to improve, even if that seems a little boring; agree that you won’t give up on a bad day; be determined to see it through – never give up in the middle!
We all recognise that unlikely winner, the one amongst who perhaps started out with less obvious talent but had the desire and ability to persevere no matter what. Role models such as the Williams sisters, who overcame tremendous economic and racial odds on route to their successes, are testament to the importance of tenacity and the ability to bounce back. As Serena said,
I don’t like to lose — at anything — Yet I’ve grown most not from victories, but setbacks. If winning is God’s reward, then losing is how he teaches us.