Schools often talk about resilience and how important it is for a child to develop it from an early age. From building it, growing it and learning from it, resilience is one of those buzz words that are on top of a schools’ agenda. But why is it so important?
When I was in school, we didn’t talk about mistakes and failing. We were expected to perform well at all times and there were no expectations to pause for reflection when we didn’t perform so well. There was never an opportunity to discuss our shortcomings and my school days were certainly a reflection of the times I grew up in.
However, I learnt about the power of failure in my personal life. When I was a young girl, I remember learning to ride my pony and I would often fall and vow never to get back up. But it was my father who pushed me to dust myself off and get back up on that saddle. A successful businessman, my father knew the rewards of learning from one’s mistakes and understood that they were inevitable in business. Certainly, this still applies to businesses today.
In fact, for Christmas last year, I gave every member of my Senior Leadership team a copy of ‘Shoe Dog’ by Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike. The book is scattered with failings by him and members of his team but each time you see him and his colleagues learn from their mistakes and each time you see them become that tiny bit wiser and the company a step closer to becoming the multibillion dollar company it is.
I also learnt about resilience the hard way. In my personal life, I lost my partner Peter of twenty years very soon after I became Head of my previous school in the UK. I remember thinking ‘how will I go into school and face all those teachers and pupils?’ But I took each day at a time and I went into school and hoped that was the example to my pupils of what can happen in life and how we need to deal with challenges in our own way. Within six years of my partner dying, I had to deal with the death of my beloved parents, two days apart from each other. Organising one parents’ funeral is hard enough, but having to bury both my parents on the same day was the hardest and darkest time of my life.
Resilience isn’t just about learning from your mistakes, it is so much more. It is the ability to delve so deep within yourself and search for the strength and wisdom to carry you through the darkest of days. Aristotle once said “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” And that is really the essence of what we try to teach our pupils.
Failure is inevitable. It will happen to all of us, often. Whether it is getting a rejection from the University you have always wanted to go to, or getting a ‘no’ from your dream job, failing a Mathematics test when you are at the top of your class, losing a loved one or sitting behind your computer online learning for almost two months because of what is happening around us. Today, we certainly need to show resilience. All of us. From our pupils and staff having to quickly deal with a totally new way of learning to leadership teams, making decisions on a daily basis, that will affect the entire school’s learning and pupil wellbeing.
My father used to have the famous ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling on the wall of his study which he would always refer me to, if I ever felt like giving up. The lines I always remember are:
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same…
…If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you…
…Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it…”
Coincidentally, the lines in bold are on the wall of the All England Lawn Tennis Club and it is the last thing players see before they enter Wimbledon’s Centre Court.