A Uniting Church coeducational independent day and boarding school on Kaurna Country, Adelaide, South Australia

Early Learning to Year 12

From the Principal - Edition 9 - 2021

As a School community, we enjoy success in every form, and we naturally shine a light on achievement and great outcomes, something we are aspiring to do on our community’s Giving Day Thursday 17 June. But we must not overlook the lessons we learn when finding ourselves at the other end of ‘the scale’.

Yes, we are talking about failing, not necessarily the happiest of subjects but still an essential part of learning and life. We have all experienced it and it is something we need to allow our children to do. Nowadays, we are seeing increasing attention being paid to what failing can teach us. In industry, for example, many start-up companies will work with a ‘fail fast and fail forward’ mentality. They will launch prototypes or beta versions quickly, see how they fail and from that, improve and finalise their designs. A fail has legitimately become ‘First Attempt Initial Learning’ (FAIL).

Many of the jobs that our children will end up doing will require them to learn quickly from their mistakes and to prepare them for this, we need to let them make mistakes. However, as parents, we all want our children to have better experiences than we had and often this means that we won’t let them fail. We will look for positives, deflect shortcomings and perhaps dangerously misattribute shortcomings. In doing all of this, we run the risk of inhibiting the growth of our children because they do not develop resilience. They grow up unable to handle failing or rejection. They haven’t been knocked down and had to stand on their own feet again by themselves because we have always been there to help them up and remove them from harm’s way.

As parents, we have to find and walk that fine line in deciding what we need to let our kids fail in and when we need to intercede. It is a balancing act that constantly defies mastering but what we can’t do is never let our children fail. We have an obligation to let them fail many times and then help them learn from their experiences. In doing so, we help them develop resilience, fortitude and self-sufficiency. If we stop every failure or overly soften the outcomes of failing, we diminish their capacity to learn from their experiences.

Our Years 12 and 11 students are in the midst of their exams and some students will excel, while others may find themselves failing. Collectively, teachers and parents need to help our students learn from their success and failings in these exams. The feedback and the reflection that takes place after an exam will arguably be the opportunity for the most growth, particularly knowing that any sense of failure will vary from one student to another. For example, a straight A student may consider a B grade to be a fail, which is not the case for a consistent B student. The threshold for failing is individual so we need to be mindful of these differences and standards in each of our own children. All of us need to constructively and safely ensure that our children make the most of every learning opportunity, no matter from where it stems on their ever-broadening scale of personal experience.

Simon Shepherd