From setbacks to success (3 of 4)

SecEd recently published a piece on Character Education I'd written while I was still Education Manager at Keep Britain Tidy. It is quite long, so I've split it into four parts to post here. You can read it in full over on Sec-Ed. This is part 3 of 4. You can read part one here.

When I visit schools as part of my work for the Eco-Schools award programme, I am always amazed by the range of projects pupils and teachers show me. 

One question I always ask is “did anything go wrong?” Inevitably something will have; maybe planning permission for the new solar panels fell through, maybe the ground they chose for the garden was too stony, maybe the anti-litter campaign failed to change behaviours.

Once they have told me what when wrong, we start to explore why it went wrong, what they learned from the experience, how they did things differently next time, and how they felt once they had overcome the problem or obstacle.

They tell me that they didn’t give up, that they tried something different, that they listened to advice from others, that they looked at the problem from a new angle, or that they asked for help. This is a process of character development; skilled eco-coordinators facilitate it by letting their pupils run with projects that they are passionate about and by consciously deciding not to steer pupils away from minor pitfalls. 

Letting pupils experience setbacks and frustrations is a brave thing to do, but resisting the temptation to point out what might go wrong or to takeover when a problem does arrive is what makes great character education. 

Longer term, children who experience things failing will stand more chance of succeeding; they develop persistence, resilience and feel the benefit of delayed gratification. The arrogance that can sometimes sprout from constant success and celebration is also, perhaps, checked a little.

Two more ways to think about Character Education:

Shape the environment, not the individual (part 2 of 4)
Nurture empathy (part 4 of 4) 

Morgan Phillips