Last week was an amazingly busy week!
Last week was an amazingly busy week – the Beat the Flood Challenge, an Aspire Visit to Oxford, an Exchange to Germany, Rugby Taster Lessons, huge success in Under 12 Netball Tournaments, Recitals in Cranbrook and All Saints Church, Maidstone, and an Extended Learning Lecture from another distinguished guest, Geoff Riley. How lucky are we?! However, there are two activities that have really impressed me – the production of ‘Clockwork Girl’, written, produced and performed by our Year 13 student April, along with the fact that Megan, one of our Year 8 students has committed to walk 5 miles a day for the ‘Walk in her Shoes’ charity. It occurred to me that many of these activities require what I call ‘Grit’ and the fact that our theme for last week was ‘Impact’ highlights our continual drive in learning new skills and further developing our own’ resilience’. We always encourage risk-taking amongst our students and we have recently heard from a number of speakers on the importance of overcoming fear of failure and developing resilience.
We cannot do enough to encourage resilience to prepare us for the challenges in life and this is particularly important in girls. Psychologist, Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, conducted a series of studies in the 1980s, looking at how students handled new, difficult and confusing material. She found that bright girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to ‘give up’ and the higher the girls' IQ, the more likely they were to ‘throw in the towel’. In fact, the straight ‘A’ grade girls showed the most helpless responses. Bright boys, on the other hand, saw the difficult material as a challenge, and found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts, rather than give up. Recent research has shown that this gender difference is still very much the case.
Our girls take part in wide variety of sports, in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, competitions, performances and all the other activities you regularly read about in our newsletter. These aspects are aimed at building confidence and although I do see this, I still see girls fear the concept of failure. This week, we have had Mock Examinations, and probably the most frequent comment we hear is one of ‘I have not done well.’ This too, resonates around university/job applications and interviews amongst other aspects. Yet, just this week, we have heard the superb news that some of our students have received very strong offers to study medicine and veterinary science at prestigious universities. Not only am I very proud of these girls, but I am also thrilled to know that they are succeeding.
It is a supreme irony that some girls are reluctant to be involved in the wider aspects of school life because they are focussing on their studies. Girls working hard academically are very much in their ‘comfort zones’ but academic qualifications alone are never going to be enough for bright girls to compete in the 21st Century. Recruiters from every sector tell us that they are looking far beyond grades. They are looking for flexibility, for resilience and for candidates who have ‘an edge.’
Addressing this problem is not easy and there is no set pro-forma. To enable girls to be unafraid of failure, we have to show them that we will willingly accept their failures and provide them with opportunities to try again. So, collectively as teachers and parents we face a challenge – to consider the pressures we put on girls to do well and to reflect on the language we use. Our girls are involved in a huge array of activities and I am extremely grateful to our superb team of staff who give so much time to organise the activities. It has left me in no doubt that to build resilience in girls is not easy and it is certainly complicated. However, we need to be relentless in our approach to enable every student to fulfil her potential, by overcoming her fears with a ‘resilient edge’ that will then give her the confidence to face the challenges for the world of work. I am sure that our students who are in Snowdonia this week will learn that as they climb the mountain against the wind, rain and not to mention the heavy rucksacks!