Ravenscourt Park Prep Head Carl Howes on helping children to acquire the courage to fail, learn from mistakes and try, try again

The start of the new academic year provided a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on our core values and how these underpin the educational provision that we offer to our students. For my start of term assembly, I selected the value of ‘Courage’ from our school behaviour culture, which comprises High Expectations, Kindness, Respect, Courage, Integrity and Consideration.

I chose the story of the inspirational abolitionist and suffragist Harriet Tubman to exemplify someone who had demonstrated incredible courage throughout her life, and I outlined the importance of this value in the context of our learning in school. At RPPS, our children are very familiar with the importance of viewing mistakes as a positive part of the learning process. Our classrooms are ‘mistake friendly’ environments and children are proud when they have identified and learned from their ‘marvellous mistake’.

This way of thinking requires courage: most children don’t like getting things wrong, and their early perception of being successful often entails being the first person to finish a task. Our aim is for children to reconsider what successful learning means, thinking more about the process as opposed to the outcome. This means embracing the struggle associated with being temporarily stuck in the learning pit (as described by James Nottingham). Our teachers strive to recognise and celebrate students’ effort, resilience and the determination shown during the learning process.

Our classrooms are ‘mistake friendly’ environments – children are proud when they have identified and learned from their ‘marvellous mistake “

Being courageous helps children build their self-confidence and self-esteem. It should be an integral part of their learning toolbox. The courage to ‘have a go’ when presented with an unfamiliar or challenging task, or to answer a question in front of their peers if they aren’t sure they have the right answer, is so important to acquire during these formative years within the safety of the primary school classroom. How many academically high-achieving teenagers have we encountered who have been obsessed with mark schemes and terrified by the prospect of failure? The more we can encourage our primary-aged students to work at the edge of their comfort zone and beyond, the better prepared they will be for the next phase of their education, and for later life.

As with many schools, we emphasise the importance of moral courage, so that children are empowered to develop the strength of character to stand up for what is right, calling out unkind behaviour when they encounter it. This moral courage positively impacts our school culture and helps to prevent bullying. It also aids our young people as they get older to resist the influence of peer preference – the tendency to emulate risky behaviour shown by their peers – and avoid putting themselves in harm’s way simply to fit in.

The renowned poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou once said: “I am convinced that courage is the most important of all the virtues. Because without courage you cannot practise any other virtue consistently. You can be kind for a while; you can be generous for a while; you can be just for a while, or merciful for a while, even loving for a while. But it is only with courage that you can be persistently and insistently kind and generous and fair”.

Through building up our children to be courageous, we are providing them with a firm foundation, and equipping them with the resilience and determination needed to navigate the challenges and setbacks that they will encounter in the future.

Ravenscourt Park Prep School rpps.co.uk

Further reading: Mayfield School on the positive value of making mistakes