At St Giles’ C of E Primary School, we are very interested in the research around developing children’s learning. As part of our research, we have been looking at the work of Martin Covington who studied the link between failure and self-worth. He suggested that the way people see themselves and the how they perceive other people think of them, has a huge influence on their attitudes to failure. In fact, people will go to great lengths to not either feel they are a failure or be seen to be a failure by other people.
In short ‘failing to perform means that one is not able and therefore not worthy’
The knock on effect of this is that people will engage in behaviours, or make excuses, in order to not be seen as a failure and therefore protect their own self-worth. The more powerful the effort behind the failure, the more significant the excuses or defence mechanisms become.
According to Covington, here are four main behaviours that people exhibit when dealing with failure – I am sure that you will see some of these in yourselves or your children.
- Success orientated students – these people love learning and see failure as an opportunity to learn. They have no issue with making mistakes.
- Over strivers – these children avoid failure by achieving – they often work extremely hard but will very often hide this effort so that people can’t see that they aren’t perfect.
- Failure avoiders – these children don’t expect to succeed so they will do anything to get out of a task they think they will fail. They feel that if they put in a lot of effort and still fail, then this implies low ability, and therefore low worth. If they don’t try it doesn’t reflect on their ability and therefore their self-worth.
- Failure accepting – these children see themselves as failures, regardless of what they do. They have very low self-esteem and are difficult to motivate
The question is what can we do, both as a school and parents to give children the ammunition to challenge themselves, try and solve problems even when they are difficult, and learn to embrace failure as a way to improve and grow their knowledge and understanding?
At St Giles we have tried to overcome these barriers in children (and ourselves) in four ways:
- Emphasise effort over ability – promote a Growth Mindset
- Encourage self-compassion when children fail
- Build positive relationships with the children
- Talk about failure with students
Please take the time to watch the animated video of Carol Dweck, where she talks about the importance of Mindset. She advocates praising children’s effort over ability and her research shows excellent results towards children’s outcomes and their opportunities to learn. At St Giles’ we promote this idea with our children at every turn, this is highly visible around our school. If you have any questions about the Growth Mind set or failure, please come in and speak to a member of staff.