December 4, 2017
Last weekend, my family spent 24 hours at an indoor waterpark in Niagara. My son, not surprising for my offspring, declared he was going to set a goal to ride all 12 waterslides. My daughter, wanting to do everything her big brother does, but a little bit scared, declared the same goal. Of course, they wanted me and my husband to join in for ALL of the fun.
So there I was, stuck between fear and waterslides. I remembered a mantra at that moment (and again and again at the top of each slide) which I use to keep myself in the game of life, rather than on the sidelines: I can do hard and scary things. I often repeat this to myself when I am on my road bike and about to ascend and descend a large hill. I repeat this mantra to myself at the top of a downhill ski race course, and sometimes I repeat this to myself before I have a challenging conversation at school. Reminding myself that I can overcome difficult and scary tasks keeps me courageous in the face of new and exciting challenges.
I have been thinking a lot about how we can use mindset to encourage courageous behaviour in children. We want our students to move outside of their comfort zones and not be crippled by their own fear or the challenges we present to them. It is an important skill when learning to read, trying challenging math problems or choosing an interesting but obscure topic for a research project. Stretching outside of one’s comfort zone likely won’t begin in a traditional classroom setting — but the goal is for the feeling of courage to seep into classroom learning.
So where then can we help students experiment with courage within our school context?
When we take our students outside of the school building and give them opportunities to try new things, see the world differently and engage with people with whom they don’t normally engage, we are providing opportunities to practise courage. With careful planning, this attitude to be courageous can transfer into classroom academic activities and ultimately into other life experiences.
This week (and for some classes next week) at Paul Penna DJDS, students of different grades engaged in activities beyond the school curriculum that stretched their perceptions of their own abilities. This week some students went to neighbourhood parks, and next week the Grade 1, Grade 2 and Grade 6 students will take the subway to the newly built Grange Park. People often ask me how we can take time away from learning to go to the park? The way I see it, park time is important learning time and paves the way for more productive learning once back in the classroom. Our children climbed on the structures, swung on the swings, balanced on the bendy beam and interacted with children in different classes. They had an opportunity to use their different strengths and to accept a challenge that possibly they weren’t ready to accept last time they were at the park. They stretched their perception of what they can do, and hopefully tried something they previously thought was impossible. They practised courage in a safe and supportive environment.
In another aspect of school life, as part of the Project Giveback program, some of our students made phone calls to charities that reflect their interests and spoke to adults to learn more about what a specific organization does to help the community. For many Grade 5 students, these approaches are hard and take courage — but every one of our Grade 5 students has done it successfully and feels great!
This past weekend in Niagara, I did every waterslide at least once and some of them I tried twice! It took courage, but I proved to myself and my daughter that we can both do hard and scary things. And yesterday, while reading a book, I reminded my daughter that she could do hard things — she had conquered a very big waterslide — and that seemed to be the motivation she needed to pick up a new book and try to read it.
This week, ask the children in your life about the courageous things they have done or want to try. Hopefully, we can regularly engage in activities that will give children the additional confidence to feel that they can overcome challenges successfully.