New Term Anxiety? Learn from Team GB

By September 4, 2015 Articles, Education No Comments

Back_to_school

This week for many colleagues has seen a return to school, with children coming into pristine, pimped schools – or building sites where promised building work has not been completed in time. For many people, 2 in my own household, this past week has seen a fresh start in a new school and whether an adult or child the anxieties remain; finding your way around, remembering who’s who, making the right impression, fitting in, being able to ‘show off’ what you can do (but not irritating people), avoiding early judgements that last forever – and that’s just part of my list!

However, one of the areas that all schools – regardless of sector or type, will focus on will be the Summer’s exam results. Whether KS2, GCSE, A Level, or any other type of exam that our children have to undergo there are a myriad of emotions. Clearly schools will strive to improve:

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However, for some colleagues and children starting a new term can be daunting as for far too many there is so much baggage from their past that they carry. The ‘fresh start’ that many of us look forward to doesn’t materialise for them; either they have created a negative self image over time through which they perpetuate this belief, or because of others’ placing this burden on them. And when I say others, it can be teachers, peers or parents who are to blame; remembering past transgressions, comparisons to siblings, expecting too much (or worse, too little), constantly reminding of tests, etc, etc.

Therefore, for those staff and students who are ‘looking forwards’ to the impending long Autumnal and Winter nights (which seem to have started early this year!) I offer two examples of hope.

Over the Summer, like many, I enjoyed the exploits of the British Athletics Team in the world Championships, but particularly I loved watching the World Swimming Championships where Britain enjoyed unprecedented success – especially through Adam Peaty’s World Records in Breastroke.

Adam Peaty Gold Medal

Why does this group offer hope, in my opinion? Simply, because after London 2012 the team was vilified in many quarters for underperforming and not meeting [media and public] expectations. The Medal Table shows our ‘failure’

Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
United States  16 9 6 31
China  5 2 3 10
France  4 2 1 7
Netherlands  2 1 1 4
South Africa  2 1 0 3
Hungary  2 0 1 3
Australia  1 6 3 10
Tunisia  1 0 1 2
Lithuania  1 0 0 1
Japan  0 3 8 11
Russian Federation  0 2 2 4
South Korea  0 2 0 2
Spain  0 2 0 2
Belarus  0 2 0 2
Canada  0 1 2 3
Great Britain & N. Ireland  0 1 2 3
Brazil  0 1 1 2
Germany  0 1 0 1
Italy  0 0 1 1

As if they swimmers and coaches did not feel wretched enough at not meeting their own expectations, particularly in a home Olympics, they then had the ignominy of external scrutiny – sounds familiar to headteachers I’m sure! However, by learning from these mistakes and reviewing performance a new plan was formulated and, one year from Rio, in Kazan is appears to be working, as we have gone from 16th to 5th, 0 gold medals to 7!

World Aquatics Championships – medals table

Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
1. China 15 10 10 35
2. USA 13 14 6 33
3. Russia 9 4 4 17
4. Australia 7 3 8 18
5. Great Britain 7 1 6 14
6. France 5 1 1 7
7. Italy 3 3 8 14
8. Hungary 3 3 4 10
9. Sweden 3 2 1 6
10. Japan 3 1 4 8
 True, there were changes in the coaching team and how competition was approached – for example the team now competes far more frequently than in the past, but fundamentally it was about the Mindset and belief that it could be done. The fear was removed and the swimmers responded and repaid the coaches’ faith many fold. How often do we see in schools a fear of failure as the block to progress, expecting to fail leading to failure and then using this as a justification for the original belief. In fact I have seen children of various ages refuse to undertake something, stating they can’t do it, but in reality it’s that they don’t want to fail – they’ve experienced it before and why put themselves through it again? As I have said before the  F.A.I.L mnemonic is a powerful one and needs to be built upon – I also find it powerful to share, even demonstrate my own failings and my being prepared to learn from it and rise again.
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Similarly, whilst Mo Farah’s exploits were much lauded – a ‘triple double’ is no mean feat in any event, let alone 5000 and 10 000m. However, if watched carefully, there was mention of Mo’s performance in the Bird’s Nest Stadium back in 2008 in the Beijing Olympics when, in the words of Brendan Foster, “…he left the stadium, disconsolate and wondering if he had a future in athletics…” Look at how far he has come, he has learned from that event; reviewed what happened and evolved his practice to develop his performance, now enjoying the plaudits for consistently excellent performance.
Mo Farah Gold
This then should be used as inspiration for individuals and teams who face September’s return to school with a feeling of dread and despondency. Amongst them would be Katarina Johnson-Thompson, who was devastated at her performance in the long jump as part of the heptathlon. Here we can truly see how close success and (relative) failure can be. I hope that someone from the team, hopefully Mo Farah, gets time with her and helps her put it behind her – using his own journey as an inspiration.
You see, in my view many talented people can become discouraged and deterred because of prior experiences and the baggage they carry. How sad is it that this happens with younger and younger children? Whilst in education [thanks to inspectors, tables, each other] we may not have the years that athletes do to redress prior performances, their long journey starts with small steps and builds and builds. we should do the same. Reflect over the weekend how you can start Monday. What simple things could you do? How can you make a difference immediately? How will the children know when they walk into the room – and I don’t mean displays and laminating for England!
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So whilst many people will find this video amusing (or even too close to the truth, a bit like ‘Teachers’ in the 90s), remember that for some colleagues this is their reality and that, behind all of this are children. Many looking forward to new challenges, but too many returning or moving on with burdens and baggage, let’s lighten the load and not add to it. Don’t waste time blaming others, spend time putting it right and building the person up.

About M Creasy

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