In an article on the psychology of courage, Forbes magazine reports that business leaders who take measured risks and learn from setbacks are more successful than those who don’t.
Academics call that “productive struggle.” It is an instructional strategy in which teachers, parents, and coaches allow students to muddle through problems themselves rather than jumping in immediately with solutions.
Don’t abandon your student, though. Know the early warning signs of fear of failure—rolling eyes, sighing, fidgeting, and such. Let them go as near as they can to the brink of quitting, but still have the grit to pursue a solution.
Take your time. Let your student ease into the idea of pushing themselves to the point of failure.
Struggle builds courage in academics the way lifting weights builds strength. You wouldn’t ask a kid to start resistance training by hoisting three times their body weight, so don’t expect a third-grader to take on The Brothers Karamazov.
But if you challenge your youngest learners with age-appropriate literature that may be just beyond their grasp, they could be reading at a college level before getting to high school. Let your middle-schooler wrestle with STEM courses and they could be ready—literally—to shoot for the stars.
It’s never too late to encourage productive struggle. However, the sooner students start experiencing how persistence pays off, the earlier they begin developing the courage to:
- Push themselves—even it means making a mistake on the way to achieving a goal
- Admit when they are in over their heads without feeling like they’re failing
- Ask for help before they get overwhelmed
- Take responsibility for their educational success
“Many of us assume that helping students learn means protecting them from negative feelings of frustration. But for students to become independent learners, they must learn to persist in the face of challenge,” according to the teaching and learning resource ACSD.