As teachers, we often expect students to take risks, to think outside the box, to stand up and read out their work, to have a go even if it’s wrong. We mark their work but always with an emphasis on what they could do to improve, because we know it will help them to develop a growth mindset and grow academically, emotionally, and reflectively. We tell them, as I often do with my Year 10 Geography class, that it is ‘okay to make mistakes’, ‘we learn best from the mistakes we make’, that they should just ‘have a go’. This is acceptable and encouraged in the classroom.
But what about those occasions when you feel motivated to do something, but fear is getting in the way? There is nothing unusual about feeling trepidation when approaching a challenge. Sometimes, for all of us, it can feel that our courage is not as strong as our fear, and we falter. At our recent open events here at Northampton High, I often explain that the one thing I want for all our pupils is for them to develop the confidence to operate outside their comfort zones and feel completely comfortable in their own skin. If they only do the things they already know they can succeed at, they will never find the edges of their brilliance. However, I understand telling people to face their fears and push outside their comfort zones is easy – how you put this into practice is trickier.
This brings me to a blog that I read from Laura Mclnerney, an education journalist and former teacher, and one simple idea jumped out as something we could all embrace. Knowing that it is normal to be afraid in situations where you feel out of your depth, just try to be 10% braver. This is quite a commonly quoted idea in the world of education and widely used across the WomenEd sector, but it is actually a very practical suggestion. If you are facing something that you are finding a struggle or that you are afraid of doing, ask yourself whether you would do that thing if you were 10% braver. If you think you would, then just go ahead and do it. If you think that you probably would not do it, even if you were 10% braver, then maybe your reservations are more justified, and you can consider the next steps again.
The theme for my first assembly was about being 10% braver, where I urged every one of us to put ourselves in a vulnerable position where we are not the expert in the room and to embrace that feeling. Who knows where it will take us? My leap of bravery was tested recently when I attended the GDST Heads’ conference where each Head was asked to share something in just two minutes towards the trophy cabinet top up. I heard exciting initiatives from Microsoft Incubator School to Head’s Open Door lunchtime session, and by the time it was my turn to share (penultimate place), my brain froze, and I felt myself blushing and started to question my ability. What if the low cost, high impact project that I picked to share seemed too simple and childlike? As I stood in front of a group of esteemed and distinguished Heads, I could feel my voice wavering, my breath was short and wispy, and my leg was shuddering. I told them about our new inspiring installation in the Senior School reception foyer which forms part of the Neurodiversity Umbrella Project in support of the ADHD Foundation. I explained how the colourful umbrellas form an uplifting visual representation of all the different minds – red, orange, yellow, green, and blue – and the display is designed to represent the one in five of us who have a neurodevelopmental condition, such as ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia etc. For me, one of the most exciting elements of the project is the opportunity to celebrate the many strengths that come from thinking differently and to change the perception of neurodivergent people. When I finished telling ‘my trophy’ story, my head was buzzing and felt my insides turn to water. My face suffused with heat as I came to the end of my last sentence. But it was received well, and I saw some Heads scribbling down notes and others smiling intently and positively at me. I knew I had embraced the 10% braver challenge and I vowed that I needed to show the bravery and the belief in myself as the other Heads have displayed for the next session and all the future ones. But that moment of putting myself in that feeling of uncertainty opened my eyes and added a much-needed reminder about understanding what some students must feel and face each and every day.
The idea of testing yourself with the 10% braver measure is to overcome our natural instinct to avoid possible failure. We worry about messing up and catastrophise the potential outcomes if we do something that pushes our boundaries. More often than not, if we try something and it does not work out, nothing bad will happen. So, this half term, I am encouraging us all to try and be 10% braver in what we do – who knows what brilliant outcomes we will achieve? And watch out for me next time I share another trophy story with a group of Heads.