In the last week I have marked over 80 essays from year 13 mock exam papers and this week I have been handing back those papers to nervous students who will look to me to guide them to success in the summer exams. When I was completing my feedback sheets, identifying strengths and areas for improvement for each of my students I began to form a “plan of attack” to iron out the misconceptions and errors evident in the exams. In truth I was trying to uncover the “secret of success” for these students. What gift of wisdom could I give them that would correct their mistakes and ensure success?
The problem is that there is no magical secret to success. There is no hidden pearl of wisdom that will instantly correct all errors. Of course I will point out areas of strength and those that were weaker. I will demonstrate and model the correct approach but without the students engaging with that process and acting on the advice given it could prove to be fruitless. The secret to success is no secret at all, success is born out of hard work, commitment and most of all learning from mistakes; or quite simply….resilience.
To quote a line from the film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel:
“Everything will be alright in the end so if it is not alright, it is not yet the end”.
When I first heard this line spoken I was captured by its simplicity. Set a goal and if you haven’t yet achieved it then keep trying. So often people fall at the first hurdle, after the first setback and give up. Teaching our young people that they are on a journey and that at times that journey will be challenging, but that if they keep their goals in sight, keep listening to advice and keep striving then they will work ever closer to that goal. Teaching them that if they do not perform as well as they had hoped in a single task it is not the end, but an important learning experience, and with the right attitude they can achieve complete success has got to be one of the most important lessons we will ever teach. After all, what invention was ever perfected on the first attempt? How many ground-breaking discoveries are not born out of a lot of hard work and trial and error?
The problem that we have is that, at sixth form level, we have such a short time with our students that they have to build their resilience fast. Not only that but they have to become more responsible and independent and mature all at the same time. This is no easy task and for some this takes longer than for others. The majority though will get there; and honestly, some will fail to achieve the short term goals they set themselves and it is heart-breaking to see disappointment on a young person’s face but again I would remind them that it is not the end, that it does not define them. What defines them is how they take that one setback and work hard to learn from it. Their attitude will ultimately define them.
So as we head into Christmas the best gift that we can give our students is the gift of resilience. To remind them that they still have time and opportunity to make the corrections they need to make and that mock exams are just that… mocks. If they are sensible, work hard and take on board the advice and guidance they are given then they will no doubt improve and who knows? Maybe they will surprise themselves with what they can achieve!