We use the phrase self-esteem to talk about the beliefs one has of oneself: one’s abilities and potential to achieve. Encouraging positive self-image and healthy self-esteem in all the children in our care is one of the most important roles we have to play as educationalists and, getting it right will impact on children’s future success well beyond the adolescent years.
Equipping children with the tools and strategies to manage the inevitable failure and set-backs that they will encounter throughout their lives in a positive way can, unfortunately, often be overshadowed in an educational system that, at times, places over emphasis on academic achievement. School leaders ought to focus as much on pastoral care and developing the whole child as they do on ensuring children achieve learning objectives set out in their school curricula. Achieving curriculum objectives alone will serve only to achieve part success.
In September, we reviewed, as a whole staff, the skills we wanted Wandsworth Prep School leavers to have acquired at the age of 11; we looked way beyond when children leave us, asking ourselves how we could adequately prepare children for life. When children leave our happy and close-knit community, we want them to embrace challenge, to believe in themselves and immerse themselves in to new, and potentially demanding experiences.
Just before May half-term, children in Years 3 and 4 took part in their first residential trip, hosted by PGL, a leading residential adventure company in the field of outdoor education. PGL promise to nurture and challenge children; to bring out the best in them. A PGL adventure vows to build confidence and a sense of achievement. A PGL experience will see children return to school with renewed belief in themselves and the confidence to succeed.
The first test for some, however, was the confidence associated with being away from home, from familiar routine and the safety of one’s home surroundings. Children were asked to undertake some testing tasks, many of which had the overt aim of facing one’s fears, very evidently operating beyond one’s comfort zone.
One activity, in particular, met this criteria for all, adults and children alike; the Leap of Faith. The Leap of Faith asks children to muster their confidence and courage to climb to the top of a ten metre pole and, once achieved, count to three with the faith in themselves as they jump and reach to catch a mid-air suspended trapeze. Children were gently encouraged by the team of qualified instructors to push their own boundaries as far as they wished, ranging from a few steps up the pole, to the top or to the leap; what was important, was not the leap, but the opportunity for children to take risks in a safe environment and learn from them.
Before children departed for PGL, I hosted an assembly which focussed on taking risks. Children were shown photos of the pole and trapeze in question and we discussed what one can learn from putting oneself outside one’s metaphorical comfort zone; a school hall in Wandsworth being admittedly a safe environment in which to offer advice. When children returned from PGL, however, it transpired that they all took a few steps up the pole, they all took steps to the top of the pole and, moreover, they all, took that leap of faith; a testament, I believe, to our environment and the continual emphasis we place on nurturing a can-do attitude towards all the challenges our children face, not solely confined to the classroom.
At Wandsworth Prep, we view confidence and academic achievement as interlinked; there is a clear connection between the two.
Bridget Saul - Headteacher
PS. Click here to watch a video of the PGL Residential.