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Responsibility & Independence

Schools are introductions to the reality of the world in which children will later have to make their way. At school, children have to make sense of their interactions with each other and with a set of adults in authority who are not their parents.

It is a different set of skills than exercised within the family home, and it is importantly educative for that reason. Self-esteem and emotional security – what we call resilience – which is vital for sophisticated functioning in the human world, arises over time from a number of sources and experiences. It is gained incrementally as we interact with our environment over time.

One of the principal vectors for developing resilience is responsibility taking and all that goes with it. Most likely you have tasks which your children have to do at home. If you don’t then we would like to encourage you to give them some tasks which are solely theirs to complete and on which the family relies to some extent: the usual things – make the bed, clean a room, rake the leaves, organize the firewood, bring in the paper, mow the lawns, make the breakfast, etc.

This is particularly important for boys. Stephen Biddulph, the guru of boys’ education, makes quite a noise about boys needing to have real responsibilities as part of their learning what it is to be a man. He believes that not having real responsibility, and being held to the consequences of failing in that responsibility, is part of the current malaise with teenage boys.

We encourage you to give your child some tasks which are solely his/hers to complete and on which the family relies to some extent. In particular, we would like you to allow your child to take responsibility for packing her/his schoolbag, and carrying it to and from school and for having all her/his gear on the right day, and for doing or (to some extent) not doing her/his Prep.

By all means, help your child to set up the systems which will help him/her get it right – the list on the fridge, the place where the cap, hat, blazer go, a place to work and routine that gives prep its place. Then let him/her take as much responsibility as possible for these things happening.

These are tiny things, but they contribute in disproportionate ways to developing resilience.

Just as important as success in developing resilience, is that children experience, and learn how to accept and recover from failure – making mistakes and poor judgements. They need to learn that when they do get things wrong, there is generally a consequence for which they also can and need to take responsibility.

They also need to know that getting things wrong is intrinsically human – something that adults do also. Admitting mistakes and facing up to the consequences needs to be modeled by the adults in a child's life. 

In our desire to protect children from failure, and in our desire for a peaceful home, we run the risk of neglecting an important learning moment if we shield our children, personal safety aside, from the consequences of their actions.

You may have recently read in The Press of a coroner speaking out about just this in terms of reducing youth suicide…that society needs to help young people experience failure at an early age, and know that they can deal with it, so that they can cope with major problems later in life. It’s about developing resilience.

When at school your child makes a mistake (breaks a rule, forgets to bring some gear, steps out of line, neglects a responsibility, does not complete some work) we as educators try to ensure that he/she learns something from that event through understanding that there is a consequence. It won’t be intrinsically punitive; we have no real punishments at all at school these days. But there are consequences, some of which may involve you, some of them may involve withdraw from activities, some of which are about making the pupil reflect on the consequences of what he/she has done.

We ask you to help your child to develop his/her self-confidence, self-esteem, resilience by allowing your child to face up to those consequences, and by not trying to shield your child from them. By all means stand with him/her alongside us because that is where we will be, helping your child to learn from whatever has happened, helping him/her to pick up any pieces and move on. Please do talk with us about it if you are concerned, but please do not stand in front of your child and shield him/her from learning about responsibility and consequence.

Children, like adults, have many opportunities to make choices each day. Obviously, our hope is for them to make good choices but it is inevitable that bad choices will be made as they learn and grow.

In order for children to learn that their choices have direct consequences, they must see and experience those consequences. For example, if a child chooses to play at lunch rather than attend the team sports practice, then the natural consequence is that he/she will eventually have to let the teacher know. It is possible that a team may have a less effective practice without a player. The child may need to apologise to his/her teammates. Perhaps the player will not be allowed to participate for the first 15 minutes of the game on Saturday. These are all natural consequences.

Some of those consequences may be more difficult for a particular child to accept than others. None of the consequences is tragic but each consequence will reinforce the fact that every choice we make has a consequence and we are each responsible for accepting the consequences of our decisions.