Originally published in October 2017
As the long summer holiday drew to a close, many parents heaved a sigh of relief that familiar routines were about to be restored as the new academic year began. Yet, up and down the country, parents and children suffered from nervous anticipation about what the new academic year may hold. It is understandable – our minds find it difficult to deal with uncertainty; going into a new class, getting used to new teachers and routines, and jostling in friendship groups after a long break all add to this uncertainty. And then there are those starting and changing schools – rites of passage in children’s lives - but nonetheless times of heightened anxiety for young people and those supporting them.
Considerable research has been carried out on transition, particularly the transfer from primary to secondary school. Dr Linda Hargreaves and Professor Maurice Galton, researchers at the University of Cambridge, provide the stark reminder that: “Transition...at its best . . . causes slight apprehension, while at its worst provokes a deep felt anxiety”.
Deci and Ryan’s (1985) widely acclaimed Self-Determination Theory of Motivation notes that in order to thrive in any given situation, an individual needs to feel competent, autonomous and related to the environment, context and community. Yet, nearly 40% of 11 year-olds started secondary school in 2017 branded ‘failures’ for not reaching the government’s minimum expected standards for mathematics, reading and writing in the National Curriculum tests at the end of primary school; this is unlikely to help them feel comfortable and settled in their new environment.
A few weeks in, and hopefully many children are flourishing socially, emotionally and educationally. Research repeatedly shows that how schools handle peer comparison is vital in helping children to feel positive about themselves – unsurprisingly, those in ‘top sets’ or ‘top streams’ are more confident and generally more positive about themselves than all other pupils. Yet, as the curriculum in many primary and secondary school increasingly narrows, courtesy of arts being excluded from the English Baccalaureate school performance measure, and many schools feeling the pressure to push students into subjects that the school is measured on, opportunities for children to feel ‘self-determined’ in their educational life are potentially significantly disrupted. Sadly the bottom line is that many children may spend much of their adult lives ‘recovering from their education’, as Sir Ken Robinson has repeatedly highlighted.
The latest ‘band wagon’ in schools is that children should develop a ‘growth mindset’ as a conduit to greater resilience – often over-simplified to mean having flexible, rather than fixed self-views. Easier said than done, especially when the cultural and environmental structures inhibit the ability of an individual to gather such a mindset. Resilience, though, is a process not an outcome; just like any other process, it takes constant work in order to make us positively adapt in any given situation.
Interesting, then, that the performing arts are a powerful catalyst for promoting a multitude of aspects relating to wellbeing, as well as developing confidence and resilience. An often-overlooked aspect of resilience is having a special interest; something providing the platform for developing more well-known aspects of resilience, such as persistence, sociability, flexibility and feelings of self-worth. This is unsurprising; when we value, or are passionate about, something we are more likely to persevere and reap the rewards that feelings of achievement and ownership provide.
We need something in our lives that makes us feel self-determined, and hopefully, the skills we develop through the process can transfer to other aspects of our lives. Increasingly, though, students have to look beyond the school gates for opportunities to develop a passion, be it sport, performing arts or a range of other creative skills. These environments need to be inclusive, accepting and inspiring. Stagecoach is all of these.
Young people of all ages attend Stagecoach for many reasons. At the heart, though, is a genuine love of the performing arts and the desire to be part of something. Time and again Stagecoach students talk about and display multiple examples of the facets of resilience – forming relationships with others, enjoyment, having a go, working at something they consider really worthwhile, to name just a few.
So as we settle in to the new school year, it is heartening to know that, from developing a hobby or special interests, young people recognise they are helped through difficult challenges in their lives – educational and otherwise – through following their own interests and seizing the power generated to help them thrive and not just survive.
By Dr Alison Daubney, PhD
Dr Alison Daubney is an international learning expert and annual reviewer for Stagecoach.
Gregory Daubney CPsychol, MSc, is a Chartered Sport and Exercise Psychologist, workshop leader and co-author (with Alison Daubney) of “Performance Anxiety: A practical guide for music teachers”. Recent collaborative research includes “Music in Mind”, exploring music programmes for young people with mental health problems.
1. Hargreaves, L. & Galton, M. (2002) Transfer from the primary classroom: 20 years on. London, Routledge Falmer.
3. Sir Ken Robinson, Changing Education Paradigms. Online at: https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms
4. Dweck, C.S., & Elliott, E.S. (1983). Achievement motivation. In P. Mussen and E.M. Hetherington (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology. New York: Wiley.
5. Fergus, S. & Zimmerman, B.J. (2005) Adolescent resilience: A framework for understanding healthy development in the face of risk. Annual Review of Public Health. 26, 399-419.
6. Frey, K. (1998) An Introduction to Resiliency. Report prepared for the Tucson Resiliency Initiative: Metropolitan Education Commission [Online] Available from http:// www.tucsonresiliency.org/introduction_to_resiliency.pdf
7. Henderson, N. (2007) Resiliency in Action: Practical Ideas for Overcoming Risks and Building Strengths in Youth, Families and Communities. California, Resiliency in Action.
8. Benard, B. (2004) Resiliency: What We Have Learned. California, WestEd.