Building Grit, Character and Resilience through the Bigger Picture
Then again, in the multitudes of actions that demand a teacher’s precious time – lesson planning, resourcing, preparation, marking, progress tracking, carrying our duties, attending meetings, taking part in training sessions, communicating with parents, liaising with other colleagues to make alternative provisions to meet individuals students’ particular needs and offering catch-ups and interventions, etc. – one can be forgiven for forgetting that being a pastoral carer makes up a teacher’s professional identity, too.
Being a form tutor may not require a teacher to be accountable for the academic progress of a child in her/his form, however, the role of a form tutor is crucial in ensuring that other facets that make up the whole of an individual are receiving sufficient attention to exercise and thrive. Children learn about their worth not just by performing well in tests and assessments, they find their place through a plethora of interactions with their peers. I learned about this aspect of my job as a teacher most powerfully three years ago when I moved from the VIth Form to become a form tutor in the Main School where I worked.
I embraced my new challenge whole-heartedly with eager anticipation, albeit trepidatiously. Being a Year 7 form tutor meant a more direct and personal involvement with not just the children but also their families. There was an acute sense of responsibility from the youngsters’ first day at the “big school”. Various evening events were organised for me to meet all the parents of the children in my form. A quiz night gave me the opportunity to meet the parents alone without their children. Having taught at the same school for a number of years meant that I had know some of the parents from previous years when I taught their older children. Ultimately, however, I had this awesome realisation that all these parents had to some extent entrusted their children to my care when they came to school. I was in effect their “in coco parentis”.
So, how have I faired in helping build our grit, character and resilience? In short, through determination and tenacity, we have won a silent film and a debating competitions last year. After a string of being second for collecting the most positive points, we came up on top in the final term of last year at last! This year, there are fresh challenges ahead. For example, we are taking our very first year assembly after half term on teenager mental health.
Yes, academic attainment and targets dominate our daily existence at school. But, grit, character and resilience do not have to be reduced to just an empty slogan or a convenient sound bite to make us feel that we can cope with this kind of pressure. On the contrary, the bigger picture of light and shade, thoughts and emotions, stories and imaginations in our lives are what make us who we are: sometimes we are hopeful, sometimes despondent; sometimes determined, sometimes faltering; sometimes we feel utterly indestructible, but sometimes we feel that a whisper can break us into pieces. Acknowledging the bigger picture of who we are, of you and me, should be the true testimony of our humanity that makes us strong, strong enough to resist the forces that categorise us according to our academic abilities, strong enough to realise that our sense of self-worth is the basis of our wellbeing. In schools, we mustn’t lose sight of our humanity if we want to talk about real “grit”, “character” and “resilience”.
My role as a form tutor gives me a valuable opportunity to see my students purely from the perspective of their wellbeing. As a teacher, I need this perspective to remind me that my students are somebody’s children who are not just “vessels” to be filled to the brim with facts, facts, and more facts.