Maximizing Your Child's Potential in Education

Insight we can all adhere to

by SHFamily | Wed, October 25, 2017

By Dr Neil Hopkin, Principal, The British International School Shanghai, Puxi

In life, most of us start out with good intentions. We aim high and believe, often sincerely, that we will achieve well. After a while, we hope that we will achieve well. Some time later we often ‘manage our expectations downwards’ a little. A year later, we aim to be ‘realistic’ with our expectations. Two years later, we sometimes wonder what on earth possessed us to believe we could achieve so highly in the first place. Five years later we can hardly even remember having such aspirational aims at all.

British International School Shanghai

This is what the former conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, and celebrated motivational speaker, Benjamin Zander, called the ‘downward ambition spiral’ and it is all too familiar to many. So much so, that when we encounter youthful enthusiasts unwittingly and blissfully unaware that they are at the head of their own downward spiral, the battle-weary amongst us nod sagely at our fellow travelers and mutter the immortal words of the brow-beaten: “they will learn.”

British International School Shanghai

I often remind parents that children are not born like this, and will do so again at our forthcoming open days at the British International School Shanghai on 16th and 23rd November. They are curious enthusiasts, undaunted and untainted by repeated judgements or criticised failure. Their optimism and self belief is high, and they maintain hope in success even in the face of overwhelming odds. Life for them is borne out of experimentation and is replete with a positive understanding of failure as a fundamental condition of positive exploration. Cynicism has no place in their heart or mind, and they heed no Eeyore-esque pessimism about the likelihood of their inevitable victories and successes.

British International School Shanghai

Somewhere between the childhood sense of invincibility and world-wearied defeatism lies the destiny of every person’s ability to achieve their potential. The key for us as educators and parents then, is how to ensure that our children continue on their innately positive journey rather than become mired in society’s more negative trajectory. The answer, in significant part, lies in our approach to failure. 

In one of our stairwells here at BISS, we have an image of Roger Federer, the recent victor at the Shanghai Masters tennis tournament, and no stranger to success. He is in full swing, looking as invincible as ever, but this imposing image is accompanied by a telling quote that drives his success: ‘There is no way around the hard work. Embrace it.’ His career has contained many successes, but also telling failures and periods when all appeared to be over. Yet even at 35 years of age, he has recovered from knee surgery and a series of defeats to dominate his sport again. They key, he claims, is a constant focus on his desire to learn. 

British International School Shanghai

Federer experiments. He learns what works and what doesn’t. He adjusts for his changing capabilities and he keeps his interests fresh and exploratory. Failure for him is simply a milestone on the way to inevitable new discoveries. If this all sounds familiar, that is because it is exactly what you were like as a child: an irrepressible force for learning.

British International School Shanghai

In the classrooms, MIT-inpsired STEAM centres and Juilliard workshops at BISS we see children channeling the very best of a Federer-like attitude every day. They ‘fail forwards’ to use the modern parlance, embracing failure as insightful moments in a positive learning journey. They are not oppressed or daunted by the fear of not reaching ‘the grade’, secure in the knowledge that a reiterative drive for improvement necessitates failure but yields ultimate success (in fact our students out performed all competitors in achieving perfect IB 45 scores again this year). They embrace the hard work, with all of its challenges and set-backs, knowing that this is the only pathway to achieving their potential. 

British International School Shanghai

So much of society’s focus now is on the glittering destination of success, and the accolades that go with it, that we forget that where our children are ‘just now’ is not their final destination. It is simply the latest step on their journey. By allowing them freedom to set every increasing challenges for themselves, to support them through failure, delighting in what can be learnt by such ambitious targets is the key to truly achieving their potential. As we say and embody here at BISS: Be Ambitious!