Westonbirt Prep School Headmaster, Sean Price, explains why he feels children should be supported to thrive outside of their comfort zone:
My personal ethos is led by the belief that children should be exposed to as many opportunities as possible to ignite their passions, fuel their self-belief and foster learners and leaders that thrive both in areas of strength and when challenged to be outside of their comfort zone.
So what does the comfort zone mean and what are its benefits? When doing something that we enjoy or something that we know we are capable of we feel secure, confident, happy and at ease. It is a place where we know we can succeed and deliver. So why would we ask our pupils to step beyond this and to put them in situations where they feel challenged, exposed or underprepared?
The most fertile ground for growth and development lies in the area between comfort and panic. If we entirely avoid situations where we might fail or be uncomfortable, then there is less opportunity for us to develop new knowledge, additional skills or find out what we can achieve as individuals. Importantly, we do not learn how to manage our emotions or build strategies for resilience. We have all had that feeling when faced with a situation where you want the ground to swallow you up and you’d rather be anywhere else. Perhaps an opening exam question that you have no idea about when your stomach drops and your mind races to the worst-case scenario. What we have to provide for our pupils is a bank of experiences and a set of strategies to draw upon that allow them to meet such a situation with composure, logic and confidence. Each time they overcome one of these hurdles, they are better prepared for the next.
We want to put them in situations where they are challenged outside of their comfort zone but not to the point where they are drowning. The stakes must be low so that pupils understand if they get something wrong, it doesn’t matter and the culture must support encouragement of effort and praise of curiosity. We want to support pupils in having the confidence to give something a go and to ask questions that they may not be able to answer, to get things wrong but then feel encouraged to work it through and ultimately succeed or learn. Failure is an intrinsic part of success and if we don’t provide an opportunity to fail, we miss an opportunity to learn.
If you place children straight into high stakes situations, that is when they may crumble. However, if children are given the confidence to try something outside of their comfort zone, whether it is playing a new position on the rugby pitch, standing on stage to perform or attempting a complex maths investigation that is beyond what they’ve been taught, that experience gives them a subconscious reference point to access next time they feel challenged or unsure. They will remember the feeling of anxiety but it will be linked to the memory of the outcome and the knowledge that either the experience turned out OK or that they learned a lesson to be used this time around.
Fast forward from prep school to that child’s GCSE years and coping with the rigor of assessment or even further to a job interview. If discomfort is a new feeling, it could be hugely detrimental to them, but if that child has been supported to feel comfortable when faced with challenge, uncertainty or anxiety in repeated low stakes situations, they will have developed a toolbox to cope with challenge when those stakes are raised.
To learn more about Westonbirt Prep contact firstname.lastname@example.org