Failure isn’t something that gets celebrated much in our schools – and I get why. With teachers under constant pressure to get their pupils up to the required standard in tests and exams, taking risks – which may or may not pay off – can seem like too uncertain a strategy to promote to students.
I think this is particularly prevalent when it comes to female pupils; they’re often encouraged to tick the boxes rather than break the mould. Speaking in response to recent controversy about gender inequality in university exams, historian Amanda Foreman explains that “young men are encouraged to be risk takers, while young women particularly at school are encouraged to be conformist.”
This isn’t a deliberate ploy to make girls more risk-averse than boys, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. And those people who take risks are far more likely to succeed in life – academically, professionally and personally. So how can teachers encourage their pupils – especially the girls – to embrace risk?
Give them role models who light the way
As adults, we know that the most successful people often took a winding path to their eventual destination. Career plans are never linear. But it can sometimes seem to children that they need to know exactly what they want to do, and that they have to succeed first time round.
Showing them role models who took risks, and succeeded because of that, is a great way to encourage them to step outside the box. At Girls Out Loud, we find that our ‘Big Sister’ mentoring programme and our Role Model Relay events are transformational for the girls who take part. Spending time with empowered women, sharing real stories of what it takes to be successful is not only inspirational, it helps girls take risks and explore their ambitions with renewed confidence.
Show them it’s ok to fail
Taking risks really is a win-win. If the risk pays off, you grow in confidence and have succeeded in what you were trying to do. If you fail, you become more resilient and more able to deal with future challenges.
Something as simple as encouraging pupils to contribute to class discussions, even when they’re not certain they have the right answer, can begin to instill a risk-takers mindset. For students who are particularly shy, staging these discussions in small groups could give them a safe space in which to experiment with their thoughts and opinions.
Encourage them to step out of their comfort zone
Risk-taking doesn’t just have to happen in the academic sphere. In fact, I’d like to see more and more girls embracing the unknown in all areas of their lives.
Something which I think can be really valuable for girls is trying out different hobbies and extra-curricular activities – it’s a fun way to get them outside their comfort zone. Taking some time to find out what pupils are doing at lunchtimes or after the school bell rings gives teachers the opportunity to suggest new things that students might like to try. There might also be opportunities for them to shout about some of the great things they’re already doing outside of school – encouraging other pupils to take risks as well.
Ultimately, the risk-takers of this world always end up trying more things, meeting more people and having more varied experiences than those who play it safe. And I think everyone wants adventurous, fulfilling and wonderful lives for the young people they work with. So, let’s come together to encourage teenage girls to step up, step out of their comfort zone and step into risky territory. We simply can’t afford not to – we need our girls to be pioneers not passengers, in order to take their rightful place at the top table.
By Jane Kenyon (pictured), founder and CEO at Girls Out Loud