This is the title of an article in The Australian by Nikki Gemmel that rang great accord with me as it spoke to the challenges of perfectionism. Yet where does striving for excellence morph into doggedly pursuing perfectionism? The sense of great achievement and joy had from successfully pulverising a problem after great endeavour is one we want for all our girls. So too is the elation of grasping a new concept previously unattainable. Yet, the procrastination, rigid thinking, self-recrimination, risk aversion and misery associated with perfectionist behaviours we do not wish for anyone.
I was interested in the approach taken by the Oxford High School for Girls in the UK who is introducing an online mathematics test with questions becoming progressively harder. When a girl reaches the top of her ability she'll face problems she can't answer. This is with the intent of teaching her that it's OK to not get everything always right.
Helen Fraser of the Girls' Day School Trust, UK says, ‘Being perfect is the enemy of learning. For high achieving girls… we need to ensure that their education helps them to become resilient, to encourage them to not be afraid to take risks and to be confident. What counts is what they can learn from the process; that they don't get upset when things don't always go their way. Because in life it won't. We don't want women whose lives are held hostage by fear of failure.’
At Abbotsleigh we believe that it is through inquiry based learning activities, outdoor education encounters and service learning projects that we provide the girls with the opportunities to grow, learn and excel. Through such endeavour, there is no one right answer or one pathway to success. Rather there are multiple means of showing creative and critical thinking, flexibility of thought, strong social interactions and the attributes that will stand the girls in great stead way beyond the perceived attainment of perfectionism on one test or measure.
As educators and parents we can be tempted to remove the learning opportunities inherent in daily problems and challenges. We want to create a perfect environment where upset and difficulties are banished. Yet it is the solving of these very problems that brings the joy of success, strengthens the skills of resilience and ultimately best prepares our girls for a life of engagement, learning and happiness.
We have been working determinedly with our You Can Do It! and You are Strong programs, class based pastoral programs and initiatives such as the Year 6 girls connecting with refugees in Auburn, our Year 3 girls leading the charge in raising funds and awareness for St Lucy's. These programs, as well as the Transition environmental education program at the ACCE, have again been implemented this year to specifically target and focus on the growing of resilience traits.
I warmly encourage parents at home to praise effort, problem-solving and a solution focused approach to the inevitable challenges that will arise. Let's be of one voice and continue to aim for excellence; not perfectionism.