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Why boarding school is the best place to make mistakes

The transition from childhood to adulthood can be a perplexing time. This age of technology and social media has only complicated the already misunderstood process of growing up. It is a time when students must navigate lots of changes, big decisions and new challenges. In such a transformative time, mistakes are inevitable. Feelings will be hurt, tribulations will be encountered. But there are also unparalleled opportunities for learning during this transition, especially when mistakes are met with positivity and perseverance.

How mistakes contribute to learning

“Failure is central to learning and growing. Failure is good. Not all the time, of course, but nonetheless, it’s a requirement of the educational experience,” says George Stewart, education thought-leader and founding Head of School at EF Academy Pasadena. “Failure teaches resiliency, creativity, prioritization, and social skills.” As both an educator and a parent, Stewart recognizes that teenagers don’t typically ask for help until they’ve tried and failed. But, he says, “learning to ask for help is central to finding success and to forming the social skills necessary to build a team of collaborators who can help ensure future success against bigger challenges.”

A residential school is an ideal environment for students to build this kind of team and surround themselves with people who will help to pick them up when they fall. As students embrace a wildly transformative time in their lives, boarding school provides an unparalleled system of support. Teenagers are bound to make mistakes and encounter difficult situations. But being surrounded by a vast network of responsible, trustworthy adults is an ideal environment for students to make mistakes, and to learn from them.

The support system of boarding schools

Boarding schools provide students with a safety net, allowing them to try new things without fear or trepidation. At EF Academy, our students are supported not only by teachers, but by Residential Directors and Advisors, coaches, nurses, club advisors, counselors, pathway managers, and more. Having the encouragement of all these adults, in addition to their parents and families, strongly reinforces the idea that failure does not need to be a bad thing. Introducing other trusted adults into a student’s life will only strengthen them in the long run. Jessica Lahey, New York Times best selling author of the book, “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Succeed” says “kids need to have a positive, adaptive response to failures in order to learn from them.” When students ask for help and are met with optimism and constructive feedback, they learn to be resilient and critical thinkers – qualities that will positively impact them for the rest of their lives.

Students who recognize the strong support system that surrounds them are more likely to pursue their passions or experiment with new projects. Not only do they know that someone will be there to guide them when they need help, but they also come to understand the value of learning from their mistakes. “What better time to make mistakes than in high school? Do we really want our children to experience failure for the first time as adults?” asks Stewart. In his eyes, they are better off trying new things right here in high school, and learning how to cope when something does not go their way. Student learning and growth is transformed and amplified when they are given opportunities to fail safely in a positive environment. Let’s advocate against perfectionism and encourage trying – even if it means making mistakes – to set our students up for the most successful future.


Here at EF Academy, we provide our students with an extensive network of support that includes teachers, residential advisors, pathway managers, counselors and more.

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