How should perfectionism be viewed, and is it a healthy virtue for the classroom? SEN teacher and mental health professional Julia Sharman puts forth her argument.
Nearly everything about the modern world is about striving for excellence, and for some it is about striving for perfection. Is there such a thing as perfect? All around them, students are being lead to believe that anything less than perfect is unacceptable; body image, educational or sporting achievements, what they possess, relationships. The media has played a huge part in steering these concepts, and also some parents, but what of the education world? Pressure for schools to be excellent, teaching to be excellent and pupils’ achievements to be excellent has increased ten-fold. There are of course excellent schools, teachers and pupil achievements, all of which are highly commendable, but where does the next ‘push’ push them towards? Is it realistic to expect perfection, and what is the impact of perfectionism on individuals?
The ability to respond and adapt efficiently when under pressure is a skill that can make a huge difference to the future of secondary school students. Whether it’s having the strength to say no to a situation they are not comfortable with, the confidence to talk in front of a large group, or the aptitude to come through a difficult day smiling – mental toughness is key.
It was a skill which I was forced to learn at a young age when, aged just eight, I discovered that I was losing my sight. My initial reaction was a complete loss of heart and I felt my future dreams had been shattered but taking up running gave me a whole new identity. I quickly progressed from the back of the pack to the one leading from the front and that changed my entire attitude towards myself and my disability. I stopped pigeon-holing myself as the only blind kid at school and, drawing on my own courage and resiliency, made the positive decision to focus on my future career as an athlete.
I may now be a professional athlete but there are still plenty of occasions when I have to be psychologically strong, from forcing myself to get up and out to training at 5:30am on a cold, wet, winters day, to competing in front of 80,000 people at an athletics competition. The students I work with on behalf of the Youth Sport Trust each have their own challenges to face and I feel it is vitally important to ensure they are equipped to cope with school and life in an increasingly fast moving world.