By Benjamin Sharratt, Vice Principal, GEMS Wellington International School, Dubai
Welcome to the first article in a series dedicated to exploring the impact that a newly refined school vision, can have on learning and teaching. In this collection of articles, we aim to delve into the core values that now guide our school community here at GEMS Wellington International School: integrity, empathy, and fortitude. Beginning with ‘fortitude’, these values stand as the bedrock of our commitment to nurturing not only academically accomplished students, but also compassionate and resilient global citizens.
Globally, where teachers are entrusted with the immense responsibility of shaping young minds, the term ‘fortitude’ holds huge significance. Fortitude isn’t merely a word; it’s a character trait that can transform the way teachers approach their daily lives in school, and in turn, it has a profound impact on the quality of learning and teaching. Below I attempt to explore what fortitude means, how teachers can embody it, and the far-reaching implications of demonstrating and role modeling this virtue in the classroom.
Fortitude is often defined as the mental and emotional strength to persevere in the face of adversity or challenges. It’s not just about enduring difficult situations but doing so with courage, resilience, and a positive attitude. For teachers, fortitude means navigating the ever-evolving landscape of education with determination and a commitment to the betterment of their students.
Teaching is not always smooth sailing. An experienced headteacher once told me that “teaching will always at some point get the better of you, and it’s not about how you deal with a favourable wind in your sails, the test of your character is how you get up from being washed on the rocks”. Teachers encounter a myriad of challenges, from continuously aiming to meet the needs of all students, the complexities in student behaviors, parental communication, and the pressures of meeting outcomes and standards to name a few. Fortitude encourages educators to remain steadfast, adapt to changes, and find innovative solutions to these challenges. 21st century education is dynamic, with new technologies, teaching methods, and curricula constantly emerging. Fortitude enables teachers to embrace change, update their skills, and continue to provide the best possible education for their students. It also involves developing a performance mindset, where failures are seen as opportunities for growth and further learning. Teachers who embody this trait show their students that making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process, helping to create a safe and supportive learning environment.
“I never lose…I win or I learn” – Nelson Mandela
The impact of fortitude on learning and teaching
When teachers demonstrate fortitude, they become powerful role models for their students. By showing that setbacks can be overcome, they inspire their students to develop their own resilience and determination. This not only improves student motivation but also their overall academic performance. A teacher’s attitude sets the tone for the entire classroom. Fortitude fosters a positive and nurturing atmosphere where students feel safe to ask questions, take risks, and engage in the learning process more fully. It encourages teachers to be patient and empathetic, even in challenging situations. This helps build stronger relationships, which can lead to improved trust. The fortitude demonstrated by teachers has a lasting impact. Students carry these life lessons with them beyond the classroom, using them to navigate the challenges of adulthood and becoming more resilient themselves.
Regularly assessing our own personal strengths and weaknesses as leaders and teachers enables us to identify areas where we develop greater resilience. Setting realistic goals, and leaning on friends and colleagues for support here is crucial. Staying up-to-date with the latest teaching methods and technologies, and being willing to adapt our practice to meet the changing needs of students is vital. We shouldn’t hesitate to lean on colleagues, mentors, and support networks when facing challenges, collaboration and shared experiences are invaluable. Role-modelling these behaviours to students who are unwilling to share a problem or ‘talk’ can have a profound effect. Finally, maintaining physical and emotional well-being is essential for fortitude. Regular exercise, a balanced lifestyle, and mindfulness practices can help us stay resilient, using the extra energy gained from ‘looking after number one’ for the betterment of others.
Adapting fortitude to diverse educational landscape
It’s important to recognise that the concept of fortitude can take on various forms depending on the context of the educational landscape, area, or school. What resilience looks like for a teacher in a bustling inner-city school may differ from that of a teacher in a rural community. In some environments, fortitude might entail navigating cultural diversity and socioeconomic disparities, while in others, it might involve addressing limited resources and educational infrastructure. Teachers operating in diverse settings must tailor their approach to reflect the unique challenges their students face. By understanding the nuances of each context, teachers can effectively adapt their teaching methods, provide tailored support, and foster an environment that nurtures the development of fortitude in students, irrespective of their individual circumstances. In this way, fortitude becomes a dynamic and flexible quality that empowers educators to make a lasting impact on the lives of their students, regardless of the challenges they may encounter.
To conclude, fortitude is not just a virtue; it’s a transformative force in the realm of education. When teachers understand and embody fortitude, they not only improve their own well-being but also enhance the quality of learning and teaching in their classroom. By demonstrating resilience, adaptability, and a performance mindset, teachers become powerful role models who inspire their students to overcome obstacles. Fortitude, in the classroom, is the cornerstone of a thriving educational ecosystem.