Ask the pupils to consider this situation in an assembly –
Imagine you're a PE teacher and been helping Simone who has been working hard to get ready for a dance competition. She is one of the youngger entrants. At the festival she performs very well but she is nervous and does not shine. She leaves, sad and upset, without any recognition.
Which one of the following things would be the best to say to her?
You think she danced better than anyone there.
The judges should have made allowance for her age.
Dancing is not all that important
She is a talented dancer and will win next time.
She did not do well enough to win and can improve.
The correct answer would be the last one. Out of context it looks harsh, but it is the one that leads to improvement. The others would not help Simone learn and improve. However some might worry that it would knock her self esteem.
Psychologists Albert Bandura, and later Carol Dweck, have shown that it is resilience in young people and not self esteem that makes for better learners. The resilient do not fear making mistakes and equate hard work with results.
In one of Dweck's experiments two groups of pupils were taught the same maths curriculum yet one group out performed the other. The only difference between the control group and the test group were two lessons, a total of 50 minutes spent teaching not maths but a single idea: that the brain is a bit like muscle, giving it a harder workout makes you smarter. That alone improved their math scores.
Educators need to praise the effort, not the end result or the innate skill. This can be easier sometimes than others – you do not hear, "Well done you're tall!" echoing from school gym when the PE staff are doing basketball lessons. But it's hard not to say, "well done you're good at drawing to a primary school age child". Praise is important, but it has to be the right praise. ie "You've taken care and spent a lot of time on that – well done."
Dweck showed that if young people believe that it is innate natural talent alone that determines their success then when the fail they believe that they do not have enough of this talent and more likely to give up.
Sometimes Life is not fair – Young people need resilience to cope with it, just make you do not act like Sue Sylvester from Glee to develop it.