The Importance of Teaching Courage in the Classroom
Children do better in school when they dare to take risks. While courage doesn’t come naturally for some children, your teachers can still help them develop this characteristic.
Psychologist Dr. Stanley J. Rachman defines courage as a “behavioral approach in spite of the experience of fear.” This means courage is not a feeling but a choice to act.
When Peter Muris did his study, Fear and Courage in Children: Two Sides of the Same Coin?, he interviewed 51 children between ages 8 and 13 about the bravest thing they’d ever done. He discovered that strong feelings of fear did not predict a child would back out, nor did low fear levels predict they would show courage.
Muris also gave the children questionnaires to measure their personal courage and anxiety levels. He found that the children with greater bravery had fewer anxiety symptoms than the ones with less.
“When facing threat, those who engage in courageous behavior by exposing themselves to the feared stimulus or situation, are less likely to develop serious anxiety problems,” Muris said.
He added that avoiding frightening situations causes anxiety problems to continue — even escalate. That’s why behavioral therapists have successfully treated mental health patients by gradually exposing them to fearful stimuli.
Similarly, teachers can encourage children to face intimidating situations, such as doing hard math problems or talking to classmates they don’t know. By gently pushing students outside their comfort zone, teachers potentially help prevent them from developing chronic anxiety issues.
Teaching students courage can also empower them to discover their inner strength, according to Dr. Michele Borba’s article for U.S. News in Oct. 2017. Children who know how tough they are will stand up to bullies and won’t give in to negative peer pressure, Borba said.
Creating a Safe Learning Environment
Before cultivating courage in students, your teachers should create a safe learning environment. One way they can put children at ease is to praise thoughtful answers, not just correct ones, wrote Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad in her article, Student Voice: Finding the courage to tell your story.
“The goal of education is to help our students be more creative and innovative, think more critically, communicate effectively to inspire change, and collaborate to make an impact,” Dr. Lang-Raad said.
As your teachers reward students for taking academic risks, classroom participation will increase.
Next, teachers need to understand what courage looks like in a classroom setting. Ron Berger said in his 2017 Edutopia article that academic courage means not sitting in your chair pretending to understand what the teacher says when you don’t.
“It means you take the risk to raise your hand and ask questions, to share your thinking with others, to take critique from peers. It means having the courage to choose difficult problems and risk mistakes,” Berge said. “Learning doesn’t happen without it, and fortunately, it can be cultivated.”
How to Teach Students Courage
According to Berge, fostering courage starts with teachers setting the example. They can show grit by admitting when they make a mistake, taking risks, staying positive, and having a growth mindset. As teachers model brave behavior, students will follow suit.
Teachers can also encourage students to support a cause they believe in. For example, programs like Active Minds and LETS (Let’s Erase the Stigma) allow students with mental health challenges to share their stories and mentor younger children. While students might be scared to share their struggles, doing so will decrease feelings of isolation and self-pity, according to Mark Katz’s 2016 article for Greater Good Magazine.
Your teachers can also inspire students with stories of historical figures and scientists, especially those from minority groups. When children from various backgrounds have role models to aspire to, they work harder in school. Here are some resources that can help teacher foster courage and promote diversity:
- Hispanic Heritage Month: Educating Beyond the Curriculum
- A Teacher’s Guide to Celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month
- Black Scientists Who Made History
- Finding and Sharing Diverse Voices in Children’s Books
- Helping Students Develop Their Identity Through Children’s Literature
- Promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Through Storytelling
- Women’s History Month: Women of Color, Women of Change
- 10 Female Painters Who Shaped Art History
- 8 Famous Female Doctors to Inspire Your Students
What Children Should Know About Courage
According to Karen Young’s article for Hey Sigmund, teachers should make sure children know that courage is still courage even when they still feel anxiety, fear, or self-doubt.
“This is because courage and fear always exist together,” Young said. “If there is no fear, there is no need for courage.”
Young said children also need to know that sometimes the positive results of their courageous actions come later.
“Courage might mean being kind to the new kid in class, trying something new, speaking up for something they believe in. Often, these things don’t come with fireworks or applause. In fact, they rarely do. The differences they make can take time to reveal, but when actions are driven by courage, the differences those actions make will always be there, gently taking shape and changing their very important corners of the world in some way,” Young said.
Teaching Courage in the Classroom
Children have so much potential; they just need educators to show them how to believe in themselves and take risks. As you train your teachers to create a safe learning environment to foster courage, your students’ academic performance will increase.
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