The Golden Key For Academic Success
The author, a specialist in teaching essay -writing technique to teenagers preparing for GCSE English exams, explores the immense power in training up simple, natural restfulness in students newly faced with this most daunting of academic tasks...
I feel like I have something of a genuine revelation to make to you all in this article, for those of you working in education, for you parents and for anyone with an interest in education (or people).
It is THE secret key for unlocking true potential in academic performance.
What makes it a revelation, as I am sure you will agree when you read it, is not that it is surprising, radical, wacky or obscure in some way, far from it. It is a revelation because it is so startlingly simple, natural and obvious and yet it remains completely overlooked, unnoticed even, by our schools and institutions, as well as by the vast majority of us, as individuals, in our global society and culture.
Ok, so here it is, here is my revelation:
The best results, at every stage of any academic process, are achieved not through effort or struggle but through relaxation (and enjoyment).
That's it. I told you it was obvious!
And yet consider it for a moment... Don't dismiss it on account of its simplicity and obviousness!
Is it as apparent to you as it is to me that we make our best judgments, that we hit our dizziest peaks of performance and insight and that we enjoy what we are doing most, when our minds are relaxed, not frazzled? And yet, in looking around at the pervasive culture of the world and our world's school systems, we can see that we are often caught up in the opposite approach to this, one of subtle, or pronounced, emphasis on effort and struggle. When we really want to achieve something, we are usually advised to work 'hard', 'knuckle down' and even to 'fight' for it. We are guided, in the absence of conviction in better alternatives, to adopt the (worn out) 'blood, sweat and tears' route to success, and only sometimes we make it.
In my role as a tutor in essay-writing technique for teenagers I feel great assurance in training my students up in the exact opposite approach: to get used to relaxing mind and body whenever we are working or seeking an answer to something complex or elusive. I find for me it is like holding a golden insight as a teacher that never loses relevance. In essay writing, or for long format questions in any subject, when a student is first called upon to think openly, when they are first asked to think for themselves, rather than simply rote learn and recall facts, it becomes paramount for the mind to know how to operate clearly and effectively to get the job done well and also to experience then the true rewards of the exercise (and its actual reason for being in the first place!).
I focus almost all my energy in my first few sessions with my new English tutees on the process of essay 'planning', those electrifying few minutes in the exam after the student has read the essay question they've been preparing for in school for years and (hopefully) jumps into the abyss to figure out what their answer is! Many do not even do this, they just start writing, and predictably enough it is hard work and a hard read, messy and full of strain for writer and reader alike.
I encourage all students that I teach that we never have to operate in the flight response to questions by just madly writing down our first thoughts or clinging to whatever we have pre-learned. These essay questions can initially can bring up a fair amount of fear and self-doubt in everyone, but when we are able to relax (amidst the panic!) solutions and ideas then start to show themselves. When we practise this we are truly embracing the absolutely fundamental - and brilliant - academic challenge of learning how to respond directly and insightfully to any question, under pressure. The benefits of training up confidence in this core academic skill for all real life challenges are also obvious. Our results will always be better, in all activities, if we simply manage to relax and have all judgement come from easy, considered and open thought. Plus, we will enjoy every aspect of the process A LOT more!
Imagine if we trained up relaxation as the go-to approach, the goal even, the essential basis, for all good work in schools? How would the results - also in terms of student well being - look then? What kinds of ideas and insights in all subjects might the students access if their minds were unwound from the uptightness, the stress, the pressure and the tension that pervades much of their school lives? For one thing they would discover many more of their own original ideas, not just the ones received from others that are often snapped up, as a crutch, by nervous students in the essay writing process.
I love teaching essay-writing technique to this age group for all these reasons! It is the first real test for any maturing student and a golden opportunity that so many miss out on: to learn to trust and use their minds effectively and clearly when we most need to and to face fully a question or challenge we may initially fear.
For me it is clear, that the exercise of essay writing shows up what is true in all academia and all challenging life circumstances: rest is best. Relaxed potency of mind is so much more effective for our judgement and execution in all 'work', than any amount of struggle and effort. I feel sure that there will be a gradual shift in the way human beings approach obstacles and apparent problems, and that this will be essential in finding solutions where before we haven't been able to. A restful mind is capable of producing answers to questions and solutions to problems - seemingly out of the blue - that in times of effort and stress we simply cannot access.
I feel very fortunate to have myself had expert training to arrive at such confidence and increasing trust in these abilities that are innate to all of us. Without expert guidance it would not have been possible for me to learn and to trust, and to teach, how to be relaxed in the face of fears and other compelling triggers to just work harder. For me I did this through the grassroots empowerment network, called Balanced View, which I have participated in fully for the past 6 years. We each can find the perfect way for our own dispositions to support us in training up this fundamental and most basic of skills. Whatever it is for you and for your students I cannot overemphasize the value, in all aspects of life, academic and otherwise, in really settling in to using our intelligence most effectively in this way.
Let's train up our children and students, and ourselves for that matter, to relax into our natural abilities and to get used to taking up this approach whenever we most need it in life. Let's find out what the results will be, in terms of academic performance and increased student well being, and ultimately what the results will be in the world these students create when they inevitably become its leaders and guardians.