The pressure to perform today is greater than it ever was before. In a hyper-interconnected world, students are constantly exposed to comparison as they continue to face academic pressure from school and home. But what are we really asking them to chase? What does it mean to pursue perfection in a world that values innovation, flexibility, creativity, and where new paths are being forged everyday by bold pioneers?
To explore this topic, young industry pioneers, mental-health professionals, educators, parents, and students converged digitally on the 9th of October 2021, at Leaps of Knowledge: Episode R - Reach for Perfection. Leaps: Episode R featured the premiere of an engaging documentary-style episode with insightful perspectives on the topic, a Masterclass by experts in psychology and mental health, as well as a networking session for participants to connect and exchange experiences.
“Love listening to the Masterclass session and learning many new positive perspectives” - Wan Shahida, Malaysia
“I feel I have much confidence and gained new insights now to better manage my learners emotional well-being when reaching for perfection” - Onuh Oyigoga John, Nigeria
“Thanks so much for this :) Really enjoyed the heartfelt conversations with the wonderful and insightful people in both break-out sessions, already feeling more passionate and inspired!” - Sam, Malaysia
Here are 5 thought-provoking questions and perspectives to chew on from Leaps: Episode R.
In this age of the pandemic, there is a great worry among teachers and parents that students are falling behind. Students too, are worried. Everyone is feeling the mental stress and pressure to do the impossible, to "catch up" on a whole year of missed opportunities. This is especially so for students who are facing their final year exams, in a system that often values good grades alone as the benchmark for excellence.
Cheryl Fernando, CEO of Pemimpin GSL, often wonders if this could instead be an opportunity for us to have a different way of looking at our standards of assessment. "Could we be assessing not just for knowledge, but also for skills, values, and attitude?", she asks. If the goal of education is to prepare students to problem-solve, have resilience, self-awareness, and lead with vision, we need assessments that allow them to learn and understand their own strengths and weaknesses. One that guides them towards grasping new concepts and applying them in different areas. All this will help encourage young people to reach for excellence in their own way.
Elisa Guerra, co-author of ‘Hope Where Are You?’ and Global Teacher Prize Finalist (2015 & 2016) mentioned that when the pandemic is over and we are back to our schools, the pressure to catch up with learning loss can push us to become overachievers and to be perfect. That's not realistic and instead we need to embark ourselves on a road of reflecting and learning about ourselves to better ourselves, so that we can also be a changing force for the betterment of our communities.
Julian Yee, Malaysia’s first Winter Olympian, shared at Leaps that “one time I was competing, I had this really fun programme and the music was to James Brown. And when I started off the programme, people were already cheering for me. I could see the excitement and the joy in the audience watching me skate. It was just so lively. It made me happy and I drew more energy from that and skated the best I could. So for me, I think the passion to express myself, and to bring joy to people, I think that really kept me going with skating and making it into a career.”
On the topic of passing on this same passion to his students, Julian who is now a coach, said, “Whenever I see my students and how they skate, I always ask them first, what is it that you want to achieve? Based on that, it's my responsibility to help them achieve that. It may not necessarily be something I want to see from them. But it has to come from the student itself. And that's when we know the student is determined and dedicated to achieve what they want.”
Darren Teoh, Founder and Head Chef of Dewakan shared that when he first started Dewakan, what he really wanted was to explore produce that comes from this land that was indigenous to Malaysians. Produce that was from our farmers and our fishermen, which he would soon take and find a novel way to cook it and put that onto a plate and present it to Malaysians. Things that have never been dared to put on a restaurant menu, he did that through the vehicle of Dewakan and through pursing this passion, he eventually turned the restaurant into The Best Restaurant in Malaysia under Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2019 (editor's update: also for year 2022).
As Darren Teoh says, that is the key difference between interest and passion.
“Interest is when you feel like okay, I'm going to get up and I'm going to make some muffins, I'm going to bake some muffins for today. But passion is being able to persevere and to be able to do that constantly, baking muffins every day consistently and trying to make it better.”
:Unless your passion has a component of perseverance, meaning to do that consistently over and over again, even when it's difficult, and there’s going to be many times when it's going to be extremely difficult, that's when passion has value," he continues.
Julian Yee shares that a good strategy to persist every day is by focusing on personal best scores.
“It's always good that because you're competing with yourself, you want to always do better than how you did before. And it's very important to see that because then you see results grow. But if you're always constantly thinking of, I want to be number one, I want to beat the world champion, it's very difficult if you're starting off at world number 500. Right? We got to set small goals. And in order to do that, you have to be able to compete with yourself. And to be able to understand where you stand, and how you're going to get better, instead of right away reaching for the stars. So for me, I find personal best is a great way to just slowly inch forward, it might take time, but eventually you are moving forward.”
Ellisha Othman, clinical psychologist and Managing Director of Thrive Well, shares that when a child experiences stress such as with academic pressure, if it's prolonged stress or adversities, it can actually have an impact on the neurobiology and the hormones of the developing child and adolescence. It can lead to poorer health outcomes, and in terms of their psychological well being, their ability to regulate their emotions, to develop empathy and to socialise.
Dr. Kate Middleton, psychologist and Director of the Mind and Soul Foundation, shares that the good news with children and teenagers is their mind is bouncy and flexible and they are more adaptable to learn healthy mental habits if we equip them with it. For example, to deal with failure and build resilience, Will Van der Hart, founder and Director of the Mind and Soul Foundation shares that it is important to both reward effort and to identify failure.
“Failure isn't a moment to say, hmm, you're not going to amount to anything. It's always focused on itself. Why do you think that that didn't go so well? Is there anything you don't understand that could help you with? How does it feel to struggle? And equally when we're celebrating the child, we're not over celebrating the child, we’re celebrating the fact that they made an effort and achieved. This is the key distinction, to turn away from character elevation or character assassination, to deal with the issue of learning. Your child needs to feel loved and secure to be able to deal with failure with resilience.”
Dr. Kate Middleton says that when we talk of stress we're often thinking of things that are challenging or unpleasant, but actually stress in physiological terms is anything that requires something of your brain or of your body. What’s really interesting is that those two emotions, anxiety and frustration, at lower levels, their job is to focus your attention and trigger your problem solving brain. They help us work better, learn better, study better.
The problem comes when you’re pushed into higher levels of stress, because then we start to edge closer to that emergency zone where our brain will switch down our ability to focus and think and encourage us to get away from whatever is causing this suffocating demand. So we need to give our children enough challenge to grow and learn, but not so much challenge in order they might tip over into being overwhelmed and hopeless.
Dr. Kate Middleton suggests that one of the ways to reduce unhealthy stress levels is to build into life good regular rhythms of rest, downtime, fun and connection. Will Van der Hart shares that sometimes we've got to retreat mentally if we're going to advance mentally. For example, if your child says, can I spend 20 minutes playing on the Xbox, as a parent, your reaction is probably ‘No way, this is homework time!’. But actually if the 20 minutes your child spends playing the Xbox enables them to do great work and extend their learning period, then this can be a helpful tool.
More importantly, Will shares that while parents sometimes prefer not to talk about negative emotions such as anxiety and stress with their children because they fear talking about it might make it come true. However, as a result that makes children feel like those emotions are unsafe. If we can speak to our children about the reality that there are times you might feel low or stressed, young people can take the first steps towards better understanding and managing their own experience in a way that grows them rather than limits them.
Don't just watch Episode R, sign up for The HEART Course! It's a free online course which creates a space where educators are excited to connect over ideas in education and start conversations that bring change to their classroom, school, and community.
In five sessions H-E-A-R and T, you can WATCH discussions and best practices from global thought-leaders following five themes in education. There also conversation prompts to help your group of educators DISCUSS ideas after each video, and toolkits to APPLY what you have learned. Each session also has a growing curation of resources from over 30 education partners in Malaysia and beyond. Educators like yourself can CONNECT with these partners to bring students’ learning beyond the classroom!
Get started with The HEART Course here.
Leaps of Knowledge invites everyone to be a game changer in education. Through a series of talks, workshops, conferences, and other events, featuring the world’s leading technologists, innovators, and shapers, we aim to inspire a sense of purpose and joy by changing hearts and shaping minds. In 2021, Leaps of Knowledge: The HEART Series is set to take place in 5 global online events throughout the year, featuring contextual topics in the themes of FrogAsia’s core values: H, E, A, R, and T respectively - Episode H: Here to Make a Difference, Episode E: Enjoy What You Do and Who You Do It With, Episode A: Act With Integrity, Episode R: Reach for Perfection and Episode T: Think Ahead and Out of The Box.