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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

What is Your Achilles Heel?

By Peter DeWitt — February 06, 2012 2 min read
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The current economic and political climate could become the Achilles Heel for schools but they must not let it.

Everyone has an Achilles Heel. It’s the one thing that can take even the strongest of individuals to a dark place. Depending on the individual or the situation, an Achilles Heel can take us down or make us stronger. It all depends on who the adult is, and how they deal with the situation. Unfortunately, even children have an Achilles Heel.

If taught resilience at a young age, children can grow up to do great things with their lives. How does a child learn about resilience? They learn it through great stories, classroom lessons and life experience. The adults around them can truly help them through even the most difficult of situations. Unfortunately, if an adult only coddles or shelters the child, they are doing them a disservice. We, as adults, want so much to protect children from tough situations but we need to remember that those same situations can teach children a great deal about life.

When I was eleven I lost my dad to Cancer. Losing a parent at such a young age is difficult for many reasons but most of all because you don’t realize the magnitude of the loss until many years later. Each milestone that happens such as getting a driver’s license, graduating from high school or getting into college is bittersweet because you realize they’re only sharing it with you in spirit, not in person.

As much as losing a parent is difficult, the looks of sympathy on the faces of those around you are just as hard. At some point people leave and go back to their own lives. However, there are others who don’t leave, nor do their sympathetic looks. At that point, there is a chance that the experience of losing a parent can turn into an Achilles Heel. After the gift of time, it’s important to turn sympathy to empathy and help the child get back on track.

Achilles Heels do not always have to come in the form of a death of a parent. Sometimes the Achilles Heel is a situation or a person. Perhaps a student believes their Achilles Heel is math. It takes an engaging teacher or a supportive parent to help turn that around for the student and make math their strength and not their perceived weakness.

Teachers and administrators need to be careful that they are not the Achilles Heel for students. They have the power to make or break students in a variety of ways. Whether it is through the way they treat them or the way they grade them. A year with a tough teacher could ultimately be a good thing for students if they learn how to deal with criticism. Being critiqued (using fair methods) is a part of life.

Even an institution as large as the public school system has an Achilles Heel. Depending on the school district, they are at the mercy of politics and inequitable funding. If things keep moving in the direction they are thousands of suburban, urban and rural schools will go bankrupt. It will mean the end of the “good old days” but perhaps they weren’t “good” for everyone. The current economic and political climate could become the Achilles Heel for schools but they must not let it.

No matter the situation, students need to learn resilience, whether it’s through getting a bad grade on a project, a fight with a friend or the loss of a parent. Teachers, parents and administrators play an important part in this process for children. They have the power to teach students that their Achilles Heel doesn’t have to be devastating. In actuality, if done correctly it can prepare them for their future.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.