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Self-control is Much More Powerful as a Cause of Personal Success

Students - Ambro - Free Digital Photos

Image by Ambro, courtesy of

One of the most satisfying outcomes as a class teacher is when a group of challenging children eventually recognise the benefits of self-control and apply it in such a way that they see the difference it makes to their learning, their relationships and their success – and then continue the journey.

Not only is it rewarding for the children to see this change in themselves, it is immensely gratifying for adults involved to see children take responsibility for their behaviour for the sake of it – not just because they want the stickers.

No one can argue against the fundamental necessity for children to take responsibility for their own behaviour – to exercise self-control – if they are to become ‘successful’ human beings.

At the beginning of this year (2013), the BBC reported on the ‘American Freshman Survey’, which, for the past four decades has analysed the way American students view themselves. During that period, they have observed a dramatic rise in the number of students who describe themselves as being “above average” for academic ability, drive to achieve and self-confidence. The BBC report states that ‘while the Freshman Survey shows that students are increasingly likely to label themselves as gifted in writing ability, objective test scores indicate that actual writing ability has gone down since the 1960s’.

In a brutal nutshell, American students are becoming increasingly narcissistic whilst becoming less academic.

Rather than confidence (or self-confidence) being the key to success, the article quotes the argument that ‘self-control is much more powerful and well-supported as a cause of personal success’. It concludes: ‘you need to believe that you can go out and do something but that’s not the same as thinking that you’re great’.

So, does intervention that encourages students to feel good about themselves motivate them to try harder? Apparently not – in fact, it does the exact opposite: it may remove the very reason to work hard.

Narcissism, evidently, seems to be synonymous with failure.

Are you narcissistic? Take a Narcissism Test here. Between 12 and 15 is average. Celebrities often score closer to 18. Narcissists score over 20.

I scored 13…


How does P4C impact on a child’s resilience? Part 2

Image: Idea Go /

Image: Idea Go /

Imagination is more important than knowledge.
For knowledge is limited, whilst imagination embraces the whole world.
– Albert Einstein –

In Part 1 of this two-part post, I outlined the rationale and key outcomes of using Philosophy for Children (P4C), including the ‘c’ words espoused by Matthew Lipman, the acknowledged founder of Philosophy for Children.

In this post, I explore some of the specific benefits of using P4C, in particular, four fundamental skills that I promote constantly and which help children develop practise resilient thinking in all my workshops: the capacity for self-control and the ability to create, communicate and collaborate. P4C (also known as PwC – Philosophy with Children) follows a very simple but clear structure to enable children to follow a line of enquiry – but it provides opportunities for creativity, communication and collaboration in many forms, some of which I will outline here.

Firstly, though, the structure: using literally ANY stimulus (I’ve demonstrated it with a pencil in classes and staff training events):

a) WHAT I KNOW: make objective and factual observations about the stimulus, such as events in a story, characteristics of an object

b) WHAT I DON’T KNOW: open-ended questions about characters or events in a story, features of an object, a scene in a painting, eg. I don’t know why / how / what… OR, I wonder why / how / what…

c) WHAT COULD BE: a range of possible answers to one of the questions put forward, eg. I think…, Maybe…

The thinking processes involved present excellent opportunities for children to learn the skills of observation, recollection, assimilation, making links, identifying gaps and anomalies, asking questions, making critical judgements, thinking rationally, arguing points of view and surmising. However, the real strength of this process lies in collaboration: children thinking for themselves but then sharing their thoughts, ideas and viewpoints – and being able to strengthen their thinking through the sharing process. Clearly, not all children are comfortable with articulating their thoughts so it is important that structures are in place which encourage the more reluctant speakers.

Many schools use Kagan breakout structures to facilitate opportunities for individuals to share their thinking. These are very effective and easily implemented. I often use what I call ‘Speed-Dating’ (go and share your thinking with a partner for a minute then, on the signal, find another partner, and so on) or ‘Sliding Lines’ (children in two lines facing each other share thinking with the person facing them and then one of the lines slides along two people so that the children have a new partner, and so on – the two that ‘drop off’ one end join the other end). In this instance, EVERY child is involved in conversation: the effect is energising and the impact is almost guaranteed.

When it comes to collaborative thinking, I ask children in small groups to agree on an idea (eg. a good question or a good answer to a question). This does not always come easy, as you can imagine: some children are very precious about their ideas and quite unwilling to let go of the notion that their idea is the best. However, in a group context, each child has to recognise and value the contribution of each and every other child – and listen to and consider their viewpoints. This often means conceding that another person’s idea is actually better than your own and that their ideas enrich yours. Just imagine every child in a class learning to think like this! The resilience is in that the child maintains their dignity and poise as a group member, whilst exchanging and modifying their ideas. This process fosters mutual respect and consideration and promotes creativity, confident communication and effective collaboration. It also ensures that each child’s thinking is validated, which naturally builds their confidence and resilience as thinkers – and contributes to what Robert Fisher calls ‘building community’.

As resilient thinkers, children are more likely to hold their own viewpoint, listen to and consider others’ viewpoints, be willing to change their viewpoints, be willing to try and persuade others to change their viewpoints – and accept that others may think differently from them. This also enables children to justify their thinking and be able to rationalise their viewpoints – essential in today’s multi-media, information-saturated knowledge climate. I often tell children that what we are practising in their classroom are the skills they will need in the future to solve the world’s big problems.