Unhelpful Perfectionism

It is concerning to note the number of times and ways our wonderful, cheerful, engaged students speak of depression and other emotional issues they and their peers struggle with. Of course, there are many reasons for this, and we cannot control those which are not part of school, for example traumatic events or situations at home. But there are areas where we can make a difference.

Unhelpful Perfectionism

“Excessive perfectionism, constantly setting standards that are impossible to achieve and then feeling this as personal failure, is really damaging. It is known as unhelpful perfectionism and is completely different from the healthy pursuit of excellence. It is often counterproductive, prevents students from doing their best and it erodes self-esteem…. [leading to] perfectionist thinking crushing creativity, risk-taking and ambition, replacing them with playing safe and loss of self-belief.” 

To combat this we can try to do the following in our classes:

  • We must praise the effort rather than the achievement.
  • We must teach children to see that failure is a necessary part of learning.
  • We must show that we’re not perfect but that we’re on a journey of growing and learning too.
  • We must not protect them from hard things, otherwise, they will not have built up the necessary emotional resilience to know how to face challenges.
  • We must teach children to find joy in trying their best rather than feeling good by comparing themselves to others.

Tech vs Perfectionism

One of the best ways we can use the affordances of technology is to make assignments process-based, where a good final product is arrived at through a process of refining and improving with the guidance of peers, teachers and metacognitive self-reflection. We do want excellence, but it is not a magic Yes/No quality. It is realistically and grittily striven for.

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