The Importance of Academic Courage – a brief review

The Importance of Academic Courage – a brief review

Presenting on birds - of my absolute favourite education blogs is Edutopia ( In this post I shall be reviewing a recent post on Academic Courage. I don’t mean being able to summon up your courage as a teacher to go into a class full of horrible 16 year olds. No, I mean the courage to put forward ideas and concepts you’re not confident with, as a student. I bet you have had many students who you know get, or nearly get, a point. But they’re scared to look like an idiot. How do we get them to ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’?

One of the great points this article makes is that getting it wrong is OK, even to be encouraged. But how do we get the kids to open up to negative feedback? Haven’t they always been told how good they are to be correct? And don’t people make fun of them if they get things wrong? A lot of the time they do so as teachers our job is to prepare them for it and to show them how to criticise in a polite and positive way. That will encourage the Academic Courage we’re looking for. By using peer-review (real-time questioning of the work being presented) both the reviewer and the reviewee learn strong tactics to allow them to become better at accepting critical comments, more adept at creating suitable responses and more capable of understanding the multiple points of view that most learning situations will provide.

Starting with the teacher is the obvious position – after all, as Gerard pointed out recently, teachers know everything don’t they? Of course we don’t so showing our fallibility to the kids is a powerful reminder that we are not perfect and neither are they – and that’s OK. Accepting our weaknesses is an important part of growing up. It’s what we do to overcome the weaknesses that really makes the difference. Do we sit back and let the weakness stop us from doing things or do we work at the weakness, to minimise its impact on us? It takes courage to do both – we’re slaying dragons.

For most kids the teacher is a role model. If they can see that you have been through, or are going through, a challenge that requires you to be brave (for me it’s most of physics) then they can relate, can start to do ‘being brave’ and begin to overcome the challenge. The truly great teachers do this and the children become true Dragon Slayers. The message here is to take risks, to let yourself be exposed as imperfect and to make it really work for you and your kids. The courage to present their ideas is a profound addition to their life-skills arsenal.

For the full article please go to


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