Risk or Rescue? by Adam Moore, Head of School at Woodland Presbyterian School

Posted by Amy Smythe on 8/27/2019 7:20:00 PM

Risk or Rescue? by Adam Moore, Head of School at Woodland Presbyterian School 

I have the honor of teaching an 8th grade Christian Leadership class each year using a book called Habitudes by Tim Elmore as the curriculum. I must say that the couple hours with our 8th graders are often the highlight of my week (not that I don’t love everything about being a Head of School).

One area that I have noticed students struggle more with over the last twenty years is in the area of perseverance, grit, and determination. When things get challenging, there is a temptation for young people (or should I say all people) to shut down or say I can’t. I much prefer the mindset of I can’t … yet (1).  

One of the most significant challenges of teaching in 2019 is finding the “sweet spot for growth.” The sweet spot is that area where students are challenged appropriately, not too easy, not too difficult. That is where real growth takes place. Educators and parents alike struggle at finding the right mix of support and challenge. I commend the article below from Tim Elmore’s Growing Leaders blog as a great resource to frame our teaching and parenting. The article “When to Risk and When to Rescue” gives advice to parents but is also applicable to teachers.

“When adults rescue kids…., they begin to give up more quickly, believing they need adults around to save them from hardship. Youth are naturally anti-fragile, and it is adults who make them fragile over time.”

Here in lies the challenge for educators knowing when to intervene and help and when to allow the struggle. We all know the line for intervention is going to be different for every child, depending on many factors. Too much support and the child does not learn how to problem solve and develop the mental muscles to overcome challenges, not enough support and the child can shut down or refuse. The article gives some practical advice on when to intervene and when to step back and allow the struggle.

Criteria as a Rule (with Some Exceptions): 

Do Not Remove Stressors and Rescue Them within the Following Criteria:

  1. When their stressor is part of a regular routine they need to manage.
  2. When their stressor is typical for a person their age.
  3. When the stressor is something that is short-term (not chronic) and they elected to do it on their own volition.
  4. When the stressor involves them forgetting a responsibility that they must learn to remember and face.

Do Remove Stressors within the Following Criteria:

  1. When their stressor is chronic and unhealthy, such as abuse or neglect on the part of a guardian.
  2. When their stressor has caused unhealthy and destructive habits in their life.
  3. When the stressor isn’t typical for a person their age and is beyond their capacity.
  4. When the stressor is overwhelming because it’s accidental; imposed on them by someone else or unknowingly assumed by them.

I believe, most importantly, young people need adult supporters and encouragers in their life, not people that remove all the obstacles and make life easy or adults that constantly ride and point out their mistakes (which we all have made). Saying words like “you can do it”, “stick to it”,  “you got this” even when the tears are coming is no doubt a challenge. Let’s continue to partner together to ensure our students develop the mental and emotional “moxey” to reach their God-given potential in all areas of their growth.


  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Carol Dweck