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Stop or Start?

Starting again

by Helen Bryant (revised, originally published in 2013)

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To consider whether stopping something in the middle and changing it is a good thing.

Preparation and materials

  • None required.


  1. Open the assembly with the statement: I wonder if anything like this has ever happened to you.

    One day, a teacher was taking a lesson, and it wasn’t going particularly well. The students were getting confused and so was the teacher! The students had written a few things in their books, but no one was making much headway.

    The teacher stopped the lesson, told the students to rip the page out of their exercise books and changed tack to something much more engaging.

  2. Ask the students how they might react to a teacher telling them to rip a page out of their books. Would they do what the teacher said? What questions might go through their minds?

  3. Explain that the teacher would have needed to reassure the students that it was OK to rip a page out of their exercise books and that they weren’t going to get into trouble.

    Point out that sometimes in life, we need to realize that something isn’t working and that we should cut our losses and move on. It isn’t a case of admitting failure; rather, we need to be aware of when to give up on something and do it differently.

  4. The phrase ‘cutting your losses’ is often taken to mean that you’re walking away from something without anything to show for your efforts. However, I’m not sure that this is quite accurate - after all, you’ve had the experience, which you can reflect upon.

    For example, the teacher in our scenario at the start of the assembly won’t teach that lesson in the same way again. He will change things and make sure that he does it differently next time. That’s not leaving with nothing, it’s learning from experience.

  5. Let’s explore a couple of other examples.

    - Is it better to stay in a relationship with someone who treats you badly or end it because it’s not doing either of you any favours?
    - Is it better for parents to live separately rather than staying together and spending their evenings arguing, causing everyone around them to be unhappy?

  6. One reason why we tend to avoid cutting our losses is because we worry that we have failed somehow. Often, we don’t want to admit that something is wrong, or we haven’t done as well as we expected or we aren’t as good at something as we’d hoped.

    If possible, give a personal example. For example, I tried rowing when I was in my first year at university. I had all sorts of notions about what it would be like. It was rubbish. It rained, I nearly fell in and I hated it. I cut my losses. I decided that there was no way that it was for me. I could have continued making myself miserable and being a total pain to the people who were trying to help me, but it was the best thing for everyone that I chose to use my time to do something else instead.

    I expect you’ve had similar experiences with sports and hobbies in your lives . . .

  7. The same goes for realizing when it’s time to go your separate ways if a relationship or a friendship isn’t working.

    Likewise, the same might apply to choices around GCSEs, A levels and a future career. You may have spent thousands of hours and hundreds of pounds on training for something, so you feel that you have to carry on.

    We look at what we have invested in these things as something that is lost if we stop, rather than seeing the experience that we have gained. We also forget to appreciate what damage we do to ourselves if we persevere with a situation that makes us unhappy.

  8. Sometimes, it’s good to stop and think: what advice would you give to someone else in your situation? Chances are, you’d tell them to put it down to experience and move on. It’s better to focus on what you will gain rather than think about what you have lost.

    So, remember that ripping out the page and starting again may be hard, but it could end up being much better for everyone.

Time for reflection

Think about the areas of your life that are proving difficult at the moment.

- How will you work out what is worth persisting with and what you should walk away from?
- How many relationships are hard because you’re responsible for others? If you walked away, what would happen to those people? What about the relationships where others are responsible for you?
- How many lessons are tough, but well worth the effort? How will you know?

Remind the students that making decisions is difficult. Often, we need to talk things through with people who are outside our immediate situation. 

Remind the students of the services that are available in school that could be helpful to them.

Publication date: February 2022   (Vol.24 No.2)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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