How to help students manage disappointing results

We teach students that failure isn’t everything, but receiving disappointing results can still hurt and may even hinder their ability to improve. By listening empathetically and providing actionable support, educators can support students to see failure as a key part of their learning journey.

teacher and students smiling

1. Listen with empathy

Make time for a 1:1 conversation with a student in a space and manner that makes them feel comfortable. For some, this may be outside class time, on their own. Lead the conversation with open-ended statements or questions to help you understand why a student is disappointed with their results. For example:

  • ‘What results were you expecting from this task?’

  • ‘Do you think you deserved a higher mark than you received?’

  • ‘Why do you think you didn’t get the result you wanted?’

  • ‘What might you do next time to achieve the result you want?’

  • ‘Describe how you feel right now.’

  • ‘What are you disappointed about?’

  • ‘What would you like to know about your results?’

  • ‘What makes you say that?’

  • ‘How can I help?’

It's important not to make assumptions about why they are feeling disappointed. They may not have fully understood your written or verbal feedback, they may have put a lot of time and effort into the task, or they may have been aiming for a certain grade. Once you understand why they are disappointed with their results, then you can help them with moving forward.

2. Offer time for self-reflection

It’s important to offer structure and guidance to enable students to identify what steps to take next to improve or grow. Ask them to consider carefully any feedback they have been given, and then to reflect on what their next steps might be.

You might like to provide structured reflection activities for a whole class, or tailor activities to suit individual students. For example, you could use reflection activities such as Two Stars and A Wish in our lesson on managing disappointing results or a SWOT analysis to help students consider their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

3. Identify strategies for success

Many students find it a challenge to identify strategies to support their learning success. By teaching and explaining these strategies, you can help students build a toolkit for success that they can use the next time they’re faced with disappointing results. Key strategies might include:

  • allowing plenty of time for planning

  • refining their timelines

  • setting goals

  • drafting and seeking feedback from peers and the teacher

  • asking questions of the teacher

  • collaborating with a partner to break down the task.

For activities and ideas around study planning, time management and goal setting, try the classroom resources in our study stress action pack.

Teaching for success

One of the best ways to help your students is to provide them with clear, structured feedback. Perhaps you could devote a lesson to managing disappointing results, like the one we’ve created. It’s also worth reflecting on what your strategies for success are as a teacher in supporting students. This could include identifying clear learning intentions and success criteria, providing a model of an exemplar response, setting a scaffolded task (e.g. a graphic organiser to chunk step by step) or having multiple check-in points.

4. Provide supportive opportunities and information

Building a growth mindset

Some students may take disappointing results (especially repeated disappointing results) to heart, which can contribute to a fixed mindset, anxiety or even depression. A student with a fixed mindset lets failure or success define them – and in the case of a disappointing result, they may believe they can’t succeed in future tasks, activities or exams. You can read our ReachOut Schools article on mindsets to help you understand the difference between fixed and growth mindsets, and how to support students to develop their resilience. We also have a number of classroom lessons and Wellbeing Fives to support students in this area:

Provide opportunities for emotional co-regulation

When sharing feedback on results with your class, or in a 1:1 meeting with a student, it’s important to provide opportunities for emotional co-regulation. This is the act of two or more people (e.g. a teacher and a student) taking time to help each other identify feelings and come to a place of calm or emotional regulation together. You can do this by paying attention to how you feel (self-regulation) and then noticing others’ responses. This action will support students to identify and practise emotional self-regulation if they are faced with disappointments in the future. The following are some quick emotional co-regulation activities:

Encourage self-care

By encouraging students to practise self-care, you can help them to manage their feelings of disappointment, as well as support their overall wellbeing and mental health. For helpful ideas on how students can look after themselves, consider sharing with them ReachOut’s self-care collection.

5. Encourage help-seeking

If needed, support students to access mental health services such as your school’s wellbeing or guidance team, or refer them to outside organisations such as the Kids Helpline, LifeLine and ReachOut. For tips and guidance on facilitating effective support for students, check out our article on breaking down barriers to help-seeking.

What can I do now?

  • Support your students in the classroom with our study stress action pack.