Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. To submit questions, use this form or #helpstudentsthrive. Read more from this blog.

Student Well-Being Opinion

Teachers Can Make the World of Difference in a Child’s Life

Adversity rarely makes a child stronger
By Angela Duckworth — April 12, 2023 1 min read
What can an individual do to help students experiencing adversity?
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

What can an individual do to help students experiencing adversity?

Here’s one student’s story that might give you some ideas, in a piece I wrote for Character Lab as a Tip of the Week:

A few years ago, I met a young man named Cody Coleman.

Cody’s story begins in the Monmouth County Correctional Institution, where his mother was serving time for threatening to kill the child of a senator. Cody’s childhood was chaotic and uncertain. When he told me the bare facts, my heart broke for the little boy who, against all odds, grew up to thrive in every possible sense of the word.

Today, after earning his Ph.D. in computer science at Stanford, Cody is the co-founder and CEO of an artificial intelligence startup, Coactive. He is exceptionally kind. He smiles more easily than any other person I know. And he signs off every email with “make it a good day.”

The latest research on adversity shows that the story of Cody Coleman is the exception, not the rule. What doesn’t kill you may make you stronger, but for the majority of young people, the kind of poverty and neglect that defined Cody’s childhood are not crucibles of character development but, instead, the beginning of vicious cycles of stress and dysregulation.

By some estimates, fewer than 1 in 10 individuals who suffer serious adversity end up thriving in the multidimensional way that Cody is thriving.

When I think of Cody, I think of the last two lines of the poem “Invictus”: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

But I also think of the people in Cody’s life who helped him change his trajectory. Cody’s oldest brother Shawn, who planted the improbable idea of going to college. His trigonometry teacher Chantel, who offered him the attention, love, and day-to-day care she gave her own children, and whom today Cody calls “Mom.” And Norm, the teacher who vowed and made good on the promise: “I’ll make sure you never go hungry.”

Collectively, the people who cared for Cody helped him “circle-jump” from Winslow Township High School to MIT, from MIT to Google, from Google to Stanford.

What lessons can we take from the rarity of Cody’s journey?

Don’t assume that adversity in the absence of support makes anyone stronger.

Do look for ways you can be the Shawn, Chantel, or Norm in the life of a young person who needs you. The roots of resilience are relationships.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Your Questions on the Science of Reading, Answered
Dive into the Science of Reading with K-12 leaders. Discover strategies, policy insights, and more in our webinar.
Content provided by Otus
Mathematics Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Breaking the Cycle: How Districts are Turning around Dismal Math Scores
Math myth: Students just aren't good at it? Join us & learn how districts are boosting math scores.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being The Surprising Connection Between Universal School Meals and Student Discipline
Giving all students free school meals can help nurture a positive school climate by eliminating the stigma around poverty.
6 min read
Third graders have lunch outdoors at Highland Elementary School in Columbus, Kan., on Oct. 17, 2022.
Third graders have lunch outdoors at Highland Elementary School in Columbus, Kan., on Oct. 17, 2022.
Charlie Riedel/AP
Student Well-Being SEL Could Move Into School Sports. What That Might Look Like
Massachusetts is considering a bill to establish guidelines on how school athletics incorporate SEL.
5 min read
A middle school football team practices Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in Oklahoma City.
A middle school football team practices in Oklahoma City in 2022.
Sue Ogrocki/AP
Student Well-Being Q&A Putting the Freak-out Over Social Media and Kids' Mental Health in Historical Context
Is it another in a long line of technology-induced moral panics, or something different?
3 min read
Vector illustration of 30 items and devices converging into a single smart device. Your contemporary tablet is filled with a rich history, containing ways to record and view video, listen to music, calculate numbers, communicate with others, pay for things, and on and on.
DigitalVision Vectors
Student Well-Being Opinion Stop Saying 'These Kids Don't Care About School’
This damaging myth creates a barrier between educators and students and fails to address the root causes of student disengagement.
Laurie Putnam
4 min read
Illustration of a group of young people with backpacks standing in row rear view, on an erased whiteboard surface.
Education Week + iStock/Getty Images