(This is the first post in a three-part series)
The new question-of-the-week is:
What is resilience and how can teachers promote it in the classroom?
Many of our students come to us with a huge reservoir of resilience based on their previous life’s experience. Of course, some do not. And, though I don’t think helping students develop more of this trait should be our primary goal, I do believe it’s worth always looking for opportunities to promote it. I don’t think anyone can ever have too much resilience!
This three-part series will examine strategies teachers can keep in mind to support student resilience in the classroom.
Today, Adeyemi Stembridge, Becky Corr, Julie Hasson, Cindy Terebush, Dr. Cynthia “Mama J” Johnson, and Kelly Wickham Hurst share their suggestions.
Response From Adeyemi Stembridge
Adeyemi Stembridge, Ph.D., provides technical assistance for school improvement with a specific focus on equity. He works with districts around the country to identify root causes of achievement gaps and formulate pedagogy—and policy-based efforts to redress the underperformance of vulnerable student populations. Follow him on Twitter at @DrYemiS:
Whether it is considered an outcome, a process, or a discrete characteristic, the essence of resilience is a positive, adaptive response in the face of significant adversity. The research literature shows that students can learn to be more resilient if they are able to gain a greater sense of mastery over circumstances of their lives that impede their success. With some of our children, so overwhelmed with difficult situations outside of school, this may seem implausible. My argument, however, is that mastery gained over controllable circumstances inevitably prepares one to be more resilient in the face of those which are beyond one’s immediate scope of influence.
If the goal in our understanding of resilience is to be able to better position ourselves as more effective support to students, then we must think carefully about the nature and value of authentic, trusting relationships in school. Trust isn’t merely a commodity shared between two or more people. I am also referring to how students come into trusting relationships with the idea of school and their identities therein. We are all more likely to remain committed to a task when some part of our identity is invested in the space and/or task. In this regard, I encourage teachers to use strategies that allow students to see themselves as the agents of success in their own lives.
Snapshots of Engagement
One of my favorite strategies for supporting the resilience of students is to capture snapshots of their successful engagement in school so I can show them back to kiddos in a sort of highlight reel of their greatest moments in the classroom. I will literally use a smartphone or a tablet to take a live-action snapshot of my students invested in their learning. (It helps to have planned lessons that students will be able to see as interesting and engaging.) A snapshot of an engaged student—thinking, doing, talking, listening, it almost doesn’t matter as long as it’s clear that the kiddo is invested in the learning experience—becomes a text that can be further investigated. I can then show them that picture to frame a larger conversation that centers on what they were doing, thinking, and feeling in that moment. I find that I am able to get a lot of traction from a rich snapshot and the question: “Can you tell me what was happening in this picture?” Our students are more often able to retrieve their choices in a richer emotional context with the support of the image than without. I can then follow-up accordingly to support the student’s understanding that they were responsible for the success and that future successes can be engineered similarly through their choices. After our conversation, I will often send that picture to other persons in the student’s trust network (in and out of school) so that the kiddo may have the opportunity to retell the story multiple times.
Another related strategy is centered around the same principle of students being able to reflect on their successful engagement, but in the Success Reflections strategy, the students are the generator of the texts themselves. I like to have students record on video their answers to three questions:
- Today I was successful when....
- I was successful because....
- When I was successful, I felt....
Students will need initial support in the capturing and recording of their successes—though they often need less support in the technical aspects of recording their reflections than the support that is essential in helping them conceptualize and internalize successes as instances of effective engagement. In the first question, we want students to locate a specific moment in the day when they experienced what they can describe as successful—be it in the classroom, on the playground, or in any school space. The second question requires the student to identify a choice (or action) of theirs that contributed to the success. Students have to see themselves as agents and engineers of the success through their engagement. The third question leads them to create (or clarify) affective context in which the success occurs. We want students to name their positive feelings so that when they retrieve the memory of the success in the future, it will have been reinforced with the emotion. In reviewing the students’ recorded reflections, we can support their building of more nuanced emotional concepts beyond what we are likely to hear initially. Words like “happy” and “proud” can be developed further to add nuance and depth so that students can experience school and their school identities with greater emotional granularity.
Ultimately, we want for the reflection of students’ successes to show their potential for resilience in their academic learning. The snapshots of engagement and success reflections are strategies for giving students the evidence of their own agency so that they can more reliably see their efforts as having the potential to yield the outcomes they desire in school. Reflection, trust, and relationships are key to support students in understanding specifically when and how they overcame obstacles to their engagement in the classroom.
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. (2015). Supportive relationships and active skill-building strengthen the foundations of resilience: Working paper no. 13. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu.
Response From Becky Corr
Becky Corr is the president of EdSpark Consulting, which is dedicated to igniting partnerships for diverse learners through professional development, technical writing, and systems analysis. In her role as an English-language development team lead in the Douglas County school district in Colorado, she coaches, mentors and supports teachers, and facilitates family-engagement opportunities:
“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”
Resilience is a person’s ability to adapt and cope with failure and adversity. We are born with resilience. Think about a child who is learning to walk. The child falls down over and over again, yet gets back up again. As a child is learning to walk, caregivers ensure the child’s safety by placing gates and covering sharp corners. These safety mechanisms don’t prevent children from falling. They just try to ensure the safety of the child when he or she does fall.
Resilience is a skill that, when cultivated and harnessed, positively impacts the lives of children well beyond the classroom and into adulthood. Cultivating resilience is what allows teachers to challenge students and maintain high expectations and rigorous curriculum. However, promoting resilience in the classroom requires laying some groundwork.
Let’s go back to the example of a child learning to walk. We don’t expect that a child will learn to walk without falling. We know that the child will fall, so we build supports around the child so that when he or she does fall, they are able to get back up and try again. So, what can teachers do to build those supports? Let’s look at the tools we can equip students with in order to be successful when they fall.
Partner with parents. At the start of the year Back to School Night, explain to parents that students will face challenges that will stretch their thinking. Explain that they will learn strategies for coping with adversity. Ask for parent support. Provide parents with resources that they can use at home to talk with their child about challenges, failure, and success. Talking Points is a great way to continue communication with parents outside of the classroom. Translations are available in over 20 languages. Visit my blog for more practical tools you can use.
Teach a growth mindset. Larry Ferlazzo and Katie Hull have great lesson plans and resources available in their book, Navigating the Common Core with English Learners, which I have used and expanded upon when teaching growth mindset. Visit my blog for posters and activities you can use in the classroom to teach kids to think about failure differently. Provide parents with the same resources so that they can support their children at home, as well. Encourage students to create their own growth-mindset posters using their home languages and post them around the room. Encourage them to talk with their parents and guardians about how they view challenges, adversity, and failure.
Differentiate instruction. Start with student strengths. Consider what each student does well. When planning instruction, identify what students will need to do with language. Challenge students while providing supports they need for their level of English proficiency. For more ways to differentiate instruction, check out the earlier post in EdWeek here.
Provide culturally relevant models of people who demonstrate resilience. Read stories and literature that students can connect with. Ask students to choose examples of resilient people from their own lives and cultures. Display photos and stories, or clips of stories, and quotes around the room. For ideas on culturally relevant literature, Colorín Colorado has excellent book lists.
Teachers are integral in building supports around students so that they have tools and supports to draw upon when they fall—just like a child who is learning to walk. When teachers provide students with opportunities to learn and build resilience, they are teaching lifelong lessons that prepare them to face and overcome challenges they will surely face both inside and outside the walls of the classroom.
Response From Julie Hasson
Julie Hasson is a former principal and is currently a professor in the School of Education at Florida Southern College. She is a co-author of Unmapped Potential: An Educator’s Guide to Lasting Change. Julie is also the founder of Chalk and Chances and the blonde half Purposeful Principals:
I have spent the past year in search of the answer to a powerful question: What difference do teachers really make in students’ lives? I showed up at farmers’ markets, craft fairs, city parks, and other public places to chat with people from age 18 to 80 about teachers they remember. Although the teachers people remember each have unique personalities, passions, and teaching styles, they have one thing in common. They all noticed a student’s need and took action in response to that need. When they noticed a student struggling academically, they provided help. When they noticed a student struggling emotionally, they provided support. This noticing plus acting is the cornerstone of resilience.
Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties or adjust easily to change. When teachers notice a need and act in response to that need, they send a powerful message to a student: You are worthy of my time and effort. Feelings of self-worth and a positive self-image are essential components of resilience. Students develop these positive feelings when teachers remind them of past challenges they have overcome. While providing help and support, teachers can explicitly model problem solving so that students eventually learn to do it on their own. Self-worth is strengthened when students learn to put challenges in perspective and begin to trust themselves as problem solvers.
Relationships are an integral component of resiliency. Students bloom when they know they matter to their teacher, and they flourish when they know they also matter to their peers. When teachers create classroom cultures where diversity is embraced and encouragement is the norm, students are better equipped to take risks and accept failures. And peers can be additional models for problem solving and coping.
After a year of data gathering, I can sum up what I learned in a simple phrase: Notice + Act = Impact. If teachers want to have a lasting impact on their students’ lives, they simply need to pay attention to the struggles of their students and respond. By doing so, they model positive problem solving and strengthen feelings of self-worth. However, teachers cannot give what they do not possess. In order to elevate feelings of self-worth in students, teachers must feel worthy themselves. In order to facilitate resilience, teachers themselves must be resilient. Perhaps it would help if I share one thing that is clearly evident in all of my data: Teachers absolutely do make a powerful, positive, and lasting difference in the lives of students.
Response From Cindy Terebush
Cindy Terebush is an early-childhood consultant, presenter, and author of Teach the Whole Preschooler: Strategies for Nurturing Developing Minds:
Resilience is the ability to move forward after difficult times. Difficult times can include mistakes based on our own choices or situations beyond our control, such as death of a loved one or natural disaster. In the past year, we have seen many children impacted by traumatic events including hurricanes and school shootings. If they are resilient, they find a way to learn from those events and live every day with a new normal. Teachers can help children find emotional equilibrium and the path for moving forward during hard times, and they can set the tone for preparing children if something should occur.
The first step to resilience is acceptance. Children need to know that their emotions are valid and normal. It is acceptable to be sad, disappointed, scared, and frustrated. Children don’t necessarily have the capacity to come to you and say, “My life is a mess. Nothing is right.” Young children don’t have the words, and older children may not have the insight or the confidence. Every day in our classrooms, we need to communicate that a variety of emotions are part of the human experience. Emotions come and go. For generations, we have invalidated very normal emotions by telling children not to cry or not to be afraid. We need to stop sending the message that emotions that make us uncomfortable are not acceptable. Instead, we should tell sad children that they will be all right and assure them that we can listen and help. We should tell scared children that we can help them be brave. We have to be their safe place to feel and to process those feelings so they can move through them.
All people find comfort in predictability, and children who need resilience have likely experienced something disarming. Teachers need to provide their students with predictable routines and reactions. Students find their emotional footing faster when they have faith in what to expect from day to day from you and from the larger setting. As adults, we may think that small changes are not a big deal. The smallest shift can feel huge to a child.
We also need to make mistakes a part of the learning process. The emphasis on product over process is damaging to a child’s sense of self. There are always going to be measurements of right and wrong, correct and incorrect; however, teachers need to infuse experiences that allow children to misstep and then try again without a negative consequence. How do children learn that when we make an incorrect choice we can self-correct if they are not given safe and secure opportunities to do so? Children and parents today are so concerned about test scores that creative thinking and trial and error have been de-emphasized. Look for ways to have children experience trial and error as a learning experience.
Finally, be an example of resilience. I make mistakes and find another path. I have sat with very young learners and told them, “I feel sad today,” so they can witness an adult getting through the day and returning feeling better another day. I have told older students when I am feeling out of sorts, and they have seen me get through that. Children who don’t see us as continually processing events and finding our new normal may think that seeking equilibrium is not typical. They need to know that we understand them, because we go through trials, errors, and traumas, too.
Response From Dr. Cynthia “Mama J” Johnson
Dr. Cynthia “Mama J” Johnson is an educator with over 30 years of experience in the classroom and as an administrator. Currently, she serves as an educational consultant facilitating presentations throughout the nation regarding children who live in poverty, diverse student populations, equity and social justice, school connectedness, and social/emotional learning:
Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from adverse circumstances. It is crucial that students learn this necessary skill to navigate life. Many students find there will be times in life when they will be knocked down. There will be times when they will fall. There will be times when they find themselves in the valley of despair. It is during these times when resiliency comes into play helping students learn how to cope and to respond positively. The lack of resiliency skills can be the cause for students to find themselves not being able to deal with the challenges that life brings each day. Thus, causing students to respond negatively. There are multiple examples of how this has played out in schools in recent history.
My introduction to the concept of resiliency was in the late 1980s when I first started teaching. I taught behavior-disordered and emotionally disturbed students half the day, and the other half I taught speech and debate. Often, I found myself working with students that represented both ends of the spectrum. However, the common denominator was their ability to respond to life’s ups and downs. While learning about the theory of resiliency and bouncing back, I realized my own life story was one that demonstrated resilience.
My life story includes overcoming being born into extreme poverty and stuttering so severely that it was hard to understand the words that came out of my mouth, the inability to read aloud until the 4th grade, and being placed in special classes. I quickly discovered that people would like you but not believe you could achieve. It was then that I adopted my “Yes I Can” mindset.
I would write these words at the top of everything that I did. It became my mantra that helped me turn insurmountable odds into unbelievable possibilities. Although I did not know the word “resiliency,” my parents were my ultimate examples of how to bend but refuse to break. Learning how to bounce back from difficult circumstances taught me I could do anything I set my mind to do. Resiliency is a lesson that is much needed in classrooms today.
Teachers can introduce the concept of resiliency by using an analogy of a ball. Demonstrate by bouncing the ball and have students describe what they see, and how it relates to life. Resiliency can be promoted in the classroom by:
• Providing examples of people who are resilient and who beat the odds.
• Discussing what resiliency looks like in society.
• Describing stories of resilient people that students know.
• Researching people who beat the odds in the interest of each student (i.e., sports, hobbies).
• Writing anonymous scenarios about situations where the lack of resiliency was evident.
• Role-playing situations where resiliency is applied.
• Determining strategies on how to handle different situations.
• Inviting in guest speakers to share their story about bouncing back from the challenges of life.
• Creating a plan to address a situation a student may be currently facing.
• Celebrating each time a student is victorious in responding positively.
The earlier a student learns how to apply the concept of resiliency, the better equipped they are to face a crisis.
Response From Kelly Wickham Hurst
Kelly Wickham Hurst is a 23-year educator, classroom teacher, and administrator who founded Being Black at School in 2016. BBAS is an advocacy organization that uses frameworks and data to assist schools in being more equitable. She’s a mom of six and grandmother of two and lives with her husband in Springfield, Ill.:
Honestly, I am hoping this is resilience for teachers and not students because I have a bad taste in my mouth from Duckworth’s book on “Grit” and how it’s been weaponized against children. But, if we’re talking about the stamina it takes to learn things, then resilience is celebratory for children when they hang in there and struggle through a difficult concept. We need more balloons for that kind of resilience.
Thanks to Adeyemi, Becky, Julie, Cindy, Cynthia, and Kelly for their contributions.
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