As we plug away at the third marking period, we see some students hit a point of seemingly no return where they believe they can’t get out of the hole they’ve dug. The best thing we can do to help students is check our own beliefs as they have a huge impact on student success. For tips on helping students learn resilience, check out this article from Kappa Delta Pi Record:
Three Key Factors That Nurture Student Resilience
In this article in Kappa Delta Pi Record, California consultant/researcher Sara Truebridge addresses the central question about resilience: Why do some children who are exposed to high-risk environments successfully adapt while others do not? Truebridge challenges the notion that resilience is a trait that students either have or don’t have. All people have the capacity for resilience, she says, and there are three factors that tap and nurture that potential: (a) caring relationships, (b) high expectations, and (c) meaningful opportunities for participation and contribution. The three factors help develop children’s social competence, problem-solving ability, sense of self and internal locus of control, and sense of purpose and optimism about the future – all of which are key to dealing successfully with adversity.
“When these protective factors exist together in any one environment – home, school, community, or peer group – the climate in that environment becomes one that is optimal for nurturing the resilience of a child, youth, or any individual,” says Truebridge. “Applying these approaches does not cost extra money, but rather requires a focus on re-culturing schools in a unified vision to create, nurture, and sustain important protective factors that provide a positive influence and buffer students from adversity, threat, stress, and risk.” Having all three factors present in a school can compensate for their absence in the family, community, or peer group. And a school with these factors can be resilient as an organization in the face of challenges and traumatic events it may face.
What do the three key factors look like in schools? Truebridge lists these specific actions and characteristics:
- Caring relationships – This is all about providing a sense of connectedness and belonging, “being there,” showing compassion and trust. Teachers get to know the life context of each student and model empathy and compassion. Principals engage students, staff, and parents in school climate surveys and have an open-door policy that makes students comfortable dropping in if they need help or just want to talk. Superintendents make regular visits to schools and sponsor “dialogue nights” where adults and youth can talk together in an atmosphere of mutual trust and safety.
- High expectations – Teachers make appropriate expectations clear and recognize progress as well as performance. They also encourage mindfulness and self-awareness of moods, thinking, and actions. Principals orchestrate a curriculum that is challenging, comprehensive, thematic, experiential, and inclusive of multiple perspectives. They also provide training in resilience and youth development, and work to change deeply held adult beliefs about students’ capacities. Superintendents question how success is defined and ensure a commitment to being culturally responsive.
- Meaningful opportunities for participation and contribution – Teachers hold daily class meetings and empower students to create classroom norms and agreements. Principals establish peer-helping/tutoring and cross-age mentoring/tutoring programs and set up peer support networks to help new students and families acclimate to the school environment. Superintendents scour the neighborhood to identify pro-youth resources, services, and facilities, and hire a community liaison officer to enhance communication, cooperation, and understanding.
Truebridge draws on her own research and that of several other researchers to make these observations about resilience in schools:
- Resilience is a process, not a trait. It’s a struggle to define oneself as healthy amidst serious challenges.
- All people have the capacity for resilience; for some it needs to be tapped.
- Several personal strengths are associated with resilience – being strong cognitively, socially, emotionally, morally, and spiritually.
- One person – a teacher, relative, friend – can make a difference in the life outcomes of an embattled student.
- Educators’ beliefs about students’ resilience are key factors in student outcomes. “If you don’t believe in the capacity of all individuals to have resilience,” says Truebridge, “then you run the risk of giving up on them.”
- Teachers and administrators who have a “growth” mindset about students’ ability to overcome adversity will get far better results than those with a “fixed” mindset.
- In classrooms, open channels of communication are essential. Nothing should inhibit, embarrass, or shame students from asking questions during a lesson.
- Coming from a high-risk environment does not determine a person’s life trajectory. “No child is destined to become a gang member,” says Truebridge.
- Most individuals exposed to adversity – between 50 and 70 percent – do meet developmental milestones and lead productive and independent lives.
- Bad behavior doesn’t equate to being a bad person. “What the student did was display poor judgment and, as a result, the student needs to be responsible for those actions,” says Truebridge. “However, a person who displays bad judgment is not ‘forever’ a bad person.”
- To help others, educators need to take care of themselves. An analogy: on an airplane, people need to have their own oxygen masks in place before they can help others.
- Challenging life experiences and events are opportunities for growth, development, and change. “Quite often,” says Truebridge, “our perseverance through tough times builds our confidence and makes us stronger.”
“Resilience: It Begins With Beliefs” by Sara Truebridge in Kappa Delta Pi Record, January-March, 2016 (Vol. 52, #1, p. 22-27), available for purchase at http://bit.ly/1nArKuR; Truebridge can be reached at resilienceST@gmail.com.