As parents, carers and educators our first instinct is to protect children from failure, disappointment and challenging circumstances.
It can be hard to stop ourselves from pre-empting a child’s mistake and pointing them in the right direction.
However, in this lies a very valuable lesson. Mistakes happen and challenges are a factor of everyday life. What matters most is not to never fail, but to rise every time we fall.
Rather than treating mistakes as something to be avoided at all costs, treating them as learning opportunities builds independence, creative thinking skills and, most importantly, resilience.
It is widely acknowledged that resilience is critical for success in school and in life. But what constitutes a resilient child? Why is it important to build resilience in an educational setting?
A resilient child:
- Has the capacity to not only cope, but thrive in the face of adversity.
- Is confident and has a strong sense of self.
- Responds positively when things do not go as expected.
- Adapts to changed and/or unexpected circumstances.
- Has the capacity to tap into inner resources and reach out to external support.
- Knows when to ask for help.
- Utilises a growth mindset.
According to noted psychologist Carol Dweck, an individual with a growth mindset “…knows that talents can be developed and that great abilities are built over time”.
Further studies undertaken by Dweck show that “students who believe (or are taught) that intellectual abilities are qualities that can be developed (as opposed to qualities that are fixed) tend to show higher achievement across challenging school transitions” (Dweck 2012).
Furthermore, students that utilise a growth mindset perceive challenges as “opportunities to learn, rather than obstacles to overcome, respond with constructive thoughts and their behaviour shows persistence rather than defeatedness.” (Dweck 2012)
It is widely acknowledged in academic circles that instilling a growth mindset in our young people is a crucial first step in building resilience.
Human beings are not born resilient. Human experience helps nurture resilience…but that is not to say that resilience can’t be taught. It can – and it can be taught deliberately.
What do I mean when I say deliberate? Teaching resilience in schools shouldn’t have to be an additional activity in an already overcrowded curriculum. It can easily be woven into all facets of school life from mathematics to service learning and outdoor education programmes.
How do we integrate resilience? Through the language we use in the classroom and in our literature and through the use of one word in particular…yet.
While only three letters, the power of yet is indispensable in building resilience.
So what do I mean by this?
If a student doesn’t succeed at something that they’ve invested a lot of time and effort, rather than wallowing in disappointment, a resilient child would acknowledge the things that they might have done differently, and understand that persistence will lead to success, but maybe just not yet.
Allow me to illustrate. Say a student is having difficulty with a mathematical concept. They spend hours diligently working on an incredibly difficult set of numbers to only return to school the next day to find out that their answers were incorrect. Rather than give up, they would realise that there were other approaches they had not yet tried that might lead to the correct answer.
“I don’t fully understand how to solve this mathematical problem yet, but I will try again using a different method”.
The language we use when praising a student also impacts resilience. For example, say one of my students is an incredible artist and I one day tell them that “I have never met a student with quite as much artistic talent as you, this remark teaches a fixed mindset. It may not seem like much, but this is why so many successful students struggle when the encounter a challenge. It is important to praise students, but also bear in mind that praising effort alongside success helps build resilience.
At Scots, the deliberate teaching of resilience is woven into all that we do, from our wellbeing programmes to the appointment of Learning Mentors, rich outdoor education offerings and rewarding service learning programmes. A Scots education is challenge based so that our young people can reap the rewards. Resilience is always deliberately encouraged in a regular classroom setting, ensuring that our young people are well-equipped and able to apply the skills they learn at school in the different situations that they WILL encounter as the grow into world ready citizens.
The relationship between gratitude and resilience
Expressing gratitude for the things that we are good at is strongly linked to resilience.
Researchers have found that people who regularly practice gratitude “experience more positive emotions, are more likely to accomplish personal goals, are more alert, energetic and even sleep better” (Graham 2013).
For example, research shows that young people (and adults) who kept a daily gratitude journal for 21 days or more “can rewire the brain to search for the positive aspects of life” (Cuylenburg 2016).
Practicing gratitude allows young people to take a moment to acknowledge the things that they are good at and the things they could be better at. It is important for all of us all to be grateful for what we are good at, and continue to chip away at the areas that need improvement.
Sometimes the most satisfaction and fulfilment in life comes from turning problems and challenges into opportunities, achieved through the modelling of resilience, gratitude and a growth mindset.
Resilient children are ready to take on their world – as parents, carers and educators, our reward for creating an environment where young people learn resilience is the joy in seeing them not only overcome the challenges they might face, but thrive while doing so.
- David Armstrong, Deputy Principal.