Resilience is a journey, a process. It is not a case of a pupil being “resilient” or “not resilient”. An individual may be resilient in some aspects of their world but struggle in others. Therefore, we can’t merely rate them on a scale based on “Is the child resilient?”. One needs to look at the wider picture of a child’s life – in and out of school; emotional support, family structure, parental influence, interests, friendships, education, self-esteem.
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Such aspects can be influenced by everyday experiences so resilience becomes a continuum, where a person moves backwards and forwards. One day they may be resilient, facing challenges, yet other days something affects their resilience. As teachers, we need to ensure pupils are resilient as much as possible to face the challenges that stretch them academically. When a pupil is lacking resilience, they will become emotionally distressed – frustrated, upset and anxious. Teachers have a role for developing resilience, building it in weak areas and creating an environment where it is ok to occasionally have non-resilient days – what I call “brittle days”. On such days, the teacher’s role is vital in ensuring they do not become stuck in the solutions they create to mask the emotional distress. Looking behind the behaviour.
Ultimately the aim is to reduce the number of brittle days, increase the period between brittle days and ensure they have skills to identify them. Trusted adults will be able to reinforce the productive strategies the child has developed, adapt their approach and respond appropriately.
However, people in education often tell me that they do not have the resources or intervention programmes to build resilience. Nor do they have the time while teaching. But with some attention to practice, planning and approach it doesn’t have to be too time consuming. Teachers do not have to overcomplicate or over intellectualise resilience. It can be complex and daunting but also possible. Very possible. In fact probable.
Emotional wellbeing is fundamental to a pupil developing productive learning strategies. It helps develop skills in dealing with adversity and challenges. So how can we help develop resilient traits in our pupils?
Relationships, relationships, relationships
Firstly, intervention programmes do have a place in supporting children and young people, but this should be as part of a wider “strategy” for developing a pupils’ social skills. Interventions will help develop a sense of contemplation but the critical element is the relationships that will support decision making, encourage action and maintain change.
It is time we moved away from the focus solely being the child’s behaviour and look at it as a two way process. An adult’s behaviour effects the pupil’s behaviour and the pupil’s behaviour affects the adult’s behaviour. It can become a cycle difficult to break, building resentment from both sides.
Studies have indicated that resilience is developed, requiring trusted adults who can model and reinforce productive behaviour. Pupils form strong, loyal connections to trusted adults creating a collaborative approach between staff and pupils. This can – and should – start on day one.
After all, not all children adapt to a new environment (class, teacher, school). Create a safe environment for them; agreeing rules, rights and expectations led by pupils. Remember to include and lead the “Teachers’ rights”. Explain you have rights and therefore certain responsibilities to pupils. Facilitate discussion focusing on why rules and rights are necessary. This should include feelings (for and against) and how they can follow the rules, who can support them, what can cause problems following the rules. You can then introduce “brittle” days. Clarity and honesty builds the relationships crucial for building resilience
Stretch their comfort zone
Everyone has a comfort zone. Writing this is out of mine! Through positively engaging in learning, pupils will grow in confidence and self-esteem. It is not new information to say children thrive from challenge. This stretches their comfort zone. However, stretch too far, too quickly and you will impede on their panic zone. A zone that causes anxiety, thus impacting decision making, concentration and emotions.
Again, this is where a teacher must know their pupils – how to push, when to push and when not to. A good strategy is to open up discussions across the class. The idea is not to get to the correct answer quickly but to encourage talking, thinking and listening. Remember, not all children like to engage in whole class discussions initially and forcing will have a detrimental effect. Use paired discussion. Gently build up a reluctant speakers’ role. Target reluctant speakers, float around groups near them and give timely praise – sometimes just a smile and a mod or a pat on the back (some children shrink when praised publicly as they are not used to it). Do not be tempted to pair reluctant speakers with extrovert as this may overawe them.
Mistakes are good
Create an atmosphere where children know mistakes are ok. After all, they are there to learn. No point in a teacher if there are no mistakes! I would take this further still and apply to behaviour. I always point out to staff:
“If a child lacks literacy skills, we teach them;
if a child lacks maths skills, we teach them;
if a child lacks productive behaviour skills, we punish them!”
Not exactly fair is it. How can mistakes in writing be marked with targets and seen as part of the process but a behaviour lapse be unacceptable? Use of reinforcement of expected behaviour and ensuring children have instructional cues clearly stated will have a positive impact on resilience.
On the flip side of mistakes, use “rewards” as reinforcement. Rewards should be reinforced after success and used by individuals to self-motivate. Try not to use rewards as a pre-emptive motivator i.e. if you do this, you will get this. Self-motivation will kick in once they understand how the reward system works. Remember differentiate success. What is success for one, may not be success for others and this is fine. Do not under-sell rewards. They should be for more than meeting the expectations you have for individual pupils.
Resilience is a journey. And with any journey, knowledge and planning is essential. Knowing not only the children in your class but siblings, home life, interests are all important. Plan effectively. How can you differentiate for someone who is susceptible to “brittle days”? How can you differentiate without demoralising a pupil? A positive relationship will make planning easier as you can include them in the process. Above all allow the child to have days when their resilience is low. Only then can they really understand and develop their own productive solutions.