Friday, January 14, 2005
Resilience - the abilty to bounce back!
Bamboo - resilience in nature
Bamboos are a great symbol of resilience, bending in the wind and quickly growing if it comes to the worst. Going with the flow and knowing when to sidestep are important skills of learning. It is all about resilience.
Students at school need help develop to learn to stick at tasks and to persevere so as to gain the satisfaction of achieving something they didn’t know they could do. Naturally the task has to be meaningful and worthwhile to the individual.
Too often teachers do not ‘push’ students to finish and accept work from some students which ought to unacceptable. As a result many students have their desire for the easy option and instant gratification pandered to. Far too many students in our schools believe that 'first finished is best' and have little recognition of the need of an old fashioned word – effort. As a result they become part of a growing number of ‘ I can’t do it’ students – beaten before they start!
Such students, when they meet up with more difficult challenges, either give up too easily, think they cannot do it, or get stressed and can’t cope. To develop resiliency in such children is the role of a sensitive teacher.
Students who are resilient persevere because they have goals in mind to achieve or, better still, life long passions that drive them. This focus enables them to keep learning when the ‘going gets tough’. And each small success builds a platform for even greater efforts.
Resilience can be taught. There are several elements that research and practical experience has shown to be valuable:
1. Help students develop recognizable talents no matter how insignificant. What are the ‘intelligences’ each student’s shows interest in? What interests do students have? Schools should be about talent development and valuing students 'voice' as much as anything else.
2. When students undertake an activity that interests them, encourage them to stick at the task until it is finished. If necessary break the task into small steps, each of which can be celebrated when achieved. Help students appreciate that nothing is gained without the investment of personal effort. Too many students think that 'first finished is best'! Instant gratification is too often all they learn to value. Working hard is vital; it is as simple as that. Teachers need to learn to do fewer things well!
3. As an adult provide a mix of support and pressure. Provide high expectations and also focused feed back, withdrawing support as students gain confidence. A good metaphor for a teacher is a ‘creative learning coach’. When students achieve personal excellence they see it is worth the effort.
4. Many students, with a history of failure, think learning is a matter of intelligence (either you can or you can’t) or worse still simply luck. Both put learning beyond their control. By breaking tasks into steps, making learning explicit, and focused practice, students can see it is within their reach.
5. Resilient students are also happy to ask for help and are open to ideas. Less resilient students are reserved or antagonistic towards assistance. With encouragement, this self defeating attitude can be changed. Particularly when students see what they can do! Teachers who teach students explicit intelligent behaviors (see Art Costa) can assist less resilient students. Students can change from ‘I can’t do it’ kids to ‘can do’ kids!’
6. Resilience can be developed by having students help each other in co operative tasks. This lets students see that others may share the same problem as they do or they may have a skill that others value; both will help.
7. Obviously if parents can be helped to acquire these skills so they in turn help their children handle conflict and learning tasks this is the best strategy of all. When parent, child and teacher work in concert success can be assured. Developing this collaborative support is a challenge to many schools, particularly where there are a number of ‘at risk’ students.
Resilience is a bi-product of successful learning experiences; particularly ones that assist students develop a sense of personal excellence and pride. A focus on resilience, rather than literacy, may well be the solution for a growing number of students who have lost the intrinsic power that comes from being successful.
If resilience can be ‘taught’ then it is important that we not only believe all students can learn, but that we care enough to develop learning communities that ensure they do.
Students, like the bamboo (with our help) can then bounce back from whatever life throws at them!