Maintaining Resilience in Education
Resilience in education is best developed in the early grades when students' interests are keen and easiest to develop. This is often the time when a teacher can best motivate a child to believe she can do anything if she tries and puts forth her best efforts. Resilience is the ongoing process of building a child's motivation and drive to excel when met with difficult or challenging circumstances. It is that intrinsic force which guides a child's thinking and produces a "can do" attitude.
It is our job as educators to provide quality educational opportunities for all children regardless of their socioeconomic status. Resilience is best integrated through building positive communities within classrooms to develop students' talents and interests early. By setting clear goals and expectations for all students, teachers can provide them with the tools and means to be successful. According to a 2011 report by the Children Defense Fund (PDF), not providing these quality educational opportunities to all children has resulted in an average graduation rate for black and Hispanic students of just over 60 percent, in contrast with 81 percent for white and 91 percent for Asian/Pacific Islander students. Clearly, these are not acceptable results. Incorporating positive motivation and resiliency will result in students making and seeing a positive connection to their successes. When this happens, teachers and students all win. A strong foundation and early success in primary grades are key factors in students wanting to complete their secondary and, potentially, post-secondary education. Teaching resilience to adverse challenges in early grades also teaches students that they can work to overcome challenges and have the careers of their dreams.
It is so important that educators expand the horizons of every child. Often students are categorized and stereotyped based on their race or socioeconomic status. We can't assume that "one size fits all." Just because a teacher may have a class full of disadvantaged students does not mean that he can't teach them that they can get themselves out of those circumstances if they focus on their education and maintain good grades. The most important strategy in reducing education inequality is to provide disadvantaged children the means to have a good education foundation to go to college and the skills necessary to earn gainful employment. Ultimately, all students should be academically prepared to compete in the global economy.
The face of resilience comes in so many forms in education. It's the teacher who stays after school to help the struggling reader. It's the student who keeps trying and trying after making failing grades. It's the school who works so diligently on its school improvement plan. It's the principal who supports her staff, which makes coming to work each and every day rewarding. Good teachers are resilient in their craft and know that their ultimate role is to actively engage students and incorporate evidence-based interventions that support the growth and development of every student in the classroom. Providing student-centered classrooms are vital to ensure children learn to become independent thinkers and self-reliant, which builds resilience. With the changing facets in education, we must stay the course and remember teachers have the most important task there is: to flourish and nurture the next generation. Teachers and administrators must provide a positive school culture where children believe they can thrive, feel safe, and want to benefit from getting a quality education.
Dianna Minor is a former classroom teacher and currently serves as a curriculum and instruction specialist in Alabama and as a consultant with American College Testing (ACT). She is an active member of the National Council of Teachers of English, International Reading Association, and National Education Association. Connect with Minor by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @diminordan.