Post written by Kristine Fox, Megan Bedford, and Brian Connelly
Although research has a lot to say about how to foster academic resilience, encouraging student voice—which an abundance of research shows to have a positive effect on school success—has been largely overlooked (Mager & Nowak, 2012; McNulty & Quaglia, 2007; Mitra, 2004). Student voice and academic success are inextricably linked—even among students from challenged backgrounds.
Resilience is a life skill that all teachers should focus on throughout students' education careers. In many classrooms, resiliency and perseverance may be discussed early in the year and then left out of the classroom dialogue, or not discussed at all. As members of the school environment, we cannot wait for resilience to materialize organically for each student. To place an emphasis on resilience in the classroom is to realize that creating people who are able to respond to challenges and setbacks is an important goal of education, if not the goal.
To give all students the opportunity to achieve excellence in their education, educators know that students, especially at-risk learners, need to develop resilience in their pursuit of learning. Yet teachers often wonder, what specifically enables some students to persevere, while others appear to easily give up?
Although research indicates that resilient students most likely have personal characteristics like social competence and a sense of purpose, it is helpful to consider additional aspects that contribute to resilient students' achievement: the learning environment, instructional pedagogy, and teacher dispositions (Benard, 1997; Bruce, 1995; Wright, 2011).
At ASCD's Leader to Leader conference in July, I had the pleasure of sharing KnowledgeWorks' latest 10-year forecast on the future of learning, Recombinant Education: Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem (PDF), as a prelude to participants' exploring how they might improve the ways in which we support learning through the whole child. The very title of this forecast emphasizes the need for the entire education system to become more resilient, to regenerate itself by combining learning resources, experiences, and supports in many right ways in order meet the needs of all learners.
The whole child movement, in my view, is weighed down by society's current inability to conceive of children as whole beings. Instead, we dissect them. Academic learning is distinguished from social-emotional learning, as if brain and heart operate in isolation. The brain itself gets divided into forebrain, hindbrain, mammalian brain, limbic system, and so on, furthering the mistaken assumption that the brain performs its miracles through isolated modules. A steady diet of units, pacing guides, and curriculum strategies reinforces this skewed view by taking a narrow aim at stimulating a child's cognitive apparatus rather than their inner life.
My son Samuel is a Red Sox and NASCAR fan, an avid bird watcher, an honor roll student and a gregarious 13-year-old who also experiences cerebral palsy.
I began making my first film—a documentary called Including Samuel—for selfish reasons. I wanted to try and make the world a more welcoming place for kids with disabilities like Samuel.
As I screened my documentary nationwide, however, I noticed a trend: at almost every screening, someone would pose this question in some form: "What about kids with 'hidden' disabilities? Can they be fully included like Samuel?" These hidden disabilities can include depression, anxiety, autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and a host of other diagnoses.
"Children should be taught to use their emotions and to be aware of them rather than control them." —Mary Helen Immordino-Yang
Succeeding "despite the odds" or overcoming adversity has a lot more to do with resource capacity than luck. We may have little control over what happens in our students' lives outside of school or the traumas that inevitably fall into each and every life. We can, however, influence outcomes when we construct the school environment in a way that reduces threat and increases the protective factors that we know build resilience and the skills needed to thrive despite adversity (Masten, 2001; Center for Disease Control, n.d.).
"The basis of all good human behavior is kindness." —Eleanor Roosevelt
It's a curiously human trait to cling to beliefs based on assumptions and preconceived notions. What we tell ourselves about what's going on with a student's behavior matters greatly and sometimes gravely. Negative beliefs and attributions are known drama enhancers. Not sure you believe this statement? Recall a recent unpleasant interpersonal experience—perhaps with a partner, close friend, your teenager, or a toddler. What do you notice in your body? Tension or ease? More or less anger? Did the argument solve the problem? I mean, really solve it?
My zero-tolerance war on Section 8C felt powerfully good while I planned it. It provided some momentary satisfaction as one by one my students crossed the line and reaped the fruits of my reaction. For a brief moment, I even thought their behavior proved the point that they were "deliberately disrespectful" and had caused my reaction. Of course, the joke was on me. In the end, I still had the behavior, one less coercive trick up my sleeve, and needy 8th grade students who had to take the test.
What turns kids off to learning? Carol Dweck, Stanford researcher and author of the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, says how students think of themselves as learners creates mental environments that nurture or stifle effort when approaching different tasks. These psychological environments, or mindsets, are shaped by messages students receive from adults, peers, and themselves. Through her research, Dweck has uncovered two types of mindsets—fixed and growth—and three rules about how fixed and growth mindsets cue motivation, effort, and response to setbacks.
"The more mindful we are, the more choices we have and the less reactive we become." —Ellen Langer
In my workshops, I often invite participants to draw a large circle on the back of my handouts. They listen diligently to the instructions. When complete, I ask everyone to hold their papers up so I can "check their circles." They then place the paper on a flat surface. "Now," I say, "put your forehead in the middle of the circle. Raise it up. Lower it down. Repeat. Keep repeating." That's what I call "mindlessness."
Using a combination of intervention and prevention strategies known to dial down reaction and build resource capacity, we can indeed help students and ourselves improve the ability to accurately assess threat potential, improve appraisal skills, and build the resource capacity to increase resilience.