Tammy Russell

Why Resilience Is Critical in a Learning Environment

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.

When students have resilience, they are open to learning because they believe that they can learn; they are receptive to assistance because it is not a criticism of their abilities; and they are comfortable not understanding concepts immediately because they see learning as a pursuit of knowledge and know that motivation and effort are just as important as knowing how to do something.

When students do not have these attitudes about learning, we must not only encourage them to be confident and "keep trying," but we should also teach them about resilience and perseverance.

In my classroom, conversations about resilience consistently materialize in a number of ways:

  1. Morning meeting discussions about goal setting and perseverance, including recognizing that everyone has something she is trying to overcome.
  2. Sharing stories (through videos and picture books) about people who have experienced great amounts of adversity and who have overcome the odds by accomplishing their dreams.
  3. Lessons on the goal-setting process with weekly written reflections that address what students did to work on their goals and what they will do moving forward.
  4. Emphasizing critical thinking in lessons that challenge students to think about concepts at a deeper level so that students get the opportunity to put resiliency discussions into action.
  5. Student-led report card conferences where successes, strengths, weaknesses, and goals are discussed by the student.

When a student spends time in the classroom without resilience—without that grit to pick himself up and try again—critical learning and self-development time is lost. Based on my experiences teaching upper elementary students about resilience, perseverance, and goal setting, I have come to believe that, if we leave students out of the achievement conversation, we not only may be "fighting a losing battle" but are also not providing students with the tools to be successful in the real world where the support of a guiding teacher or parent does not always follow them. I now realize that when I am pushing all students to do their best during math class or readers' workshop, I am really focusing on my higher level goals for them: that they believe they are capable and that they have the stamina to push through challenges.

As important members of the school environment, our role is to expect that all students demonstrate resilience. We need to approach this with a belief that all students are capable of achieving short-term and long-term goals and doing their best every day. In addition, we need to expect that students reciprocate these beliefs for themselves and others. This is the way that we get students to do their best and that we create a population that is able to take challenges and turn them into opportunities. With 180+ days in a school year and a typical 13-year education, if students are provided the opportunity to learn about resilience and given the time to concretely apply it to their own situations, we truly can create the kind of people who are able to respond to challenges and setbacks.

Tammy Russell is a National Board-certified classroom teacher at Hillsborough Elementary School in Orange County, N.C., with nine years of experience working with upper elementary students and developing classroom curriculum. She received her bachelor's degree in elementary education from the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, a Master of Education degree in curriculum and instruction focused on literacy from North Carolina State University, and is a North Carolina Teaching Fellow. She is also the author of the blog Life, Love, Literacy. Connect with Russell by e-mail at tammy.russell@orange.k12.nc.us.

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