Friday, April 24, 2020
I’ve thought a lot about educational resilience in recent years, and the health, economic, and social crisis we find ourselves in today has made the topic seem all the more important and relevant.
Educational resilience is distinct from concepts like grit or educational buoyancy that describe how students respond to the everyday challenges of academic life: getting started, staying focused, and putting in the effort necessary to complete difficult tasks. Resilience refers to how our students (or any of us) respond to extraordinary adversity. The type of adversity that disrupts our normal patterns and throws us out of equilibrium. Resilience theory looks at how people adjust after adversity: whether the experience permanently impacts their functionality and diminishes their potential; whether they return to something like the previous status quo; or whether they integrate the experience of overcoming adversity into a narrative of empowerment, leaving them more resilient and successful going forward.
As we communicate with students over the next weeks and months, we are, wittingly or not, co authoring their narratives of adversities and resilience and how it relates to their educational story. Research and experience have led me to believe that educationally resilient students share certain characteristics. None of these characteristics will be particularly surprising or ground-breaking to anyone in this community, but I think they still bear repeating.
Resilient students are realistic about challenges, but they emphasize the positive over the negative. They are unwilling to perceive themselves as victims and instead characterize themselves as powerful agents with influence over their world. They accept responsibility and learn from their mistakes, but they also focus on the future and on specific, tangible goals. And they respond to the challenges they face with transformative energy or, if you will, love. (My apologies if my hippie side is showing.)
I find myself reflecting on these characteristics of resilient narratives not only as it relates to how I’m communicating with my students, but also with respect to the story I’m telling myself about the world today and my place in it. I know others have said it before me, but in this time of crisis, I’ve never been more aware of the role I play as a supporter and advocate for my students, providing a measure of predictability and consistency in unsettling times.
One thing on which all literature on resilience agrees is the enormous impact that having one consistent, engaged supporter can have on success. This is especially true when the supporter is advocating for and promoting the student’s success in a particular field of endeavor or in terms of meeting a particular goal. In many cases the supporter may not even realize the profound impact they have had or the fact that they have become a pivotal character in a student’s story of educational resilience.
I have had my moments, these last few months, when I can’t tell if what I’m doing is making any difference; when it seems like nothing I do could possibly be equal to what my students are going through, anyway. Perhaps you have felt the same.
I encourage you all to be positive, empowered, future-focused, and loving, both with your students and yourselves. Because, what we are doing matters, enormously, whether or not we can always see the impact we are having.
(Liam Skilling - Guest Blogger)