How can we, as student support service professionals, propel student’s academic growth through a stricter focus on social and emotional development in their school environment? What are the road blocks for this need in areas where the resources are minimal?
Let’s define what resiliency looks like. Resilience is a set of attributes or characteristics that provides people strength to preserver through overwhelming obstacles. The literal definition of resiliency is having the ability to return to original form after being compressed or bent. The ability to recover, readily from adversity. The development of such a characteristic is a mystery to most – how can some students power through why others disengage? Perhaps nurturing factors contribute to a student’s ability to push on – those having parents who are invested in their development academically and otherwise. Genetics and childhood experiences definitely play their part, predisposition to mental health issues such as depression can stunt social and emotional growth, making it more difficult to build successful relationships with others. It is this, the building of positive relationships with peers and adults where the development of resilience begins to grow roots, for the largest connection I can see with children who are able to preserver through…involves the way they think.
Let’s say you have two students; both have been struggling in ELA. It’s mid school year, and continuing on as is for both of these students is sure to result in a failing grade for the subject. As the teacher, you explain this to both (separately, and gently of course). Both students express to you a range of emotions towards this news…anger, shame, disappointment – all described to you by them as ugh, this is so annoying. Student A picks herself up, comes to tutoring in your room during lunch period for weeks, asks for help before large assignments are due…she really makes an effort. Student B crumbles at this news. She sulks, begins to perform even more poorly on your assignments and disengages from your class. Why the difference? Let’s examine.
What happened with our students here? There was adversity. A poor grade in ELA = adverse situation. This adversity led to the consequence of each of these students feeling – anger, shame, disappointment. What we often miss is what happens in-between adversity and the emotional consequence…the subconscious beliefs we have about ourselves. Adverse situations trigger these beliefs, which greatly impacts our ability to manage the emotional outcome we feel. Using our example of our two students, we are to assume that Student A BELIEVED that she could improve her situation by improving the effort she put into ELA and so she did. Student B’s beliefs about herself and her abilities did not appear to be positive, perhaps she believed that no matter what she did, the outcome would be the same, so what’s the point?
Could the key to building student resiliency begin with the placement of empowering teachers in Elementary? The cultivation of self-awareness gets kicked into high gear when a student begins school – they are guided through tasks and the bar is set in terms of academic growth from day one. How can you campus send an empowering message to each student to help in the development of a healthy self-awareness?
First commit to memory that resiliencies arch enemies are feelings of failure, alienation, uselessness and impotence reinforced by experiences in academia (also at home) that become circular in pattern – I perform, I fail, I get in trouble, I feel terrible, I perform, I fail, I get in trouble, I feel terrible…
Second – focus on developing and improving positive interventions that will help build upon each student’s sense of belonging, usefulness and competence – in SEVERAL areas of your school community. For my aforementioned student’s A and B, just because they are struggling in ELA, doesn’t mean that interventions in other subjects should be ignored. Are they strong in math? Are they great helpers? How can you tap into one of their strengths to empower them?
Honesty. But-less honesty. You’re such a great student but….You’re a great reader but…You learned your times tables so quickly but… everything before the but in statements like these get lost in translation. So leave them out completely. I like to share with students my struggles with math and spelling. Not my strongest subjects by far in school, at times I felt ashamed that I didn’t do nearly as well as other students. Sharing this with them helps relay, the idea that everyone has strengths and weaknesses and that’s just the way life works.
Finally, Internal Locus of Control. Individuals who believe that the actions they make directly influence outcomes in their lives have a strong Internal Locus of Control, these individuals believe that things don’t happen to them, they make things happen. See how this is connected to resilience? We can empower students to be more internally focused by using a problem-solving approach with them. Back to my student’s from earlier in their post, as I am sitting down with them to talk about their ELA grades I may say Ok, how can we solve this? What steps can you and I take to improve? Have you struggled with an assignment before? What did you do? What have you done that hasn’t helped? Involve them, ask questions…brainstorm together. Especially with younger students, this helps instill that they hold answers to challenges in their lives and they have the power to change outcomes.
Student resiliency is a fascinating concept. I look at resiliency like roots of a tree…it will expand and grow, stretching, reaching further and further in search of nourishment. Let’s nourish it!