Six practical classroom techniques to help your students build resilience

By Natalie Costa 

We all know that resilience is important, for our students and ourselves. We know that the way to help young people develop it is to make them feel comfortable with their mistakes, and understand that each setback is a step towards improving. But what should this process look like in practice? Here are a some tried-and-tested tools and strategies to use with your classed.

Power breathing

Ask students to think about how they experience stress and anxiety in their bodies – butterflies in the tummy, increased heart rate, clammy hands and so on. Explain that these are normal responses but breathing can help us to stay calm and in control.

Practise this. Get them to breathe in through their noses for seven counts, imagining the belly filling up with air as if it was a big balloon, and then breathe out for 11 counts, through the mouth, as if blowing a huge bubble. Repeat this three times. 

The greatest mistake

Help your classes to view their mistakes as learning opportunities by making a game of them. At the end of each day or week, get them to write down one mistake they made and what they learned from it. Read these out to the class and get students to vote for and celebrate the greatest learning mistake.

Let it come... and let it go

When we're upset, it's easy to forget that the feeling is temporary – and this is especially true for young people. Helping them to understand that feelings are fluid is a powerful tool for keeping things in perspective.

I explain this to children by getting them to compare their thoughts and feelings to the weather. Some days it's sunny, on others it's cloudy. They may feel sad, angry, or upset, but they must remember that there are also times when they feel happy, excited and overjoyed. All of these feelings are important and relevant. Encourage them to notice when they have an uncomfortable feeling, acknowledge it, but also remember that it will pass. 

Sketching strengths

When faced with failure, we can forget about our strengths, and the bigger picture. Get your students to brainstorm their talents, skills and passions – what are they good at? When have they succeeded? What do they naturally enjoy doing and find easy to do?

Give a brief explanation of Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory, to help them understand that there are many areas to their lives, and many, many ways to excel. Remind them that a test result – good or bad – is not a reflection of their self-worth. It is just one way to show what they have learnt. The result does not reflect on them as a person.

Brain splurge

Feeling worried and overwhelmed can make our brains feel very full. So make emptying it out fun! Get coloured paper, felt-tip pens, pencils, stickers – whatever you can find.

Get students to write or draw everything that their brain is currently full of – from the big thoughts and the little thoughts. Score each on a scale from 1 to 10: 1 is not a big concern, 10 is something taking up a lot of head space. Get them to choose only one or two thoughts from the list that they want to work on, and leave the rest. Then tell them to think of one action they can take in the next couple of days that will make them feel better about those one or two thoughts. This tool helps children to step out of the overwhelmed place, and put their worries into perspective.

Role model role play

Encourage students to research one of their role models – but particularly the obstacles and challenges they faced. If they love sports stars, for example, get them to think about the punishing training schedule and losses they have faced. What did they do to succeed? How did they move forward? What can we to learn from them? Doing this reminds children that everyone faces setbacks and also helps them recognise the qualities they need in order to succeed.

When they feel nervous or stressed, they can call on this character, asking themselves: what would this person do in my situation? How would they behave if they had a setback? What would they be telling themselves? This encourages children to step into the role of the person who is confident, successful and not afraid of making mistakes, empowering them to push through rather than being held back by doubts.

Above all, encourage your students to have fun, laugh and celebrate small wins throughout the day. The bumps along the way are not there to slow us down, but to help us learn and grow. Learning to embrace challenges with a sense of curiosity and confidence encourages children to be more open and receptive to new learning and helps them to bounce back quicker when setbacks occur.

Natalie Costa is the founder of Power Thoughts, a coaching and mindfulness service that helps children to manage their emotions and develop their confidence and resilience