The science of resilience: six tips to help your students
"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
So said Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States of America. While he may have slightly over-egged the importance of resilience, the desire to help children improve these skills is probably stronger now more than ever before.
The Sutton Trust defines resilience as a "positive adaptation despite the presence of risk". In a 2013 report, The Impact of Non-cognitive Skills on Outcomes for Young People, researchers from the Institute for Education noted that resilience and coping skills have high malleability (meaning that they can be improved and developed).
Resilience, originally studied in young children who had suffered trauma, has since been researched in sport and business. A recent overview explained that for an environment to facilitate resilience, it needs to be high in challenge and support. Too much challenge and no support results in excessive stress, burnout and isolation. Too much support but not enough challenge can lead to complacency and boredom.
So how can you help your students to develop resilience? Techniques include (but are not limited to):
Present decisions as choices, not sacrifices
This was a consistent theme in a study of how Olympic gold medallists developed their resilience. By viewing their commitment as an active choice and not a sacrifice, they kept their motivation high and worried less about what they were missing out on. You can read our blog about this here.
When we isolate ourselves, we often brood over bad decisions which increases our stress and frustration. As Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore said in his acceptance speech: "If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
As well as making us feel better, other people can also boost our effort levels. A recent study found that if the person next to you is working hard, it increases your work ethic. This impact was consistent regardless of whether they were doing an easier or more difficult task, and whether it was related or not.
Researcher Angela Duckworth states that having a sense of hope and optimism is a key component of developing resilience and grit. Researchers from Staffordshire University found that people who believe they have the ability to meet the demands of a situation are more likely to be in a "challenge state" (as opposed to a "threat state") and perform better under pressure. We strongly recommend checking out their work and blogs here.
Teach students to fail better
Psychologist Albert Bandura once said that "to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life".
Essentially, some failure along the way is inevitable – and setbacks are not always a bad thing. We can teach students how to fail better by encouraging them to ask for feedback, and showing them how to reflect on what they've learnt and what they would do differently.
Being adaptable is a key part of resilience, as well as in setting effective goals. Research suggests that having a growth mindset means being adaptable, and as such, dealing better with change and transitions as well as promoting resilience.
Maintain a sense of perspective
The key here is to keep an eye on the big picture as well as the little details – keeping the end goal in sight helps to maintain motivation on tough days, while focusing on details helps with focus and concentration. Showing students how to do both will help them to develop sustainable resilience.