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Easy Steps for Cultivating Resilience in the Classroom

Olivia Jones
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Today we’re discussing resilience in the classroom. Resilience is a characteristic that gives a person the ability to ‘bounce back’ from failure, work hard with little reward, and persist even when things are tough. Also known as grit, resilience is a skill that each of us can train and improve, in order to better tolerate discomfort in the process of achieving our goals.

Importance of Resilience in the Classroom

Resilience is important because:

  • It gives us the tools to persevere through adversity
  • It helps us develop a sense of self-esteem and respect our own needs, goals, and abilities
  • It encourages pushing through difficulty and knowing your own limits. Asking for help is resilient!
  • It grants students the knowledge that they have agency in their own future
  • It shows that hard work is its own reward
  • It gives us the strength to reflect on our own weaknesses and work to be better
  • Everyone experiences trauma, adversity, and hardship at some point in their life. Because children are still learning about the world and their place in it, they don’t have the same skills as adults to adapt to difficult situations and unexpected changes. Resilience skills can be particularly effective for children as they try to make sense of a world they don’t yet understand.

The classroom presents a key opportunity for teachers to encourage the development of resilience in students. But teacher time is extremely limited and educators already have enough material to cover. Why is it still important to prioritize teaching resilience? Because resilience is one of the most valuable life skills kids can learn, and a student’s experience in school has the power to define their sense of resilience (for better or for worse).

How Education Can Help (or Hurt) a Student’s Resilience

For today’s students, most of their waking hours are spent at school or working on homework. How a student does in school can become an integral part of their identity. Students who are high achievers in school may become perfectionists then or later in life. Students with poor academic performance may develop self-esteem problems, struggle to graduate on time, or feel excluded from higher education. They may even be more likely to develop health problems later in life.

But it’s more complicated than simply struggling in class causing these problems. For students whose home lives or backgrounds lead them to difficulty with academics, school can be an exercise in losing resilience rather than gaining it. Such students are vulnerable, and without adequate support and resources they can lose self-confidence and motivation to continue with school.

When educators can provide students with a supportive, uplifting learning environment, it fosters resilience and provides a safe space for students to make mistakes.

Techniques for Promoting Resilience in the Classroom

Model empowering behavior

Students look up to and imitate their teachers. You can promote resilience in your classroom by modeling empowering behavior. Let your students witness you asking for help, being honest about your struggles, and persevering with patience and hard work when things get tough.

Problem solving practice

At the heart of resilience is a willingness to problem solve and search for unconventional solutions when barriers appear. Encourage students to problem solve with activities that reward persistence, creativity, and tenacity. Especially now, when technology offers us instant gratification, learning to be patient is more important than ever.

Games and socialization

Educational games can promote positive social skills and provide a safe, fun space for students to learn resilience. Play also has a host of other benefits for students, making it a great choice for classrooms.

We spoke with Angela Towner Mertz, a technology teacher, about how using games in her classroom has helped her students learn social skills and resilience! She says:

Resilience is an important part of teaching students. Through our daily Social Emotional Lessons (SEL), we have built a culture at the school that promotes resilience by encouraging and teaching students and staff to have empathy and the Power Of Yet!  The Splat competitions have helped our students determine the true meaning of the Power Of Yet. Being a very small school and competing against much larger schools and whole districts, our students learned to empower themselves and each other by working together to achieve a goal, even when the odds were stacked against them. A great example is when our Splats stopped connecting at the beginning of the challenge and we had to wait for new ones, which were received the last few days of the competition.The older students changed their focus to work together on coding while encouraging the younger students to continue to stomp. This led our students to 1st place in coding and 4th place in stomps!”

Students celebrating the 1st Place awards for  Most Blocks Coded!

Read more about Angela’s classroom and their battle to the top of the back-to-school coding competition here

Mindfulness, gratitude, and acceptance

Mindfulness is our ability to fully be in the present moment. Though resilience is a practice that requires a clear view of our future goals, it’s also rooted in mindfulness and an understanding of the temporary nature of pain. Studies have shown that mindfulness may make us more resilient. You can incorporate mindfulness into your classroom with meditation breaks, mindful games, and other strategies.

Positive reinforcement

When you see students engaging in resilient behavior, encourage them using positive reinforcement (rewards for positive behavior). These rewards can be something like praise, a small treat, a sticker, or something else meaningful for your classroom. For the best effect, tell the student that you’re rewarding them for their resilience. Positive reinforcement encourages good behavior.

Setting (and achieving) goals

Teach your students to set reasonable goals. To stay motivated, we all need a sense of purpose and achieving our goals. Healthy goal setting has us set goals that we can reasonably achieve with hard work, not goals that are too lofty or out of our control altogether.

You can teach students goal setting using the SMART framework or another technique for setting achievable goals.

Tap into your passions

Persistence is easier when you’re doing what you love! Encourage students to pursue areas of study that interest them. You can assign flexible projects that allow students to explore and play to their strengths.

Teach students about grit and resilience

If your students are old enough, you can teach them about resilience by exploring the subject outright. Share scientific studies about the importance of resilience. Watch this TED talk from Angela Lee Duckworth, the author of Grit.

Foster a classroom of unstoppable students by using these activities to develop resilience in the classroom!

Unruly Studios makers of Unruly Splats, programmable, stompable floor tiles that help kids learn fundamental coding skills through recess-style play. Best for elementary and middle school students from PE to science or coding class, a great addition to the classroom for active STEM coding and play!

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