Is resilience the key to student success?
How to develop resilience in our students is a hot topic in education and health at the moment and for a good reason.
Resilience is the ability to cope with negative life events and challenges. It has been described as the capacity to ‘bounce back’ from difficult situations and persist in the face of adversity.
Developing resilience in young people is considered by many as the antidote to the epidemic of mental ill-health across our society today.
The rate of students with anxiety and depression is of growing concern (Sawyer et al, 2000; Mission Australia, 2009) and schools are uniquely placed to contribute to healthy student attitudes and self-awareness.
The literature review from the University of Melbourne, Building resilience in children and young people (Helen Cahill et al, 2012) examines a range of effective ways schools can help build resilience and wellbeing in students.
Here are 5 ways teachers can promote mental health in their classrooms:
1. Build positive relationships. A focus on the importance of positive teacher/ student enhances student wellbeing and achievement. A meta-analysis of 99 studies showed that student teacher relationships were linked to student engagement and achievement (Roorda et al, 2011) and a positive relationship with one caring adult can change the trajectory for even the most at risk student (Anderson, et al, 2004).
The studies show that relational skills such as building relationships, effective classroom management and clear expectations as well as pedagogical factors such as effective instruction, teacher passion and autonomy all contribute to student engagement and achievement.
2. Teach social and emotional skills. Durlak and Wiesberg et al (2011) meta-analysis of social and emotional learning programs (SEL), showed that schools with SEL achieved better academic results than schools without SEL. A whole school approach is ideal, but if your school is not at that stage, there is a great deal that a teacher can do in their classroom.
Improve peer relationships by explicitly teaching skills of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. Resources are available on websites such as CASEL (Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning), Kidsmatter and the Building Resilience online portal (education.vic.gov.au/resilience). The most effective programs are sequential, use active learning, focus on skill development and have explicit learning goals. The use of collaborative learning strategies is vital to reinforce the skills and provide opportunities for students to practice social skills.
3. Foster positive emotions by building a sense of pride and belonging within the school. School connectedness is a strong protective factor for health and academic outcomes for all students (Wingspread Declaration on School Connectedness, 2001; Roffey, 2012). When respectful behaviour is valued and modelled and students feel they have a voice, schools can build a sense of belonging and connectedness with even the most at risk students.
Create a positive learning environment where students have a voice and choice, ensure that all students feel physically and emotionally safe and use collaborative learning strategies to enhance student relationships. A proactive approach will help to reduce anxiety and improve learning outcomes.
4. Identify student strengths. In the past education has focused on a deficit model when dealing with students who do not achieve. We looked at how we could ‘fix’ those students. A strengths based approach that identifies student abilities and positive qualities then works proactively to build upon these strengths, gives your students more opportunities to be successful and build a strong sense of self-worth.
5. Build a sense of meaning and purpose. Providing opportunities for students to contribute to others gives meaning beyond themselves. Engage your students with the local and global community so they find ways to contribute. Working towards worthwhile goals increases students sense of wellbeing which impacts positively on student achievement.
Building resilience in students takes time and a holistic approach. As teachers there is much we can do to promote resilience in our students that will contribute to better outcomes academically, socially and emotionally.