‘What are you doing about resilience at the moment?’ a colleague asked me the other day.
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Having spent much of last year researching the evidence about resilience and growth mindset and subsequently delivering my conclusions to the staff, I felt a little guilty. Ostensibly, I haven’t been doing much.
Last year, in a Tigger-like flurry of activity, I wrote growth mindset effort descriptors for reports, helped design resilience strategies to include in student planners, and created a one-term resilience programme for PSHE lessons.
But this year my focus has strayed. I considered the question carefully – have I given up on resilience?
The answer is yes, but no. There is no holy grail of resilience. We cannot make students resilient, just as we cannot guarantee them top grades. One of the most important messages from my research is to beware the danger of falling into the trap of seeing resilience as a character trait which can be measured.
The best we can do in schools is provide students with the coping strategies to deal with life’s constant failures and setbacks. Exposing them to as many different situations, problems and experiences as we can will help, particularly since so many of the students we teach in Blackpool do not get these opportunities outside school. Developing a bespoke programme of resilience skills could be a way of addressing the proven link between mental health problems and poverty (Elliott, 2016).
However, I am coming to the conclusion that the best way to help students is by focusing on improving teaching and learning in the classroom. The latest evidence is showing that using time and resources to improve student academic achievement could be a better agent of psychological change than psychological interventions themselves.
Hendrick and Macpherson (2017) cite evidence that the actual effect of achievement on self-perception is stronger than the other way around.
So, I haven’t given up on resilience, I have
just changed the way I am viewing it. I still absolutely believe in the power
of dreams, and the importance of giving students higher aspirations. I remain
convinced that a fear of failure is what prevents so many students (and adults)
from achieving their potential. And I strongly support the role of PSHE and
extra-curricular opportunities in building resilience in students.
"We cannot make students resilient, just as we cannot guarantee them top grades."
But bearing in mind the Confucian mindset and the 10,000-hour rule of creating an expert (Ericsson, 1993), I have concluded that the best way to improve student resilience is through subject led excellence in the classroom (and the latest Wellcome Trust Report agrees).
One of my favourite books has been ‘The A-level Mindset’ with its VESPA model of ensuring student success. VESPA stands for Vision, Effort, Systems, Practice and Attitude. Without just one of these, Oakes and Griffin realised that students did not achieve their potential. The best strategy for creating more resilient students is to train staff and students so that the language of effort and practice becomes second nature.
Lessons should secure the foundations of knowledge on which students can build and become curious, enthusiastic and ultimately independent learners.
Don’t give up on resilience, but great teaching might be the best way to achieve it.
To read more of Louise's research into resilience, read her Literature Review.