A Longer Term Focus- Building Resilience | Steve Barkley
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A Longer Term Focus- Building Resilience

Does thinking longer term as we plan for the next school year allow teachers to focus on building student resilience over a push to catch up on academic content under some definition of learning loss? How do instructional coaches and leaders support teachers in deciding upon the most important student experiences as they return to classrooms? What observational evidence indicates desired progress?

Sam Chaltain’s blog “New Rules for New Schools” describes our need to change our relationship with time— focusing less on short-term goals. He shares a theme from Roman Krznaric’s book, The Good Ancestor. “We have to think long— something we humans can do, just not very well. It’s hard to think long when the world around us is driven by short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops.” Krznaric illustrates thinking with a marshmallow brain (remember the experiments with 3 year- olds and delayed gratification) and the acorn brain (think acorn to tree)

This two-minute video gives a great visual explanation.

Resilience is described as the ability to bounce back from adversity. It is an important skill for coping with life’s inevitable obstacles and a key ingredient to success. Learning to bounce back and to bounce forward. I am currently working with a school that will have students returning to classroom learning for the first time in 15 months as they engage in a summer school program. How important would it be to invest in building students’ resilience during this six-week program? Is a short-term goal of increasing an academic score an easier focus? Of course, we can provide opportunities to create growth in both areas, but resilience is not a short-term measurement.

Adeyemi Stembridge, writing in Education Week, states,
“If the goal in our understanding of resilience is to be able to better position ourselves as more effective support to students, then we must think carefully about the nature and value of authentic, trusting relationships in school. Trust isn’t merely a commodity shared between two or more people. I am also referring to how students come into trusting relationships with the idea of school and their identities therein. We are all more likely to remain committed to a task when some part of our identity is invested in the space and/or task. In this regard, I encourage teachers to use strategies that allow students to see themselves as the agents of success in their own lives.”

I love that phrase, “a trusting relationship with the idea of school”. Definitely the post-pandemic return to the classroom is a time for that longer-term, desired focus, that will support students’ continuous success. What would you imagine observing in teacher and student actions that would indicate experiences likely to build resilience? What does this look and sound like? These are important conversations. Consider the following elements from the Reachout.com website:

Create safe and supportive learning environments – “Being able to learn from mistakes and challenges in a place where they feel supported and encouraged will build their confidence, self-belief, and resilience.” A longer-term focus makes it easier for the teacher to build safety for students to learn in trial and error and from mistakes. Short-term, especially high-stakes assessments, interfere with building confidence and self-belief.

Celebrate student progress, not just success– “When it comes to building resilience, it really is all about the journey and not just the destination! When we only celebrate the wins, we instill a belief that the only thing that matters is success.”

Stembridge illustrated a great example of this in his writing. He suggested taking a snapshot of an engaged student—thinking, doing, talking, listening. He then presents the photo to the student at another time as asks, ”Can you tell me what was happening in this picture?” This dialogue allows the teacher to draw attention to the student’s actions or choices that drive success. I really think this is a brilliant strategy. I have had physical education teachers describe how capturing a student’s move or positioning visually increases understanding of the desired behavior and its impact. I can imagine the same power with students’ learning engagement behaviors.

Deeper learning practices prepare students to think critically and learn independently.

Provide opportunities for goal setting and debriefing– Creating environments where students feel confident to discuss what they want to achieve and their strategies for doing it is important in helping them to build resilience. Debriefing is very important for students to gain understanding and empowerment in the learning process. Reflection provides support for staying with or modifying the current actions: an important decision. This can be difficult because very often our initial actions don’t show progress. (We have all experienced this when dieting) Here is a podcast that explores the connection between goalsetting and debriefing.

Develop a sense of belonging within the school community– “Research shows that a great way to build resilience in young people is to help them feel a part of something bigger than themselves. Encourage your students to engage with the school and community beyond their social groups by volunteering at events, mentoring younger students, or participating in whole-school events.” Many problem-based learning activities create such opportunities. (Here is a podcast that illustrates students engaging with the school community)

Building schools that are resilient, will require school leaders who build the same “trusting relationships with the idea of school” with the staff. It does require a longer rather than short-time focus.


Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages

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