There is a lot of talk nowadays about the importance of developing character in students, with resilience being mentioned a lot. So, we know it’s a good skill to have, but the question on most people’s minds is: can you teach students to develop resilience?
What is resilience?
Despite being a hot topic in education circles, there are many different definitions of what resilience actually is. We think that this is the easiest way to describe it: resilience is not giving up too quickly, maintaining motivation despite a setback and even improving as a result as you work towards a long-term goal.
The Sutton Trust defines resilience as a “positive adaptation despite the presence of risk”. It was originally researched in young children suffering major traumatic events (but was later studied in business environments and elite sport) – essentially, it states that setbacks can have positive consequences. Experiencing adversity can lead to perform better under pressure, and facing failure can enhance empathy, motivation and determination.
Why you can’t teach resilience
Resilience shouldn’t be viewed as a skill to teach: it is an outcome. This means you cannot teach it in isolation. What you can teach, however, are the skills that help someone develop their resilience and provide an environment for it to flourish.
So, what are the skills that allow someone to become resilient? We think there are three areas to concentrate on improving in your students: their mindset, their ability to perform under pressure and their self-talk.
Simply put, one’s mindset is based on their belief that their abilities and intelligence can be improved – or not. Carol Dweck, the originator of the theory, puts it like this: “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”
This is how the link between mindset and resilience works: seeing mistakes and failure as learning opportunities that will help you become better can help you have a positive outlook on setbacks and maintain your motivation.
It is possible to develop a growth mindset. Although there are no set ways to do this, here are some strategies and resources that may help:
- Use the power of praise – The behaviours you choose to praise as a teacher will provide a student with a model to follow. However, you have to be careful how you use praise, because it is a very powerful tool (and if use poorly can do more harm than good).
- Have high expectations – Having positively high (and realistic) expectations for your students can encourage them to become more independent, motivated learners. This is called the Pygmalion Effect.
- Teach different strategies – Simply telling students to “try harder” or “put more effort in” is unlikely to lead to long-term positive behaviour change. Instead, by showing them different ways to solve problems and encourage them to ask themselves metacognitive questions such as “What could I do differently?” when they get stuck they will be more equipped to overcome setbacks along the way.
There are many other ways to develop your students’ resilience through improving their mindset. You can find out more on our guide page, or you could even book a growth mindset workshop for your students.
Ability to perform under pressure
In challenging conditions, we can easily give in to nerves and underperform. However, it is possible to learn and practice how to flourish under pressure. The key is to reframe a stressful situation as an opportunity rather than a threat, being well prepared and having a strategy to apply.
There is a strong research base that suggests that how you talk to yourself impacts your level of resilience, how confident you feel and how well you perform under pressure. A review found strong evidence that talking to yourself in an instructional manner (i.e. telling yourself what you would do differently) helps you focus on what to do next, instead of dwelling on the problem. Further research on school children found it also helped self-control.
This style of self-talk can act as a call to action and removes apathy. One of our favourite phrases with both our sporting and education clients is: “Don’t rush to I can’t”. Essentially, in order to enhance their resilience, students should avoid using absolutes when they talk to themselves.
Ask yourself questions
Studies have found that those who ask themselves questions instead of making statements (‘Will I…?’ instead of ‘I Will…’) performed better as it increased their motivation to succeed. This also encourages them to look for strategies and acted as a call to action.
Resilience is probably always going to be a popular topic in education. However, it is important to remember that it doesn’t exist in isolation and that, to develop, it requires a challenging but supportive environment along with individual skills such as self-talk and a proactive mindset.