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How we can all help encourage our middle school students at Northbridge to develop resilience

Mustak Nakhwa
Mustak Nakhwa (7 posts) Mathematics Teacher, Grade Level Leader (7&8) View Profile

It is something that is observed across all grade levels but more so amongst middle school students at Northbridge International School Cambodia - student frustration leading to self defeat. Parents and teachers recognize the signs—a resigned sigh, an embarrassed glance at the floor, or a comment like “I’ll never be able to do this,” or “I’m not smart enough.” 

Northbridge International School Cambodia - Resilience

These signs of frustrations are indicators for a call for action from both teachers and parents, reminding students, in the words of Andy Warhol, that it does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop. This is the essence of resilience which is the ability to come back and regroup when a person experiences failure or meets challenges and hurdles that slow down progress. By promoting resilience on a regular basis, children have inner resources, which they can use when they become frustrated and want to give up.

Resilience can be thought of as a stress ball that is resilient because it springs back to its original shape after being squeezed. When students experience stress or frustration, we can think of that as pressure on them that they need to spring back from. Presenting them with strategies that build resilience will ease the frustration and help them get back into a positive and productive focus for learning.

Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength. Arnold Schwarzenegger

One way to alleviate mental tension while building resilience is through a mindset known as Habits of Mind. Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick developed the Habits of Mind. These are inter alia persisting or not giving up, thinking and communicating clearly and accurately, acting without impulse, listening with understanding and empathy,  thinking flexibly, thinking about their thinking (metacognition); taking responsible risks, aiming for accuracy, questioning, applying past knowledge to new situations, finding humor in themselves and others and remaining open to life long learning.

These strategies serve as a way to find a solution when one is not immediately apparent. They promote analysis, creativity, and perseverance—all qualities we want resilient children to have.

As parents and teachers, we have to hold our students accountable for their learning, but it is also imperative that we prepare them with the habits and resilience they will need in the world beyond school. This begins in the middle school years by activating and blending together these Habits of Mind and a never give up attitude.

Perhaps students lack resilience because they are shielded from everyday frustrations and problems. Experiencing failures and challenges within the learning environment and at home are crucial to the process of recovery. Parents can develop resilience at home by giving children opportunities to do chores and household tasks. Teachers can develop resilient classrooms where students are given opportunities to work through difficult problems. 

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. Christopher Reeve

Students can only know how to use skills, strategies and ways to meet challenges and tasks through exposure. To this end teachers must model and incorporate Habits of Mind into classroom learning while parents can do the same at home. Here are some suggestions on how to develop resilience:

1. Get students into the habit of thinking critically, whether it is thinking critically about the news, current affairs, music, food, social issues or even a game. This is a powerful tool for children to build their brain muscles.

2. Encourage children to debate everything since it helps them look at alternate explanations and develops their natural communication skills. 

3. Provide access to diverse, quality reading materials and then encourage, remind and give students time to read them and discuss the reading. Ask them to make claims based on the reading and to then support those claims with evidence.

4. Help children learn from everything they are exposed to. This allows them to see that learning is a mindset. They don’t have to only learn from ‘school’ or books, but from their world around them, nature, conversations, games and observation. 

5. Understanding that critical thinking is a mindset rather than merely a ‘skill’ can help it become a habit. Make critical thinking a game to get them to consider alternative views. Challenge them with scenarios and situations as this is a way to make critical thinking become a habit.

6. Teaching persistence with brainteasers allows safe and friendly opportunities for building resilience. Challenging brain teasers at school and at home, offer students the opportunity to fail and then recover in a safe environment.

7. When students receive a poor score on a test, project, or pre-assessment, teachers and parents can guide them to develop their capacity to recover. This is teaching them to practice metacognition—being aware of their thoughts, feelings, and actions, and the strategies they can use in a given situation. 

8. Parents and teachers should always give a compliment to children when they take a responsible risk in class or at home. Volunteering, offering to lead an activity or a household task are opportunities to build confidence, optimism, and risk-taking, and most importantly, to keep a resilient momentum in their lives.

It always seems impossible until it’s done. Nelson Mandela

Emphasis should be placed on how to help middle school students better organize their workloads, manage their time, and develop new strategies for managing stress. Pressure is inevitable in life, but we can promote, encourage, and provide opportunities for students to learn from failures while building resilience so that they can quickly recover from setbacks.

Subjecting students to greater complexities and stresses, without providing the proper tools and before they are mature enough to handle them, doesn’t sound like learning. It sounds like torture!