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Influencing Pupil Resilience

The Early Career Framework states that teachers must learn that... Teachers can influence pupils’ resilience and beliefs about their ability to succeed, by ensuring all pupils have the opportunity to experience meaningful success.

Educational research shows that what academic educators do in the design of classes, and how they interact with students, has a strong impact on students' resilience in learning, including the approaches they adopt and the learning goals they develop (intrinsic or instrumental). How educators teach and interact with students creates a ‘learning climate’ that can affect student resilience and motivation.

How teachers can support student wellbeing provides an excellent article all about the topic and I would highly recommend you taking a look at their resources. Teacher Magazine also writes extensively about the impact of teachers on students' wellbeing, looking at both how teachers can positively and negatively affect the wellbeing of their students.

Teachers can be extraordinarily influential – you can improve the resilience of your pupils. In turn, this will help you to improve their life chances, especially for the most disadvantaged pupils. Ultimately, the quality of your teaching is what matters most, but creating secure foundations by acting as a role model, clarifying your expectations, and creating a culture of trust and respect will help your teaching to have the greatest possible impact. You can do this by:

  • acting as a role model – your actions can influence the attitudes, values and behaviours of your pupils. For instance, modelling a joy of reading may influence your pupils’ attitudes to reading. Therefore, you should be purposeful and consider the attributes you wish to foster through your example. Pupils may be especially impressionable if they identify with you, or if they lack existing positive role models

  • clarifying your expectations – your expectations of pupils can affect their outcomes. This is sometimes known as the Pygmalion effect, through which pupils can internalise expectations of them held by others. Setting challenging, yet achievable goals will help you to communicate your high expectations and support pupils to achieve more. You should set similar expectations about behaviour by, for instance, not tolerating low-level disruption

  • creating a culture of respect and trust – this can be achieved by doing lots of simple things well, such as actively modelling and reinforcing the courteous behaviour you expect pupils to show you and their peers. For instance, by respectfully listening to others’ ideas and actively modelling how to do this and why it matters

Many factors motivate students’ to learn. These factors may be intrinsic or extrinsic. This article discusses the role of the teacher in students’ motivation to learn. The literature on learning and motivation reveals the ways that teachers can increase students’ motivation to learn. While students may have an innate desire to learn, the external support provided by the teacher has a significant impact on students’ learning. The teacher’s role in motivation includes, but is not limited to, creating an environment conducive to learning. The teacher’s role in encouraging support of students’ autonomy, relevance, and relatedness of the material increases motivation to learn. Additionally, the teacher’s ability to develop students’ competence, interest in subject taught, and perception of self-efficacy are all important factors that influence students’ motivation to learn.

Vanderbilt University's Centre for Teaching provides this article too on how we can motivate our students.

What is resilience?

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. It is a necessary skill for coping with life’s inevitable obstacles and one of the key ingredients to success. Learning to bounce back and to bounce forward. Examples of challenges some young people may face where resiliency skills are essential: physical illness, change of school, transitioning from primary school to high school , change in family make up (divorce, break up), change of friendship group, conflict with peers, conflict with family. Resilient people are comfortable in talking about and expressing a range of emotions.

Students experience a tremendous amount of physical and mental growth on a daily basis. Between school, co-curricular activities, work and their social life, teens face lots of new experiences and challenges. Being resilient gives them the ability to tackle these head-on, bounce back from any setbacks and have the best chance at succeeding. It allows them to learn and grow in all situations – two skills that are crucial to wellbeing and development. Resilience will also help them to approach new situations, people or experiences with confidence and a positive mindset, which will make them more likely to succeed.

We are all innately resilient, but fear, insecurity and doubt can take over in moments of stress or anxiety. These responses can affect our ability to draw on our resilience just when we need it most. Luckily, there are a few ways teachers can encourage and build resilience in their students.

1. Create safe and supportive learning environments

Focus on developing an environment where all students feel safe and supported. Encourage them to try new things, and emphasise the growth and learning opportunities they are presented with when they fail or make a mistake.

When students feel like the outcome won’t affect them negatively, they are more likely to try new and more challenging things in the classroom. 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.

2. 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 instil a belief that the only thing that matters is success. In order to build a positive mindset and a willingness to grow, it’s important to focus on progress and not just success. This can be done through providing open feedback to students that focuses on their effort rather than the outcome.

Encourage your students to set goals for themselves that provide challenges and stimulation. Celebrate every time they overcome a hurdle along the way and move closer to achieving their goal. This could focus on something academic (such as a challenge to read a certain number of books over the term) or relate to an area a student finds challenging (such as encouraging a shy student to participate in a school performance). You can help them to celebrate the small milestones along the way by communicating regularly with their parents to let them know of their child’s progress, rather than waiting for report time.

3. Provide opportunities for goal setting and reflection

Building resilience is all about maintaining a positive mindset, a willingness to grow and an ability to learn from setbacks. Setting goals and making time for reflection have been shown to help maintain focus and create momentum in times of growth and change. Breaking down situations, issues or even assessments into smaller, less intimidating chunks can make it easier for students to stay in a positive mindset so that they are less likely to be deterred by setbacks. 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.

4. 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. When teens feel that what they do or contribute matters on a larger scale, they are more likely to push through setbacks and to remain optimistic about the outcome. Encourage your students to engage with the school and community beyond their social groups by volunteering at vents, mentoring younger students or participating in whole-school events such as the school musical. Being involved in what’s happening with their peers and the faculty instils in them a belief that their involvement can and will have a positive effect on others as well as themselves.

Relationship with teachers

Alexander and Murphy (1998) have argued that when teachers acknowledge students’ personal goals and interests, and learners perceive the academic climate to be supportive and encouraging, they are more likely to perform well. Kanevsky and Keighly (2003) argued that, for gifted students, a caring teacher can overcome deficits in what they call “the other 4 C’s” (control, choice, challenge, complexity). In their study, gifted students valued teachers for their professional commitment and because they were fair yet flexible. These teachers respected the students’ need to talk, to question, to challenge, and to dig deeper. These teachers gave students some control over aspects of their learning and show a concern for all individuals’ well-being. In sum, these teachers were enthusiastic about interacting with gifted students.

Teaching students about building resilience empowers learners to understand that emotional regulation is primarily a self-driven endeavor. In Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, she shares that the unexpected death of her husband left her scrambling to find stable ground. She writes, “When life pulls you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface and breathe again.” That’s the idea behind resilience. It’s not a denial of emotional weight, nor does it mean that we must always deal with our woes independently. Rather, resilience is the notion that through awareness, mindfulness, and practice, we can arm ourselves with coping skills to better survive life’s challenges.

Some ideas for teaching resilience: Give students examples of life challenges and ask them to brainstorm pieces of advice they would give to someone experiencing that challenge. Or, ask students to identify some life challenges (big and small) and then create emotional action plans for coping with those situations.

Another important component of building resiliency is teaching students to identify their emotional triggers. What frustrates them? What stresses them out? What makes them sad? Sociologist and life coach Martha Beck explains, “Emotional triggering is, at root, a survival response. Our brains create powerful associations between things that have hurt us and whatever was going on when we got hurt. Once you’ve been hit by lightning, even though you know that the odds of it happening again are astronomically low, the touch of a single raindrop may send you running for cover.” Exercises where students explore the things that produce negative emotions can build an awareness of situations that require more mindfulness. An important distinction to pass along to young learners is that triggers explain emotional responses, but they do not necessarily excuse them. One can’t merely excuse troubling behavior by saying, “Oh well, I was triggered.” That’s where mindfulness comes in, and the skill of asking for help when emotions become overwhelming.

Some ideas for teaching about triggers: Have students identify a list of times when they felt mad, frustrated, stressed, or sad. Discuss what students believe triggered their negative emotions. Have students create emotional trigger action plans that incorporate mindfulness techniques: “When I Feel…I Can…” Be sure to provide avenues for counseling or emotional support for times when students need assistance. Another option is to create a safe space in your classroom so students can learn to cope with different triggers and emotions in healthy ways.

References from the ECF

[Further reading recommendations are indicated with an asterisk.]

Aronson, J. (Ed.) (2002) Improving academic achievement: Impact of psychological factors on education. New York: Academic Press. Bandura, A. (1986) Social foundations of thought and action: a social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Campbell Collaboration (2018) School-based interventions for reducing disciplinary school exclusion: A Systematic Review. Accessible from: .

Chapman, R. L., Buckley, L., & Sheehan, M. (2013) School-Based Programs for Increasing Connectedness and Reducing Risk Behavior: A Systematic Review, 25(1), 95–114.

Chetty, R., Friedman, J. N., Rockoff, J. E. (2014) Measuring the Impacts of Teachers II: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood. American Economic Review, 104(9), 2633–2679. .

*Education Endowment Foundation (2018) Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit: Accessible from: [retrieved 10 October 2018].

Hanushek, E. (1992) The Trade-off between Child Quantity and Quality. Journal of Political Economy, 100(4), 859–887.

*Institute of Education Sciences (2008) Reducing Behavior Problems in the Elementary School Classroom. Accessible from .

Johnson, S., Buckingham, M., Morris, S., Suzuki, S., Weiner, M., Hershberg, R., B. Weiner, Hershberg, R., Fremont, E., Batanova, M., Aymong, C., Hunter, C., Bowers, E., Lerner, J., & Lerner, R. (2016) Adolescents’ Character Role Models: Exploring Who Young People Look Up to as Examples of How to Be a Good Person. Research in Human Development, 13(2), 126–141. .

Jussim, L. & Harber, K., (2005) Teacher Expectations and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies: Knowns and Unknowns, Resolved and Unresolved Controversies, Personality and Social Psychology Review 2005, Vol. 9, No. 2, 131–1557.

Lazowski, R. A., & Hulleman, C. S. (2016) Motivation Interventions in Education: A Meta-Analytic Review. Review of Educational Research, 86(2), 602–640. .

Murdock-Perriera, L. A., & Sedlacek, Q. C. (2018) Questioning Pygmalion in the twenty-first century: the formation, transmission, and attributional influence of teacher expectancies. Social Psychology of Education, 21(3), 691–707. .

*PISA (2015) PISA in Focus: Do teacher-student relations affect students’ well-being at school? Accessible from: .

Rathmann K., Herke M., Hurrelmann K., Richter M. (2018) Perceived class climate and school-aged children's life satisfaction: The role of the learning environment in classrooms. PLoS ONE 13(2): e0189335. .

Rubie-Davies, C. M., Weinstein, R. S., Huang, F. L., Gregory, A., Cowan, P. A., & Cowan, C. P. (2014) Successive teacher expectation effects across the early school years. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 35(3), 181–191. .

Slater, H., Davies, N. M., & Burgess, S. (2011) Do Teachers Matter? Measuring the Variation in Teacher Effectiveness in England. Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, .

Tsiplakides, I. & Keramida, A. (2010) The relationship between teacher expectations and student achievement in the teaching of English as a foreign language. English Language Teaching, 3(2), P22. Retrieved from .

Wubbels, T., Brekelmans, M., den Brok, P., Wijsman, L., Mainhard, T., & van Tartwijk, J. (2014) Teacher-student relationships and classroom management. In E. T. Emmer, E. Sabornie, C. Evertson, & C. Weinstein (Eds.). Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues (2nd ed., pp. 363–386). New York, NY: Routledge.

Zins, J. E., Bloodworth, M. R., Weissberg, R. P., & Walberg, H. J. (2007) The Scientific Base Linking Social and Emotional Learning to School Success. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 17(2–3), 191–210.

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