Resilience: Teach It to See It
As I read the article Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201509/declining-student-resilience-serious-problem-collegesmy) my first response was one of frustration. Not frustrated with the students mentioned in the article, but frustrated with the educational system. How can we expect the students to be personally accountable for a skill they never learned. As with any effective system, those involved within the system must be reflective and willing to change the system to achieve the outcome they seek. Education is inherently task focused yet often refers to itself as process. Education screams about being forced to teach to a test, when we always have taught to a test. I was taught using a backwards design to any lesson is an effective strategy, and where else do you begin to backwards design but with an assessment. My experiences have taught me that this is in fact a major obstacle in process thinking: the assessment should not be the end of a unit, or teaching, but in fact a portion of the learning. It has been my observation that the educational industry has taken a perverse view of accountability, using of all things test scores; the ultimate task centric rationale to discuss process. Task focused leadership will take quantitative data and focus on the specific details of how that data was achieved, and when outcomes are found the leaders want, the best task focused leader will just mimic organization wide that idea. Ironically, we forget the basic principle of education: the students. We are the only industry that produces people, citizens, functional units of society and yet prepare them for content instead of preparing them to be a person, a leader, and catalyst for positive change in their community. So no, it does not surprise me that colleges see this problem because primary and secondary educators have been creating and managing this mentality for many years. As these students graduate, they will inevitably take these resiliency skills (or lack thereof) to the workforce and colleges.
Many years ago, without having a full understanding at the time as to what I was doing, I began to tackle this issue of resilience in the classroom. At the time the lack of resiliency coping skills presented as disciplinary referrals, failure rates, and general malaise or apathy for school. Resilience is a learned skill. Each person’s first teacher is their parent or guardian. If they do not learn how to be resilient from them, they are left to learn the skill from their environment. That means the teaching may come from coaches, mentors in scouting or other community organizations, or even from some traumatic moments in a person’s life. As with any skill, if not repeated and consistently positively reinforced by a coach, the skill is lost. What this means for education; we must teach the person, and that means teach the skills we want to see in our students. Content must be secondary to the individual. Teachers spend countless hours preparing lessons, and when a student does not see the need to learn, a teacher may take it personally instead of investigating why the student feels this way and then coaching them on the interpersonal skill they need to be successful. Leaders and coaches must be process thinkers, it is time teachers at all levels and in all educational organizations feel the same.
When I describe this methodology to parents, they almost always understand the positive intent of the instruction. In many cases, they are grateful that I am a member of their team trying to help their child become a better person. It is something we inherently learned as toddlers. You want to walk because you get tired of falling. With help and coaching, and time for muscular development we learn to walk. If you failed your driver’s’ test as a teenager, you continued to learn how to improve your driving skills and then were reassessed. If we want to find resilient students, we need to coach the skill and provide time for development. As educators we must also embrace that fact that as we learn a skill, we will fail and we must learn to embrace failure as data for teachable moments of growth.
In summary, this article provoked a memory of mine from a book I read many years ago; The Art of Happiness. I was at a pivotal moment in my life, looking for direction, trying to be resilient and came across this book in a bookstore…I know, remember those. A portion of the book spoke about satisfaction versus being content. A satisfied person is only happy in the short term until they are faced with the fact they cannot achieve what they want. A content person learns the skills to be happy not from what they have or want, but from who they are. If we as educators continue to positively reinforce negative behaviors with task focused grading and task focused teaching we are creating satisfied students, and satisfied adults. Satisfied people may seem happy, but do not have the resiliency skills to cope and overcome with the obstacles that prevent them from continuing to be satisfied. Process based coaching may be uncomfortable for the learner but is intended to develop content individuals who will be resilient leaders in our communities.
By Christian Ehrhart
Cofounder EII Consulting