The sun shone outside the transition tent. I was elated at having just completed the swim leg of the Welsh Ironman, and I was now struggling to exit my wetsuit in preparation for the 110 mile bike ride that awaited. At least the sun was shining. The mixture of excitement and having just bobbed around the Celtic Sea for the last hour led to a bad decision: I left my waterproof jacket in my transition bag. After all, the sun was shining!
An hour into the cycle leg, it started to rain. Then it started to pour. Then the wind started to whip through the cycle course. I wore a triathlon suit which consisted of cycling shorts and a vest. My teeth chattered as I pedalled as hard as I could to stave off the cold. I cursed my terrible decision and wanted to quit. Somehow, I kept pedalling. I had another 90 miles to cycle in my frozen state. I would have to keep pedalling for a while in order to then start a marathon. I concentrated on my next pedal stroke and counted each one. Gradually, I progressed through the course.
Resilience is the most underrated employability skill. It is also the most valuable. In an age where depression is pandemic, resilience to drive forward is needed more than ever. Developing resilience starts from an early age, and people’s experiences in education can strengthen or weaken a person’s resilience. Here are a few ways you can help enhance the resilience of your students.
1. Do not provide the answer
One of the consequences of “exam culture” is an obsession with the “right answer”. Students consistently ask “will this be on the test?”. They become preoccupied with knowing the right answer. You should occasionally provide tasks which are either ridiculously difficult, or, a task where you do not provide the answer. You’ll be amazed at how flustered some students will become at not knowing whether their work is correct, or that they are unable to arrive at the right answer. This lack of resilience is seen amongst some of the very best students who aren’t used to being unable to answer a question. Insurmountable tasks and dealing with frustration are keys to developing resilience. In the real world, problems very rarely have a clear cut answer. Students should be prepared for this uncertainty and not knowing the correct answer with the tasks you choose in your lessons.
2. Promote competition
Competition breeds resilience. Becoming used to losing with grace, and learning from the experience has profound effects on a person’s resilience. Incorporating quizzes, team competitions and regular, public judging of students work is a great way to build resilience. As the leader of a classroom, you have to be overt with your motives. Students can perceive negative, public comments about a piece of work, or, losing in public, as direct insults to their very core. You should stress that this is not the case, and that your classroom is a safe haven where your sole goal is to improve your students. Tell them that by accepting criticism, loss and failure, they become stronger people, primed for a successful career.
3. Promote responsibility
Responsibility is power. The moment you absolve yourself of responsibility is the moment you empower another person. By accepting responsibility for a situation allows you to control the situation. Controlling a situation allows you to rectify a situation. Students should be taught that they are responsible for their own actions. They should also be taught that by taking responsibility, they have the power to control their situation. You, as the teacher, are easiest to blame for a poor result or failure in the classroom. Helping students explore how they are responsible for their successes and failures enables them to see that they can own the choices they make and therefore own the outcomes they experience. Build this into your feedback. Question what a student has done that contributed to an unsuccessful result. Question what they will do better next time. Outline that by taking responsibility, they are taking control of their outcomes.
4. Encourage outward thinking
One of the best ways to become resilient is to help other people. People who lack resilience are often introspective, dwelling on their own issues and problems. Resilient people know that they are defined by their contribution to other people. Create a mentorship scheme in your school. Pair older, more experienced students, with younger students. Coach the older students on how to be a great mentor, how to provide help to the younger students, and the art of effective communication. Stress the importance of being outward looking and the dangers of only looking after number one. Outward thinking will promote a fantastic school culture and create resilient pupils.
5. Create opportunities for group work
Humans are social creatures. We rely on others for help, support, and friendship. Encouraging the formation of friendships in your lesson helps to build up a person’s support network and, as thus, builds resilience. Creating opportunities for interaction in your lessons is crucial. The modern workplace is characterised by interactions between individuals. It is imperative that education systems produce people with great interpersonal skills; people who are comfortable working with others. Selecting groups on behalf of your students ensures that they will gain exposure to a number of different personality types, not merely the friends they have in college. Building your students’ social environment will help to build their resilience. Forming relationships helps to develop confident, happy and well balanced individuals who are willing to take on the challenges they may face.
Resilience is a crucial skill. Life is full of ups and downs, elation and disappointment. Being able to cope with life’s many scenarios is a skill we should equip our young people with. Pressure from the popular media leads people to lead lives people perceive to be inadequate; lives not in keeping with the rich and famous they see on TV. Learning to meet setbacks with a straight bat, and learning how to be happy in any given moment is the crux of resilience. The Chinese proverb reads “a journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step”. That is what resilience is: the ability to move forward against perceived setbacks and insurmountable challenges. Our education can equip us to be resilient. Teachers should lead the way by creating opportunities to build resilience in the safety of their classroom. Above all, resilient people know they have people who have got their back. Your main job is to make sure your students realise you are fighting to do the best by them. That will provide the confidence they need to meet any challenge.
Incidentally, I managed to finish my Ironman. Resilience was definitely the only skill on show (that, or stupidity). The training I had done ensured I had the mental capacity to cope with the day’s demands. I learnt quickly that a race like that is only one swim stroke, one pedal stroke or one stride in length. To think any further ahead would create mental torture, so I focused on the next stride. Stringing together countless repetitions of these single strides got me to the finish. That’s the thing with resilience, by concentrating on the process or the task at hand, you often get there in the end.