July 18, 2012 by

Building Resiliency in Struggling Students: 7 Key Ideas from Research

In the coming weeks, millions of students across the country will return to school. Countless numbers of them will be labeled with such terms as at-risk or high-risk for academic failure or inappropriate behavior. As educators, we strive to find interventions, strategies, and programs that will help these students be successful. 

Resiliency can be defined as the ability to persist in the face of adversity or the ability to bounce back after facing a challenging situation. Helping students develop resiliency skills and attitudes has a positive effect on academic achievement, behavior, and long-term success in life (Hanson & Austin, 2003).

With this in mind, here are seven key ideas to help struggling students become resilient:

  1. Avoid labeling children as “high-risk” or “at-risk.” Instead, refer to high-risk environments or situations that present challenging conditions. All children are capable of great things given the appropriate support and they tend to live up to or down to the expectations we set for them. (Ginsburg, 2011)
  2. The person who delivers the program is more important than the program itself. There are numerous effective programs available that are designed to increase resiliency in students and loads of research about the effect of teaching students the skills and attitudes of resiliency. However, personal relationships and connections are the foundation of all effective programs. (Werner & Smith, 1992)
  3. Sometimes the apple does fall far from the tree. Students facing challenging situations or difficult home lives need to understand and believe that they can succeed. They need to know, through stories, examples, and role models, that with the right work ethic and commitment they can be successful. They need not be bound solely by their environment, background, or surroundings. (Jensen, 2009)
  4. View children not as problems to be fixed but as individuals with strengths, dreams, and opinions. Traditionally schools have been places where the focus has been on identification, remediation, and correction of deficits. Indeed, schools need to know where students are lacking and work hard to help students master important skills and content. However, we also need to use the strengths, abilities, interests of students for them to truly thrive and overcome adverse situations. (Henderson, 2003)
  5. Students must be actively involved in the life of the school and in their own learning. Resiliency isn’t developed being passive. Students need to connect to the people, the content, and the overall learning environment in order to thrive. Challenge students to track their own learning, create goals, and connect to other students with similar interests. In addition, all students should be exposed to challenging curriculum and high expectations. (Rothstein-Fisch & Trumbull, 2008)
  6. The stuff of school can be cold and impersonal. The curriculum, the overreliance on testing, the schedules, and even the instruction can sometimes lead children to believe that school is something that is done to them. Take time to make personal connections with students, to laugh with them, and share stories to make school warm, fun, and personal. (Kohn, 1999)
  7. Resilience isn’t constant in any of our lives. Resilience tends to ebb and flow throughout our lives based on current situations and challenges. We all have times in our lives where things are going well and times when things are tough. The resilient person is the one who can bounce back, learn, and thrive through the tough times. (Bernard, 2004)

Post submitted by Bryan Harris, director of professional development for the Casa Grande Elementary School District in Arizona. He is the author of Battling Boredom, published by Eye On Education. More information can be found at http://www.bryan-harris.com.