Building and Maintaining Resilience Despite the Odds

Schools are places where we bring our whole selves — our life experiences, cultural backgrounds, challenges and trauma, and hopes and aspirations — into interaction with the world. But often, the experiences we encounter in school environments can become sources of stress and adversity that can have a major impact on our health and well-being.

“We believe that students learn best in an empathetic and caring environment. At Verita International School (VIS), we know that learning is fostered best in communities where students’ and teachers’ ideas are respected and where there is mutual trust. This is why our learning groups are small where caring educators look after the progress of students, acting as an advocate for each child,” says School Director Damian Ward “In all subject areas, teachers differentiate instruction and maintain high expectations in order to bring out the best in all students and cultivate a culture of high achievement for all. We also create an environment where older students mentor younger ones, and students feel physically and emotionally safe,” he adds.

Strategies for schools

Stress can be a huge factor in teenage lives and can negatively affect their wellbeing and performance, despite its biological function being to encourage peak performance. What can and should schools do about this? How can students be helped by both teachers and parents to manage stress, so that it becomes genuinely performance enhancing, something that they can thrive on, not just survive with? School experts share some of their insight below:

  1. Educate about the biology of stress: what stress is; how it affects us (each somewhat differently); recognizing symptoms; simple strategies to deal with each of the three categories of negative stress.
  2. Ensure that no students or staff think stress is a weakness. Encourage openness and respect.
  3. Reinforce the message that relaxation is not a luxury but essential for wellbeing and improves performance.
  4. Teach instant calming strategies such as belly-breathing.
  5. Provide ‘time-out’ every day and encourage students to build this into their own day/evening. For some, this will be a place where there is peace and quiet; for others it will be somewhere they can let off steam with physical activity.
  6. Provide good sleep education: understand the importance of sleep and how it is not only essential for mental and physical health and wellbeing but also for learning.
  7. Emphasize the importance of a quiet, technology-free hour before bedtime.
  8. Encourage daily exercise for pleasure: something each student can enjoy, whether team sport or solo exercise, energetic or not.
  9. Give clear routes for students to talk to someone they trust and ensure that students understand that there is help for them.

Learning to see failure as an opportunity

It is impossible to grow as a human being without learning from failure. Humans are born with an instinct to learn from mistakes in a way that does not generate anxiety or stress. This changes if expectations are forced on young people to be successful, with performance and position counting for more than learning. One of the purposes of the learner attributes is to encourage learners to be risk takers who have the confidence to take on new challenges and enjoy learning from mistakes. This requires learners to not be frightened to ask for support and help, and not to worry about losing face to their peers or teachers. Having intrinsic self-motivation is necessary for young people to become flexible, independent learners who are not dependent on extrinsic rewards. The resilient will have coping mechanisms to deal with failure, supported by the behavior of individual teachers and the culture of the school.

Supportive Parenting and Mindfulness

It is very important to teach parents about the learner attributes. This helps them to understand the importance of having a learning rather than a performance orientation. Doing this effectively will prepare young people for higher education, the workplace and life, as well as improving examination performance. According to experts, schools need to have active strategies against over-protective parenting.

On the other hand, mindfulness is increasingly becoming recognized as an effective approach that supports social and emotional learning and the development of resilience and emotional intelligence. The concept can be described as paying attention, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. Mindfulness practices are aimed at helping people to accept and respond skillfully to events as they happen. Adolescents who are mindful, either through temperament or training, tend to experience greater wellbeing, and be more resilient.

“Emotional and social intelligence is as equally important as intellectual intelligence. Our integrated approach offers skills and values that aid each child in their development of the skills of self-motivation and independent learning. Through this they will be able to succeed in life, despite its complexities, with adaptability, creativity, emotional balance and critical thinking,” ends Richard Joannides, founder of Verita International School, a member of the Council of International Schools.