The Importance of Learning Resilience

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If you had (or have) a child in school, what is the most important thing you would want them to learn?  Or, if you are an educator–what do you most wish for your students to learn during their 12-13 years as students?

Is it to read? To write?  To problem solve?  To program a robot, draw a map? Correctly identify a prime number?

For myself, the most important thing that I wish for my children and for my students, is to learn resilience.  This is what is going to keep them going when things don’t go as planned.  Is it what will let them overcome obstacles, difficult math questions, annoying people, and most importantly failure.  I want my kids, my students to be able to get back up when they are knocked down.  To keep going, no matter how hard things are.  Other elements that go hand-in-hand with resilience are courage, empathy, determination, perseverance.  All important skills to have, all important characteristics I wish for my children, my students to develop.

So the question is, how do we teach students resilience?  How do you help a child understand how failure and hardship can be a good thing?  In one of my programming classes, I used a project that pushed the boundaries of my student’s capabilities.  The project was to follow a online tutorial to create a game in an outdated program, called Adobe Flash.  The best part of the tutorial was that was incomplete and contained elements that didn’t necessarily work as stated.  That meant that students had to look outside the tutorial for new sources of help: their peers, user boards, help blogs, etc.  I, as the teacher, removed myself as a resource.  This was beyond frustrating for some of my students.  They struggled, they failed.  But then, they persevered.  They pushed back.  Some of my students learned to actively seek out help, either from online sources or from peers they’d never spoken to before.  In their reflections on the game (which many actually didn’t complete in its entirety), they talked about how they learned to find other ways to solve problems and how to deal with their frustration.  For some of my students, this project was one of the first times they had to confront this type of experience, and I am glad that I had the opportunity to provide it.

We need to provide more opportunities to help our students learn to fail, to learn to be resilience, and to learn to overcome obstacles.  By now, you have figured out that we can’t teach resilience, we can only facilitate opportunities for it to develop.  We can only sit on the sidelines cheering, encouraging and pushing our students to figure it out for themselves.  My challenge to you is to foster ways for students to develop resilience, to become confident in what they are capable of.  This means taking the risk of failure, it means being an example.  Sometimes it means anger, frustration and tears; however, sometimes it means conquering a mountain, and overall, it is the best possible “teachable moment” you can provide to a student to set them up for success.

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