One of the hallmarks of successful students is their resilience; that is, their ‘toughness’ they display when facing some stressful situation that may have long-term negative consequences. Resilient kids soon get over inevitable set-backs and get on with their life. Teachers know there is a clear link between a student’s resilience and their learning outcomes and school bureaucrats and educational academics have quickly adopted this link and promote the development of resilience in our schools.
They understand that students with healthy resilience have confidence in their ability to get through the hard times and have a positive outlook about their future. Resilient kids have:
- A deep-seated trust in their community, that they will be safe and supported even when they make a mistake
- They have confidence in their ability to solve problems and that they will be supported while they work through difficulties
- They have a strong sense of self and know they are valued by those that care for them
- They have the ability to control their levels of stress when faced with a difficulty.
It will come of no surprise that those students who have severe behaviours, those for whom we advocate and we deal with in these Newsletters are not resilient. In fact, they are just the opposite and It is no wonder.
Children with severe behaviours:
- Do not trust the community and never expect support; their experience has taught them just the opposite!
- They have no confidence that they will succeed, not in the short term and they have no concept of long-term consequences
- They have a toxic view of their sense of self, that is they don’t make mistakes they believe they are mistakes
- They are imprisoned by their inability to control the overwhelming effects of stress levels experienced when they are under threat.
- They have given-up on their self.
The fact is when these children are faced with a crisis situation that threatens their sense of security they will either be consumed by that stress, that is they can erupt with high levels of anger, act out against the threat or they can internalize these acute emotions or implode into and dissociate from the problem. In either case they are beaten by the stress; they are firmly locked into this dysfunctional response.
The fact is the vast majority of these kids have developed this non-resilient sense of self because of the parenting they have received and the idea that the teacher can provide effective therapy to help them develop resilience is fanciful. It is important to recognise that teachers are not therapists, they have to deal with these kids within the confines of four walls and a significant number of ‘other kids’. So, what can we do in our resource poor classrooms for these kids?
As always for so many of these kids the only chance they have is their teacher so again, it is up to the teacher to try to develop their resilience. Sadly, unless they can, these students will never reach their learning potential.
So, what to do? Well resilience can be considered a personal set of characteristics we would want for all our students. We want them to:
- Have a positive sense of their worth
- Have them develop a sense of trust and be trusted by others in their class and life
- Have the confidence that they have the ability and the right to solve their own problems in their own way while knowing the support is there if and when they fail
- Have a sense that they can pursue their own goals and careers; they have something to live for.
The solution in the classroom lies is in the way the classroom is run; by the teacher presenting a very structured set of behaviour rules each child learns to develop a sense of power over the situations in which they find themselves. They gain an understanding that their outcomes are related to their actions both positive and negative. Keeping in mind, as the student’s confidence develops it is important to increase the level of challenge to a level that ‘gets the child’s attention’ but not too much that will overwhelm them.
This structured action – consequence organisation will allow the students to gain a cognitive understanding of how the world works. But, this is only half the equation.
The level of personal support the teacher offers is critical if we are to develop personal strength in these kids. Just how much we are there with them while they learn reinforces their sense of worth, first to you a significant other in their life and gradually to themselves. This level of support, in a normal situation is proportional to the age of the student. That is, young students require high levels of support and this drops as the students mature, developing their resilience as they age.
However, and importantly, for students with severe behaviours this relationship between support and development is not directly related to ‘age’ but to the level of their self-control. A totally dysfunctional thirteen-year-old will need the same level of personal support as a child in kindergarten. When you have one of these dysfunctional students in your class it is your professional duty to give them this level of support. The good news is they will develop at a quicker rate if you get the environment right.
Resilience is a desirable quality for all of us, we deserve it. Damaged kids have had that ability taken away from them through the abuse or neglect they grew-up in. Society owes it to them to develop those characteristics that were denied them so they can take their rightful place in their community!