How Schools Can Promote Resilience

In the final of a three-part series on Dr. Tatyana Barankin and Dr. Nazilla Khanlou’s work Growing Up Resilient: Ways to Build Resilience in Children and Youth, this blog post will discuss how schools can promote resilience.

Promoting resilience requires understanding the protective and risk factors in a young person’s life.  Protective factors improve the likelihood that a youth will be resilient and mitigate negative influences.  Conversely, risk factors create obstacles and inhibit a child’s ability to develop resilience.

Schools play a prominent role in determining students’ resilience.  Students spend a significant portion of their time in or around the classroom.  As a result, schools can be instrumental in providing protective factors and limiting risk factors for their students.

Developing the Environment

Although several factors determining resilience are ingrained, developing resilience requires an ecological, integrative approach.  A youth’s school plays a crucial role in their ecology.  Schools are responsible for providing a safe, inclusive environment for their students.

A consistent, predictable environment with clear guidelines, expectations, and boundaries helps students flourish, especially those students who might struggle with regulation.  A school’s environment can provide protective factors for students by delivering extracurricular activities, clubs, and sports teams to act as positive outlets that reduce stress in students’ lives and provide students with opportunities to develop their self-concept.

The atmosphere at a school is particularly important, too.  Schools should strongly focus on mental, physical, and emotional well-being and concentrate on mental health promotion within their community.  Schools are vital in promoting resilience by fostering a positive, optimistic, and realistic attitude and approach amongst their students.

Knowing Your Students and Building Rapport

The teachers and staff at a school are instrumental factors in developing meaningful relationships with students and creating a supportive environment for them.  Adding one or two positive, supportive figures in a young person’s life can act as powerful protective factors in their lives.  These respected adults can provide students with a safe space to share their emotions and feelings, help students set goals for the future and maintain a disciplined approach, and serve as trusted persons when students face challenges.

Building a strong rapport is important in developing a meaningful connection with a student.  Teachers and staff should make a concerted effort to make time for students, asking open-ended questions, using active listening techniques, and demonstrating an interest in their students.  Staff can further this rapport by being attentive to student needs and understanding their learning style, becoming aware and sensitive to their temperament, and paying attention to their words and behaviours.

Teach Social-Emotional Skills

Incorporating social-emotional skill development into lessons will help students be more empathetic, develop a positive self-concept, and overcome future challenges.  Teachers can encourage students to communicate their feelings, and when students struggle with emotional regulation, they can provide relaxation techniques and coping skills.

In the classroom, teachers can create lessons that explore moral topics and discuss human emotions and feelings.  Additionally, self-reflection and metacognition activities allow students to understand their learning and sense of self better.

Another significant way teachers can improve their students’ social-emotional skills is by modelling good behaviour.  When challenges arise at school, set the standard by managing your emotions, taking an empathetic approach, and demonstrating effective conflict-resolution skills.

Be an Example

Staff at a school play an influential role in the lives of students.  Staff have the opportunity to be trusted adults and role models for children, acting as a protective factor for them.

In particular, staff have the opportunity to model pro-social behaviour.  As a staff, demonstrating empathy and small acts of kindness can empower and inspire students to follow their lead.  Moreover, staff can provide an example for students by leading healthy, active lifestyles, approaching challenging situations positively, and maintaining an optimistic and realistic outlook.

Establishing a mentoring program can also effectively lead to younger students modelling older, successful students’ behaviour, attitude, and interests.

Promote Mental Health

Taking an ecological approach to mental health promotion is important.  Schools should develop an environment that encourages students to develop skills and overcome challenges.   Central to this ecological approach is establishing a just environment and culture of inclusivity.

Schools can be essential in a student’s life, helping them establish a strong self-concept.  Schools can improve students’ self-esteem and provide a sense of belonging by encouraging participation in clubs, sports teams, and extracurricular activities.  By emphasizing exercise and physical fitness, schools promote physical and emotional well-being.

Furthermore, schools can provide beneficial services and programs for their students.  By providing all students with important resources and access to counsellors and mental health professionals, schools can be central figures in mental health promotion for children.

Encourage Participation

By encouraging participation in school events, teams, and extracurricular activities, schools also provide a sense of community – another protective factor in a child’s life.  Even academic events like science fairs and school open houses give students opportunities for growth and promote a sense of inclusivity and community.

Schools can also connect students with their larger neighbourhood or city by providing students with opportunities to be involved in community service.  Community service can also help students develop gratitude, empathy, and social-emotional skills.

Focus on Skill Development

Schools should focus on their students’ skill development.  Students with resiliency have developed areas of competency, an important feature of children with a positive self-concept.

Two important areas of skill development are problem-solving and communication skills.  Although the academic environment provides many opportunities for students problem solve, staff can also help students navigate challenges with their peers, families, and other staff.  Teaching students communication skills are useful in class when performing an oral presentation or writing an essay.  Often overlooked, however, are the ongoing interpersonal communication in a school.  Effective communication skills are developed as students learn to ask for help, communicate feelings, and interact with their peers.

Help Students Overcome Challenges

Schools should also encourage students to face challenges, providing them with the support needed to overcome the situation.  First, schools should focus on conflict prevention and mitigation by helping students anticipate and plan for future problems.  When problems arise, staff can act as reliable, trusted adults for students to come to with their issues.  Staff should empower students to brainstorm solutions, create pro/con lists, and decision-make to resolve situations effectively.  Even after students do not effectively resolve conflict, staff should be instrumental in having students reflect on their errors and use them to teach problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills.

Establish a Culture of Inclusivity

Finally, schools should create a just environment and a culture of inclusivity.  This, in turn, will help students develop their own sense of fairness, equity, empathy, and justice.  Schools can create this atmosphere by having existing policies and procedures to prevent bullying or harassment.  Additionally, by hiring staff of varied backgrounds and cultures and providing policies and programming directed at inclusivity, schools can encourage acceptance and respect for all students and prevent prejudice and discrimination in their community.

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