3 Ways Of Boosting Pupil Resilience

3 Ways Of Boosting Pupil Resilience

The New Year is a time for a new start.

(And good grief - after 2020, we all need one of those.)

A common activity at the start of the year is to get our pupils to share their goals for the coming year.

But the sad truth is, only 8% of us reach those kinds of goals (most of us give up within the first month).

So how can we help our kids develop the resilience needed to keep trying at tasks that are difficult?  And invest time working towards longer term goals?

Here are 3 simple methods for helping kids build resilience – and get the success they deserve.

How to use gratitude to build resilience

How can exercising gratitude help your pupils grow in resilience?

In a number of studies, researchers have shown that when given long, boring tasks, people who are put in a ‘grateful’ state beforehand markedly outperform those relying on self-control alone.

They proved that gratitude helps us to focus on our long-term goals and ambitions.

This encourages us to sacrifice what would be pleasurable in the moment (“I’d really like to spend time on my PlayStation”) to what’s good for our future selves (“I’ll spend a focussed hour on my homework”).

Or to put it another way… resilience.

How can you use this?

Ask your students to record 3 things they are grateful for each day.  This needs to be a regular practise to get best results.

Your students don’t have to search for big things to be thankful for – in fact, ideally, they should name small things - but they should be specific.

It could be:

  • Something a friend did for them
  • An activity they enjoyed
  • Even something that wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be

Your students don’t even have to write these down because it's experiencing gratitude that’s important (not necessarily recording it).

How exercise builds emotional resilience

Evidence shows that exercise makes the brain more resilient to stress.  

It flushes out stress chemicals, putting us in a more relaxed state.  But even better than that, exercise helps us to reduce our baseline levels of stress.

Why does this help us become more resilient?

When we’re stressed, it’s our emotional brain (the limbic system) that takes control – and it tends to be more ‘now’ focussed.

But when we’re in a relaxed (non-stressed) state, the logical part of our brain (the prefrontal cortex) tends to drive our decisions.  This part of our brain helps us plan ahead and work towards a goal – it’s future focussed.

Which is exactly what resilience is:  accepting ‘pain’ now for ‘gain’ later.

So regular exercise is more likely to put our pupils in a state where they are forward thinking – where the logical part of their brain is in control.

Boosting our students’ resilience.

The implication here is obvious: we need to find space in our timetables for students to exercise strenuously and regularly.

(Want more ideas about how to do this? Check out our article on improving student behaviour through sport.)

Remind them they can’t do it… yet

Is one of your students struggling with a piece of work?

Or finding it hard to learn a new skill?

Remind your student that they can’t do it… yet.

The word yet opens up the possibility that – although your student may find something difficult today – they will get there in the end.

This pivot in thinking can help students persevere when things get tough – and find the resilience they need to reach a bigger goal.  To change their thinking from, "I'm not clever enough to solve this problem," to "I just haven’t solved it yet."

Carol Dweck, the researcher credited with much of the research on growth mindsets, found children who used this idea stuck with hard tasks for longer... and actually enjoyed challenges, rather than quitting early.

In short, they were more resilient.

(Want to know more? Watch Carol Dweck’s 10 minute TED talk.)

In fact, even Sesame Street got in on the act.  Here’s their song all about the Power of Yet.

Want to use this in your classroom? Here’s two suggestions:

  • When you see one of pupils wrestling with a problem, remind them they’ve not achieved success yet – but they will in the future
  • Need to give a student a low grade on a piece of work? Don’t mark their work “fail” (or the equivalent).  Use the phrase, “Not yet.”

Key takeaways:

Working towards a goal requires resilience – the power of not giving up.  This is an increasing problem in a society where we’re more focussed than ever on immediate benefits.

But there are some techniques we can use to help our children develop their resilience and focus on long-term goals.

  1. Get them to express gratitude every day – it’s an emotion that’s proven to keep us future-focussed.
  2. Build space into the timetable for regular exercise – it reduces stress, so we’re more likely to think logically and stick to our goals.
  3. Use the power of ‘yet’ when we see our students experiencing difficulty – it keeps open the possibility of success in the future.

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