Growing Resiliency

A recently published The New Yorker article,  How People Learn to Become Resilient, caused me to stop and think about the word resiliency, what it truly means and how wonderful, and beneficial, it is that we as a school have chosen to emphasize the explicit teaching of learning dispositions, Resilience being one of them.

I was so inspired by the content of the article, I shared it with our faculty, inviting them to share their thoughts with me, if they felt inclined to do so. What I did not know when I shared the article was that I would be referring to Konnikova’s words so often, and for far more personal reasons than anticipated.

As life would have it, we have found ourselves back where we were as a community a year ago, having to reach into our resiliency reservoir in order to continue to not only do our jobs well, but also care for one another and for ourselves. And although I cannot speak for everyone else in our community, I know that a lot of what is stated in the article, continues to resonate with me, helping me navigate through this personally and professionally challenging time.

Disclaimer: In no way do I believe I have it all figured out. How to deal with emotional pain, grief, and adversity is a process, not something that can be neatly packaged into a three or four step formula. As I am learning, resiliency is not built by osmosis; many factors play a role in its growth over time. Reading about the science behind building resiliency has been  helpful, and from the feedback I got from my colleagues, to them as well. And that has been a primary motivator in my blogging about this today.

When facing challenging times, as leaders, we walk a fine line, a careful balancing act. We are people who try to manage personal feelings and emotions. We have them and they are real. At the same time, people look to us as barometers.  Strength can be absorbed from those around us. It is advisable to remind  ourselves that we can be helpful to others by being strong, while making sure we also acknowledge our humanity.

Konnikova’s article reinforces the need to offer support to others by enticing them to consider what researchers are sharing with us, “that teaching people to think of stimuli in different ways—to reframe them in positive terms when the initial response is negative, or in a less emotional way when the initial response is emotionally “hot”—changes how they experience and react to the stimulus. You can train people to better regulate their emotions, and the training seems to have lasting effects.”

Training ourselves to react to adversity does not mean we do not recognize the severity, hardship, tough reality of a challenging situation in life, and the accompanying feelings and emotions. I am simply inspired by the fact that the science is telling us that we can indeed teach children, and ourselves, to become resilient; to not make  situations have a traumatic effect, by the way we react to the stimuli. This idea reinforces and reaffirms the importance of explicitly teaching resiliency as a cognitive skill. And that is aResiliency by Elsa Donohuen area our school chose to focus on four years ago when we adopted Dr. Claxton’s learning dispositions: Reflective, Relating, Resourceful and Resilient.  

Our current work of teaching skills/competencies that lead our students to develop the dispositions over time is  supported by the research. Certainly, life has not denied the adults in our community the ability to practice those skills, bringing the disposition of resiliency to life in a very real context. We may be hurting, but we are not folding over. We remain resolute and resilient when facing challenging times.


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  1. Well said, Elsa… and a well-timed reminder, as many in our school community are going through this difficult time emotionally. As teachers we play the same leadership role in our own classrooms, so developing our own resilience certainly helps us when circumstances decree that we be the emotional barometer for our students, and let them absorb strength from us.


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