Since my last post, my students have continued with their struggles. While, thankfully, a number of students continue on at a steady pace, I had to call Children and Family Services twice last week. And I’ve come to the sad realization that despite much bravado and attempts at disguise from our high school outreach students, they have a basic inability to look into their future and envision goals for themselves. So I made a promise in my last post, which obviously remains timely, to look into the notion of resiliency… here is some information and some thoughts.
Resiliency is the ability to recover readily from adversity. Students that have the potential for low levels of resiliency in general terms are those with a trauma and/or abuse history, those from homes that struggle with addiction or mental health issues, those who have had multiple moves in their history, those in foster care. and those who have low self-esteem. Adolescence is the time when many lifelong attitudes are developed, so helping these students form a basis of resiliency from which to work will serve them well throughout their lives.
That last insight about my students is particularly alarming as some of the articles that I’ve read recently indicate that the ability to set goals for oneself is a key factor in recognizing resiliency in youth. Feeling safe at school was another significant factor. As well, liking school and having a caring adult in the family were other identified important factors that contribute to youth resiliency. In one study I read, Building Resilience In Vulnerable Youth, school connectedness was the top factor that best protects vulnerable youth in 9 of 12 areas investigated to either reduce risk or increase positive behaviors related to resiliency. All of these factors are related to students having the circumstances to be able to find relationships where they can seek support when they need it and have the opportunity to form positive relationships with their peers.
Initially I was a bit surprised that school connectedness was so significant. With a little thought, though, it makes good sense for a couple of reasons. Students at risk for lower levels of resiliency are quite likely to come from homes that don’t have a strong degree of support as families struggle with their own adversity, so the school needs to fill the gaps for support when families can’t. Also, adolescents are at a place developmentally where they are attempting to find their independence in the world so may not seek out family members in times of trouble, but look toward peers whom they most often find at school.
So what is it about school connectedness? For me the ‘safe at school’ thought was critical. Students need to feel safe with their teachers and other staff members so they can have the comfort to risk self-disclosure and seek support from a trusted adult when faced with difficulties. Students need to feel safe in their school environment knowing that they will be treated with respect and keep their dignity in tact when dealing with both adults and their peers. Navigating through the world of relationships is difficult for adolescents so having a safe environment to experience success and to bounce back from messed up attempts at forming and maintaining relationships is critical. Teens need feel that they are in a place where they can pick themselves up, get a little guidance, and keep trying to connect to others in their lives. School connectedness also relates to students liking school which happens much more readily when students are feeling successful in their work and see relevance in what they are doing at school as it relates to their own lives.
This is a tall order, but I’m convinced even more now that for schools to be effective in fostering resiliency in students, we need to provide the whole package for them.
- We must make sure that each and every student has a positive relationship with at least one adult in the building because we often don’t truly know the resiliency levels of our students and someday even the most cool, calm, and collected student may need someone to lean on.
- We must make sure that our school environment is safe for students to interact with their peers to form relationships. When things go well, the positive relationships that have developed should be nurtured. And when students struggle with relationships, supports need to be in place to help them along.
- We must educate and encourage our students to think critically about risky behaviors so that they are equipped to make positive choices in the moment and avoid personal hazards which will chip away at the resiliency they do have.
- We must pay attention to pedagogy and practice to ensure our students are learning and feel successful and competent as they complete curricular activities.
- Similarly we must help students to find their place in the school on a social level by creating opportunities for them to get involved and create positive relationships with peers and adults.
- We must look through the eyes of our students to ensure that the curriculum we provide is meaningful to them so that they will feel like they have the tools they need, both academically and personally, to move successfully through school and beyond.
- We must help families when we become aware of a need for support by helping connect them to the appropriate services. Parenting is a hard business at the best of times nowadays.
- Using a strength based approach in implementing all of these strategies will go a long way toward helping students and families feel that the experiences provided are a good fit with who they are and where they are at as well as fostering sustainability for them as they will already have existing personal resources that should be tailored to the experiences provided.
I found a handout contrasting strength based vs deficit based concepts from the Alberta Mentoring Partnership awhile ago that really helped me solidify in my mind what the strength based approach involves.
I am confident that we are doing many things at CFL to contribute positively to student resiliency, but given recent developments with several of our students, it’s a topic worth re-examination. Having identified the area of student goal development, we have discussed the need to show the students that they have the foundation to work from to develop goals. Students need to have self-esteem to be able to look forward and take the risk to create goals, so that’s what we’re working on both and instructional and personal level. This will be followed up next year with the implementation of the Leader In Me program with some adaptations for older students. We’ve recently completed a review of all of our students and have set up parent meetings that will be the start of bi-monthly case conference meetings where we will work with families to ensure that the students and parents have needed support services among other things. With Christmas and exams, we haven’t had any spirit activities recently, so we need to have some fun again. A fund raising opportunity has landed on our doorstep so we will create leadership opportunities for students to offer activities for the students to engage with each other.
It’s a start. We need to remain focused keeping resiliency in the forefront. This means giving students authentic opportunities to successfully access and create positive relationships.