What is resilience?

We have all heard about the importance of building resilience in our students. Resilience is often considered a characteristic of people who are professionally successful or have things ‘all figured out’.

This will help you:

  • understand resilience and why it's important

  • teach students about resilience.

Young man in red checked shirt at party

What is resilience?

  • Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. It is a necessary skill for coping with life’s inevitable obstacles and one of the key ingredients to success. Learning to bounce back and to bounce forward.

  • Examples of challenges some young people may face where resiliency skills are essential: physical illness, change of school, transitioning from primary school to high school , change in family make up (divorce, break up), change of friendship group, conflict with peers, conflict with family.

  • Resilient people are comfortable in talking about and expressing a range of emotions.

Why is resilience important?

Students experience a tremendous amount of physical and mental growth on a daily basis. Between school, co-curricular activities, work and their social life, teens face lots of new experiences and challenges. Being resilient gives them the ability to tackle these head-on, bounce back from any setbacks and have the best chance at succeeding. It allows them to learn and grow in all situations – two skills that are crucial to wellbeing and development. Resilience will also help them to approach new situations, people or experiences with confidence and a positive mindset, which will make them more likely to succeed.

How can we teach resilience?

We are all innately resilient, but fear, insecurity and doubt can take over in moments of stress or anxiety. These responses can affect our ability to draw on our resilience just when we need it most. Luckily, there are a few ways teachers can encourage and build resilience in their students.

1. Create safe and supportive learning environments

Focus on developing an environment where all students feel safe and supported. Encourage them to try new things, and emphasise the growth and learning opportunities they are presented with when they fail or make a mistake.

When students feel like the outcome won’t affect them negatively, they are more likely to try new and more challenging things in the classroom. Being able to learn from mistakes and challenges in a place where they feel supported and encouraged will build their confidence, self-belief and resilience.

2. Celebrate student progress, not just success

When it comes to building resilience, it really is all about the journey and not just the destination! When we only celebrate the wins, we instil a belief that the only thing that matters is success. In order to build a positive mindset and a willingness to grow, it’s important to focus on progress and not just success. This can be done through providing open feedback to students that focuses on their effort rather than the outcome.

Encourage your students to set goals for themselves that provide challenges and stimulation. Celebrate every time they overcome a hurdle along the way and move closer to achieving their goal. This could focus on something academic (such as a challenge to read a certain number of books over the term) or relate to an area a student finds challenging (such as encouraging a shy student to participate in a school performance). You can help them to celebrate the small milestones along the way by communicating regularly with their parents to let them know of their child’s progress, rather than waiting for report time.

3. Provide opportunities for goal setting and reflection

Building resilience is all about maintaining a positive mindset, a willingness to grow and an ability to learn from setbacks. Setting goals and making time for reflection have been shown to help maintain focus and create momentum in times of growth and change. Breaking down situations, issues or even assessments into smaller, less intimidating chunks can make it easier for students to stay in a positive mindset so that they are less likely to be deterred by setbacks. Creating environments where students feel confident to discuss what they want to achieve and their strategies for doing it is important in helping them to build resilience.

4. Develop a sense of belonging within the school community

Research shows that a great way to build resilience in young people is to help them feel a part of something bigger than themselves. When teens feel that what they do or contribute matters on a larger scale, they are more likely to push through setbacks and to remain optimistic about the outcome. Encourage your students to engage with the school and community beyond their social groups by volunteering at vents, mentoring younger students or participating in whole-school events such as the school musical. Being involved in what’s happening with their peers and the faculty instils in them a belief that their involvement can and will have a positive effect on others as well as themselves.

What can I do now?

  • Check out our classroom resources on the topic of ‘resilience’.

  • Read more about ways to create a supportive classroom.

  • Remember to take care of yourself, too, by checking out these tips for teacher wellbeing.