Defining Resilience and Building It in Teaching Practice

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Table of Contents

  • Defining resilience
  • Developing Resilience in School
  • Approaches to Resilience
  • Stoicism
    Penn Resiliency Programme (PRP)
    Nature-Nurture Approach
    Restorative Approaches
    Friends for Life Programme
    Incredible Years – a Parent’s Training Program
  • Building Resilience in Teachers
  • Conclusion

Defining resilience

Resilience refers to the class of phenomena characterised by patterns of positive adaptation in the context of significant risk and adversity. Resilience is concluded on the basis of two major judgements – the individual is ‘doing ok’ or better than ‘ok’ with respect to set of expectations for behaviour. Secondly, there have been extenuating circumstances that pose a threat to good outcomes (Snyder & Lopez, 2002).

Resilience involves various processes, ways of thinking and acting through which individuals adapt and cope well with adversity, without suffering from long term harmful consequences due to stress. Resilience involves patterns of positive adaptation following or during significant adversity. Resilience is a dynamic process. It involves abilities like problem solving, assertiveness and dealing with your thoughts and feelings. According to the ‘value clarification’ approach, resilience involves staying committed to your own personal values despite encountering challenges. (Robertson, 2019)

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Developing Resilience in School

When we read the above mentioned definitions, what we essentially comprehend resilience to be a ‘bouncing back ability’. Though school is characterised by study, play and joy, there are important transitions and challenges that might come up during this period such as new classroom, dealing with teachers and peers, developing a self in school and much more. Resilience is gifted a skill that will help to cope up with these changes.

Schools have an important role to play in developing children’s social, cognitive and emotional abilities. Resilience plays a key role in developing children emotionally and socially and it fosters them with skills to cope up with challenges. Though parents play the most important role in a child’s upbringing, considerable amount of time is also spent at school. School offers development of relationships with peers, adults other than parents and family and emotional learning. Therefore it is important to inculcate resiliency skills at this early stage of life. In the following sections, we consider different approaches that have been developed in order to foster resilience in schools.

Approaches to Resilience


Stoics were famous for promoting resilience in the face of set-backs. The Stoics purported inter-linking ideas that formed a basis for developing resilience. The frame-work of ideas involves happiness dependent on the virtue of character and individuals are fully capable of developing this virtue. The development of character brings about a change in emotions, whereby there is shift from negative and irrational emotions to positive and rational ones. This frame work of ideas forms a basis for resilience (Ostrowski, 2017). Though Stoic approach of building resilience is inspiring, very few researches offer support to it.

Penn Resiliency Programme (PRP)

PRP was initially developed as means of minimizing depression in school children and is based on Martin Seligman’s work on ‘optimism’. The PRP version as described Reivich and Shatte consists of seven basic skills – monitoring your thoughts, spotting ‘thinking errors’, indentifying unhelpful beliefs, challenging unhelpful beliefs, challenging catastrophic worries, rapid calming and focusing strategies and real time resilience (Robertson, 2019). The PRP aims to develop skills in students that serve as a coping resource to avoid and address stressors. The program is characterised by discussions, skill training and role-plays in classrooms and involves home-work. PRP utilizes school setting as context for developing positive growth and resilience (Cutuli et al, 2013). A number of studies have been conducted in order to test the effect of PRP and they offer mixed results. While some prove PRP to be positively effective, others offer no such support.

Vahedi et al in 2016 conducted a study to investigate the effects of PRP on students with emotional problems. The results indicated that PRP proves to be effective in enhancing positive emotions and is particularly beneficial to those students with low-resilience (Vahedi et al, 2016). Sankaranarayanan and Cycil attempted to examine the effectiveness of PRP in urban Indian context. The researcher found that there was significant reduction in pessimistic thinking and enhancement of optimistic thinking of the children in the experimental group as opposed to the control group (Sankaranarayanan & Cycil, 2014) This shows us that PRP can be effectively applied in Indian settings as well, though further research will be needed to prove its applicability in a diverse Indian demographics.

Cutuli and colleagues have found mixed support for the effectiveness of PRP. On the self report measures provided by the adolescents and teacher, reduction in internalizing and externalizing symptoms could not be attributed to PRP, whereas significant benefits due to PRP was obtained on reports provided by the parents (Cutuli et al, 2013). In a meta analytical review of PRP, it was observed that participants exposed to PRP reported fewer depressive symptoms at post intervention and also on follow up assessments as compared to the control group (Brunwasser et al, 2009)

Nature-Nurture Approach

According to the Harrison’s and Harrison’s nature-nurturing approach, a child is viewed as a unique being and capable being. Children are thought as being experiential learners and involved in finding meaning from their experiences. Therefore to develop resilience in children, it is important to attend to individual child’s unique ways of sensing, perceiving and learning. The proponents of the nature-nurture approach recognises every child as being capable of being conscious of their own self and make actively make choices and shape their lives. Though every child is endowed with resources that will aid in self-growth, the recognition of these resources will made possible as a result of supportive environment provided by significant elders. (Harrison & Harrison, 2017)

In order to develop resilience (R), three factors are deemed to be important – child’ access to natural environment (N), nurturing relationships (N) and freedom of child-led play (P). The developers of the nature-nurture approach have come up with a formula that represents the three above mention factors – ‘NNP=R’. The researchers further explain to us how the three factors contribute to developing resilience. Natural environment have an intrinsic restorative potential and being out in nature and being active enhances wellbeing in children. The researchers have observed that nature has a calming and regulatory effect on the children. Nurturing and supportive relationships are recognised a foundation stones of resilience. When significant elders demonstrate qualities empathy, respect and trust, the child feels secure and valued. This helps the child to grow and flourish, become aware of his or her own strengths and weakness and positively learn through experiences. (Harrison & Harrison, 2017)

According to Roiste et al, in school settings, the nature-nurture approach promotes resilience through the development of positive relationships and positive behaviour in schools. The emphasis is on creating inclusive learning environments based on trust, safety and predictability. This approach has been evolved from the attachment theories which highlights the importance of early experience and secure attachment relationships in resilience. The approach encourages school staff to respond in a non-judgemental manner and focuses on building accepting, reliable and consistent relationships with the pupils. (Roiste, 2018)

Restorative Approaches

These involve a group of practises developed in order to promote positive relationships and behaviours in school. The approach essentially has two components- restoring of good relationships which have been conflicted and developing school policies and procedures that reduce the possibility of conflicting and harmful relationships. The approach involves a series of techniques such as restorative conversations, restorative enquiry, restorative peer mediation and circle time. (Knight & Wadhwa, 2014)

Many schools implement zero tolerance policies, suspensions and expulsions as consequence for violent behaviour and drug abuse. These policies limit the opportunity of resilience and push children out of the classroom and increase the risk of dropouts. According to American Psychological Association, this creates an atmosphere of distrust between school and students. A school providing opportunity of resilience fosters supportive relationships between students and adults. (Knight & Wadhwa, 2014)

Peacemaking circle is a form of healing circle, which involves having formal and informal conversations and addressing conflicts. The students, the teachers and the concerned members of the community sit in a circle to have the conversation. Talking in circles is the foundation of restorative approach and helps build-up resilience by allowing all the involved parties to equally express themselves. The healing circle is based upon three principles – identifying the harm, considering the impact of the harm and looking for ways to address the harm. (Knight & Wadhwa, 2014)

Restorative justice approach was implemented in the Bridge High School, Boston. The school encountered many issues of violence and misbehaviour. The restorative justice was implemented through Project Graduation to support 60 students who were on the verge

of dropping-out. The program promoted restorative philosophy by prompting weekly talking circles and smaller healing circles. The program enabled students and school to improve their mutual relationships, help students develop resilience and promote positive growth within the school context. (Knight & Wadhwa, 2014)

Friends for Life Programme

The ‘Friends for Life’ is a resiliency programme, based on CBT, is developed by Paula Barrett at the Pathways Institute in Australia. The programme is laid out in 10 sessions and is based on three components – learning/behaviour, cognitive and physiological. The learning/behaviour component involves helping children develop problem solving plans, coping skills and identifying role models and support networks. In the cognitive component, children are asked to indulge in positive talk, think rationally and get over negative thoughts, evaluate self and reward themselves. The physiological component entails self regulation and relaxation techniques. Research conducted by Rodgers and Dunsmuir has found supports for the program. The results of their study showed that ‘Friends for Life’ significantly helped in reducing anxiety scores and these scores continued to decrease on a four months follow up assessment (Rodgers & Dunsmuir, 2013).

On a similar line, Moharreri and Yazdi also found that ‘Friends for Life’ programme reduced anxiety and depression scores of children and these scores remain constant on a 3 month follow up. In addition, reduction in hyperactivity, peer problems and parental depression was also observed (Moharreri & Yazdi, 2017). Iizuka et al evaluated the effectiveness of the programme on the emotional states of the teachers as well students from a school in a low socio economic area and offer a positive support. The findings of the study show us those students who were at a risk of developing anxiety disorder, demonstrated reduction in their levels of anxiety at the post intervention. Teachers who participated in the intervention also showed an increase in resilience (Iizuka et al, 2015).

Incredible Years – a Parent’s Training Program

The Incredible Years Program is designed for parents who have children in the age group of 0-12. The program attempts to strengthen competence of parents for promoting social competence, emotional regulation, academic success and positive attribution in children and also aims to reduce a child’s risk for developing maladaptive behaviour in future. Incredible Years is a group based program, involving 10 to 14 participants and the duration of each session is between 2 to 2.5 hours. The sessions last for 3 to 5 days and entail the use of collaborative interaction, role-plays and videotapes. Two trained professionals facilitate the working of the sessions. The program is primarily based on the principles of social learning theory (Borden et al, 2010).

The program proceeds in a series of stages. In the early stages, focus is on how to build social and emotional skills in children, such school readiness. The next stage involves learning how to give positive attention to children in order to promote desired behaviour. Parents are encouraged to indulge in appropriate behaviour specific praise. The third and forth stages of the program emphasize on positive discipline which involves giving clear and reasonable commands, being consistent and firm on rules, setting limits and handling misbehaviour through the use of rational consequences, ignoring and timeout (Borden et al, 2010).

The Incredible Years program is beneficial in addressing child conduct problems; very little literature is available online and is conducted in the last decade to support it. More research is needed in order to prove the effectiveness of this intervention in present times.

Building Resilience in Teachers

Teachers encounter a lot of challenges in their careers which may lead to distress and burn out. Therefore it is important to focus on building resiliency in teachers and help them develop non academic capabilities and personal resources in order to make them classroom ready. According to Mansfield et al, four themes are important when building resilience in teacher – relationships, well-being, motivation and emotions. Relationships are important in resiliency process and teachers need to be trained to establish supportive relationships in new environments. Communication skills development plays a key role when engaging effectively with parents, students and challenging interactions. Well being entails an individual’s physiological, emotional and psychological health. In the realm of workplace, professional well being needs consideration. Professional well being entails setting boundaries, goal setting, and reflection, maintaining work life balance, time management and seeking rejuvenation. Motivation involves sustained commitment and job satisfaction and it enhances resilience. Emotions are of primary importance in teacher resilience. Emotion competence and emotional intelligence help in development of optimism, hope, empathy and courage (Mansfield et al, 2016).

We have already considered factors that will help in building resilience in teachers. It is equally important to consider the factors that might serve as hindrance in resilience building. According to Day and Gu, negatively challenging workplace can deteriorate resilience. Poor relationships with seniors and colleagues, negative behaviour and attitudes of the students, work pressure, long working hours, lack of parental support and government policies can lead to lowered resilience (Day & Gu, 2013).

Brooks and Goldstein have chalked down certain characteristics that teachers need to foster in themselves in a view to develop effective mindset in order to inculcate resilience in their students. Teacher need to know that they have a lifelong impact on students. Every student yearns to learn. If a student fall short of learning, then the teachers need to vary their own teaching styles so as to benefit the individual student. It is important to attend to student’s emotional needs, as these serve as a foundation for building resilience. It is vital to be empathetic and perceive the world through the eyes of the students. Also self reflection is important so as to check if one effectively relates with students or not. Disciple needs to be perceived as a teaching process and should not involve intimidation and humiliation (Brooks & Goldstein, 2008).

Students flourish more when they have a sense of ownership regarding their own education. Safe and secure classrooms serve a foundation for learning and building successful relationship between teachers and students. Strength-based model can help in identifying and reinforcing each student’s competence. Finally, it is equally important to have a constructive and supportive relationship with the parents and one’s own colleagues (Brooks & Goldstein, 2008).


We are bound to face challenges and obstacles at some point of our lives. Resilience is a life skill that will help us effectively cope up with these challenges and obstacles effectively. It is important to develop this skill from the earliest stage of life and school offers a perfect context for this development. When we study the various above mentioned approaches to building resilience in schools, the role of support from significant others is highlighted. In the school context, we observe that it is equally important in building.

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