Resilience, to me, is the seeking of solutions to problems that are put before you, harnessing all the available knowledge, your own and from other sources, developing a plan of action, carrying it out, with in-action alterations to evident need, leading to an outcome that can then be evaluated, and if necessary remediated or refined following further reflection. Sometimes it is reflective, at other times it is reactive, dependent on the time constraints.
From my personal story, I think I have some insight into the potential for life to throw things at you. I am also well aware that some people have had greater things to cope with than me. For all the challenges I am content with my lot, not least because I survived them and also because each contributed to overcoming the subsequent issues as they arose and made me into the person that I have become.
Life offers challenges, opportunities and experiences at different levels to each and every one of us, unless we live in a self-contained bubble and don’t participate.
It is something of a truism that children today don’t enjoy the same freedoms which my generation did, to explore the surrounding area without worry, to play together, or climb trees, until caught, in a local recreation ground. I walked the couple of kilometres or so to school aged 5, crossing roads by myself, having been taken on the first few days by one of my parents. These experiences developed personal capabilities and a certain amount of self-reliance.
If children are not able to experience the world through their own eyes and through their own decisions, but have to rely on an adult to make the decisions for them, they can become somewhat disabled in their growing experiences. We want our children to be safe and secure and I do remember the first time my own children went off on their own into town, a kilometre away, in the days before mobile phones. That they went, got back safely and wanted to talk about what they had done in the interim was a rite of passage. Their confidence raised our confidence as parents. They had demonstrated their capability and independence in decision making. They took responsibility and grew as a result.
Put children out on wet days without a coat, to see how it feels to be cold and wet? Deprive them of food for an extended time to experience hunger? Or will we see more cross-country running, or some other physical exertion, until children feel real physical exhaustion?
If they are given “Ladybird” or “Blue Peter” instruction (here’s one I made earlier, copy the recipe), how do they learn to make decisions and take account of resultant outcomes? They won’t always have a teacher or adult around to make the decisions for them. Because, in reality, grit, determination and resilience are internalised, personal to each and every one of us. Some have more than others. This can be our ability to tolerate discomfort or pain, in different forms, mental or physical. We sometimes don’t know what we can endure until we are tested.
Independent decision making is a part of this process; making appropriate choices when faced with a problem. Working together as a team can sometimes be problematic, requiring understanding of others, but success, as a result of collaboration, can be the source of personal growth. Life is after all a glorified team work exercise. Getting on with someone can be testing, at times.
Thinking back to my active teaching days, which extended through headship, my aim was always to harness and develop independence in learners, with children thinking, talking, decision-making and enacting their plans an integral part of as many learning challenges as possible.
My classroom organisation, some would occasionally have described as a “learning workshop”, enabled challenge such as “Make a picture to represent autumn” or “What’s the best material to wrap a parcel in the post?” This would allow children choices of materials, composition and the direction of their working together, as they always made such pictures in twos or threes, so decisions were corporate. Elements of other subject challenges were treated in the same way, because the talk, planning and decision were effectively “tests”, enabling children to demonstrate how much of the taught curriculum they had internalised.
As someone is likely to be asking if teaching occurred, the answer is a resounding yes, with the tasking checking that the teaching had been embedded, and remediated within the task as necessary.
Children will not become resilient through dictated lessons, which can then just become exhortations to finish the activity. Making learning challenges such that effort across a range of capabilities is needed, over time, so that grit, resilience and decisions are in-built, might just offer a greater chance of success.
Then again, life might already have given some of the children their life-time’s quota of resilience. Imagine a refugee child, who has had to flee conflict. School does not often mirror real life, so is not always a preparation for those things that might be encountered.
You just need to know them well, teach them well, support, guide and mentor to need and challenge appropriately, letting the cords loosen from time to time, to test their security.