Success in School Requires Resilience and a Network of Support
Kids are resilient. It’s an adage we often hear, but a generalization that doesn’t always apply.
Resiliency takes many forms. A child not giving up while learning to ride a bike is different from a child struggling to make good grades while dealing with a learning disability. And yet, kids who are able to harness some of their everyday resiliency into academic resiliency often have higher long-term outcomes.
The Importance of Academic Resiliency
The idea of academic resiliency has gained traction in recent years as academics and researchers have discovered the correlation between resiliency and students’ ability to succeed in the face of adversity. Of course, every child faces various degrees of adversity, but the range of those challenges is vast.
Challenges such as lack of safety, abuse, inadequate food or housing and transportation struggles add to children’s academic difficulties. Other factors include poor health, sickness or death of a family member and family instability.
Research has shown that strong family connections, a sense of purpose and learning environment all help to strengthen kids’ academic success in the face of adversity.
Educators watched this play out in 2020, as kids used various methods to cope and stay academically resilient during the pandemic. It’s something Jill Heckman, middle school counselor at Monte Cassino School, saw firsthand.
“I think if there’s anything we learned through the pandemic it is that we, as humans, can endure more than we thought possible. However, we also need to acknowledge that for some individuals this type of trauma or conflict has had a negative effect on their mental health and well-being. As with anything, every child is going to cope differently, depending on the emotional response they have had regarding the event. Some children will be perceived as more resilient based on their personality and their ability to mentally process the event while others might need more time and understanding.
“Any emotional or physical challenge that a student faces could hinder their academic motivation. This can sometimes be frustrating to parents and teachers, especially if the student had never struggled before. A support system is critical in helping the student gain academic motivation or resilience. As parents, we need to be careful that we don’t pressure our children during this time, but instead remain patient and consistent while supporting their strengths,” Heckman said.
The Need for Educational Support
Heckman said the idea that children are resilient is a myth that can actually be quite dangerous, and that it ignores the social-emotional needs during critical times.
“I think when we help a child understand and recognize their emotions in every situation, we can build that resiliency,” Heckman said.
A 2019 Georgetown University study, “Born to Win, Schooled to Lose,” dug into why equally talented students don’t get equal academic chances. The authors say a child’s likelihood of success is often determined not by a child’s innate talent but by life circumstances. But even with the odds stacked against them, students who struggle can beat the odds, the authors conclude. Intervention and using education as a pathway for opportunity – through resources and skill development – can ultimately impact their socioeconomic mobility.
The idea of education as a pathway to narrowing the playing field is something Heckman also identified.
“Fortunately, our education system has come a long way in terms of educating all students, regardless of any disadvantages. However, resources are not always readily available. Kids need advocates to help them navigate their educational years. As a counselor, I am available to all students, but when I see that a student could benefit from additional resources, I’m able to step in and make those connections. Student advocates are often teachers, parents, administrators and other school personnel who are invested in the well-being of students. So, I would encourage all student advocates to communicate and collaborate with parents and caregivers in order to provide appropriate resources for disadvantaged students,” she said.
Heckman said that support is key. She has seen students struggle to maintain their academic motivation after emotional or physical challenges, and the common theme to their eventual success was an understanding support system.
Another piece of academic resiliency comes from a child’s self-determination. Angela Duckworth’s 2016 book Grit brought this idea and the subject of academic resiliency to the mainstream. Duckworth explains that grit is a better predictor of academic success than IQ or talent.
But how does a child capture it?
Duckworth says that it happens in part by setting goals for oneself, as well as sustaining passion, interest and effort toward long-term future goals.
This also happens when children have a sense of the importance of academics for their future. If the groundwork has been laid by educators, parents and others in the child’s support system, then working toward overcoming the predictors of academic success is less of a hurdle for those facing academic adversity.
Ways To Build Resilience
The American Psychological Association notes that resilience can be learned. Here are some ways to help your kids build resilience.
Making connections with peers builds a support system, offering a layer of strength when hard times come.
Maintaining a routine helps children understand what’s expected of them. When that routine includes time set aside for studying, homework or reading, children understand academic expectations.
Setting goals and moving toward them a step at a time is important for kids. Breaking large assignments into small goals teaches a child how to break off little pieces until their work is done. Bird by bird.
When going through something difficult, discuss with your child how proud you are of them for working through it. This helps to teach them “what they’re made of.” Help them learn to trust themselves and make appropriate decisions.
Being hopeful helps kids imagine a future beyond their current circumstances. Help them keep a positive outlook and to imagine their long-term future. Even young children can consider what their adult lives may look like.
Natalie Mikles is a mom of three – 12-year-old twin girls and an 11-year-old boy. She writes about food, sharing recipes for busy families and picky eaters. She has been recognized for her food columns as well as features on families and issues affecting local children. She loves pizza and movie nights with her family.