Building Resiliency and Persistence in Our Students

Presentation by Dr. Jane Bluestein

How often do we see students struggling with a new challenge and just give up? Some don’t even try, and can invent all sorts of excuses— sometimes with their parents’ support— to avoid the risk we all need to take when we’re learning something new.

Learning new skills puts us all in a somewhat vulnerable position. How can we create a classroom (or school) environment in which this vulnerability is decreased and help our students step into new territory where making mistakes is simply a part of the process and not a reason to just quit trying.

“Resiliency is the ability to overcome challenges of all kinds–trauma, tragedy, personal crises, plain ‘ole’ life problems–and bounce back stronger, wiser, and more personally powerful,” cites Nan Henderson, M.S.W. and the president of Resiliency in Action. Although there has been so much emphasis on getting through increasing amounts of curriculum, attention to the social and emotional aspects of our students lives (simply in the way we interact and connect with them in our teaching) can have a huge impact on students, including those with a high degree of risk factors, a history of failure, and have encountered a number of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), in or out of school— as well as the progress we make with them academically. A version of this program is also available for parents.

This seminar will address practical and positive ways to minimize challenges to resiliency, change patterns of defeat and discouragement, and will include specific strategies to help participants accomplish the following learning objectives:

  • Identify ways in which students self-protect when they lack the confidence or skills to be successful at a particular task assigned.
  • Minimize discouragement, fear of failure, or the tendency to make excuses or give up (which can show up as opposition and even defiant student behavior)
  • Engage defeated, discouraged, and indifferent students, eliminating passivity and helplessness
  • Examine the difference between the kind of feedback that builds a “growth mindset” (and willingness to keep trying and attempt increasingly challenging tasks) and the kind of feedback that builds a “fixed mindset” (where kids are more likely to self-protect their dignity and avoid negative judgments or feelings about themselves if they don’t do something right the first time), acquiring the specific strategies to promote the former and avoid the latter
  • Examine aspects of perfectionism that can erode resiliency, and develop teaching (and parenting) behaviors that will encourage students to strive for excellence without falling into the pathological aspects of perfectionism
  • Build in opportunities to minimize power struggles and create ways to accommodate academic, success, and differences in learning needs to minimize distractions, discouragement, and resistance.
  • Develop supportive responses to social and emotional incidents that can occur in the classroom and avoid some of the more common non-supportive responses that can block communications and distance the very students we are trying to reach.
  • Build students’ confidence and persistence through proper academic placement and pacing, continually challenging them to more difficult taks and skills.
  • Help students change even long-held and well-entrenched beliefs about what they are capable of learning, doing, and accomplishing.
  • Use specific strategies for responding to errors, mistakes, and frustration when students have difficulty grasping a concept or doing work correctly that will not actually create or increase a lack of resiliency.
  • Teach students the value of mistakes and errors in an emotionally and academically safe learning environment.
  • Avoid the types of responses, language, and approaches that typically compound interaction problems and perpetuate systemic dysfunction.
  • Respond supportively, calmly, and effectively to individuals in crisis (including dealing with anger, frustration, and blame), maintaining your authority while accommodating other people’s needs for autonomy, dignity, and respect.
  • Build student responsibility, commitment, and self-management.
  • Create effective communications and alliances with parents to improve involvement and support, and to help them learn resiliency-building skills (and avoid behaviors, comments, and attitudes that can have a negative effect on their children’s resiliency).
  • Build a sense of community and mutual respect, with an appreciation for diversity (in interests, abilities, and learning styles, etc.) among students and with the various adult stakeholders involved in your classroom
  • Help our students learn how to deal with challenging people in their lives (whether adults or peers), without giving up.

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Information about related books:

Creating Emotionally Safe SchoolsA Guide for Educators and Parents
Becoming a Win-Win Teacher: A Guide for First-Year Teachers
The Win-Win ClassroomPositive Classroom Management

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