Vignettes on Resilience

Back in the fall, I wrote about Teaching Resilience and the importance of developing specific skills and mindsets to aid in the development of building resilience in students. As the end of the year approaches, I thought I would highlight a few examples of our students rising above the challenges they faced in each scenario.

When you think about Winterim, it is not generally a time you would imagine moments of great resilience. Generally, the trips are filled with fun, educational programming. However, due to snow, many of the return trips were impacted, and flights had to be rebooked. For the Cuba group, many found themselves stuck in a country that does not accept American money or credit cards, for an extra three days, waiting for their new flights. Students on the trip had limited communication with family members and in many ways felt cut off from their regular lives. As a School, we put as many things in place as we could so the students would have a positive extended stay, but there was still the feeling of being trapped in a foreign country. This could have been a moment of despair for many students. Instead, they found ways to balance their frustration with what was happening to them with the opportunity to spend more time as a group and in Cuba.

A second recent vignette displaying the resilience of our students was with the recent student directed production of The Last Five Years. Our students were solely responsible for all aspects of the show, which is difficult to manage without any major issues. This group showed tremendous grit when one of the lead actors faced a difficult decision to step down from the show for medical reasons. This student did not just step down from her role, but instead took on a mentorship role for the new actor to start rehearsing, just two weeks before the show. For a show that is based on two main characters, it would have been easy to cancel the show, but the entire cast and crew came together to ensure that the musical would still run. The way that each student reached out, put in extra time, and did not give up, displayed all the best that our students have to offer the Brimmer community and world.

The final example I want to highlight was how our Varsity Boys’ Lacrosse team overcame great adversity. After coming off a difficult season last year, the Lacrosse team had high hopes for the 2017 season. With a new coach in place, the program looked like it would be heading in the right direction. Unfortunately, the coach missed a few practices early in the season due to a medical issue and then a significant work conflict forced him to suddenly resign his position. For a group of players that ranged from first timers to college playing hopefuls, they very easily could have given up on the season. Instead, the group came together to face the challenges as a team. In the first week after the coach’s resignation, the team had multiple coaches and faced a lot of uncertainty. And then something great happened– instead of using their adversity as a scapegoat they used it as motivation. Under their new coach, the team began playing competitively against the top teams in the league. Finally, during the last week of the season, the team was able to beat Boston Trinity Academy, a top 2 team in their league, and beat Gann in overtime after just minutes before giving up the game-tying goal. We have seen professional athletes give up in less stressful situations, and the Lacrosse team deserves immense credit for the resilience they showed this season.

All three of these cases represent nearly half of our student body, which allows me to confidently say that we are doing the work necessary as a community to help students face the challenges they face and overcome them.

2016 Favorites

Now that 2016 has come to a close I thought I would share a few of my favorite articles and
videos from the past year. I am sure that I have left things off that moved me, but here are the ones that rose to the top as I reflected on this past year.

Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection: In this Ted Talk, Reshma Saujani discusses how she came to create the organization Girls Who Code and the way to encourage more girls to enter STEM fields.

The Puzzle of MotivationDaniel Pink’s Ted Talk on redefining motivation is seven years old, but is still quite relevant in thinking about what motivates people. The extension that I find particularly interesting in how this may be extrapolated to what we do in schools and the monetary incentive parallels in education.

The Power of IntrovertsSusan Cain gives an impassioned talk about the struggles over introverts in today’s social world and the extraordinary talents and perspectives they bring to world.

Enabling Our Future: Cam’s 3D Printed Journey: Read about a family’s struggle to get a prosthetic for their child and how that was solved with 3D printing. The end result lead to a worldwide network of 3D printed prosthetics that are at a fraction the price to produce. While they may not be permanent replacements to other prosthetics it has freed thousands of people to get a prosthetic at a fraction of the price, built community, and is a shining example of social entrepreneurship.

Why Understanding These Four Mistakes Can Help Us LearnNot all mistakes are creating equal. This article discusses the values of different mistakes and what they offer teachers and learners.

Design Thinking/Human Centered Design

Design Thinking or Human Centered Design was a large focus of mine this year. Here are a couple of my go to resources:

Stanford d.School Virtual Crash Course: Experience everything that is Human Centered Design through this 90 minute crash course.

The Field Guide to Human Centered Design: A step by step guide that will introduce you to the process and purpose.

60 Minutes Visits IDEO: Hear from found of design firm IDEO on how they solve the world’s engineering and human problems.

Acumen+ Design Thinking Online Courses: Take one of these multi-week free online courses and you will enter the world of problem solving in a new way. These courses can both be a learning experience for you, as well as a way to make an immediate change to an organizational issue.

Teaching Resilience

Resiliency: Capable of withstanding shock without permanent deformation or rupture; tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change –Merriam-Webster Dictionary

In recent years resiliency and grit have become buzzwords in education. There has been a growing sense that character building is a critical part of education and supports screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-11-01-48-pmclassroom learning. The University of Chicago has positioned themselves as a leader in research for Resiliency, Grit Education. They have found that the most effective methods are those that are focused on the skill development coupled with supporting a growth mindset. As educators, it is critical for us to develop the tool box for students, because we know those tools lead to improved academic performance. (To learn more about the noncognitive factors involved click here for the paper published by the University of Chicago.)

So, how does one teach the general ability of being able to recover from misfortune or change? As educators, we often are focused on a student’s ability to recover from a poor grade, but does this truly represent resiliency? There certainly is an aspect of resiliency in these moments, but how reasonable are our expectations for how a person responds to major disappointment.

When incorporating ways to develop student grit and resiliency, their ability to overcome disappointment or change, teachers look at the lower stakes moments that occur in classes. Some of these questions to consider are:

  • Do you celebrate failure in the class and encourage risk-taking: How do you respond when a student gives an incorrect answer or an interpretation that is off-base. These are small moments to encourage students to take risks
  • In what form is feedback delivered to students: Is feedback auxiliary to the class or is it a core component. How do you hold students responsible for using the feedback and promote growth in their work? How does constructive criticism flow in the class- teacher to student? student to student? student to teacher?
  • Do you model resiliency in class? How do you respond to adversity in the class? If a part of the lesson is not flowing as anticipated do you show frustration? If some piece of technology is failing, what is your response? Are you as aware of your body language as you are of the words you choose?
  • What is the role of revisions? Can students rewrite essays and papers? Do students receive an opportunity to run an experiment another time?  Can you promote opportunities to renew or revise that will help develop these habits of mind.
  • Are you explicitly developing the skill? Are you looking at teaching and assessing resilience in a traditional manner or are you considering this to be a skill that needs to be practiced honed?

Our students are growing up in a society where information is available at their finger tips in unprecedented ways. Considering how often an adult may get annoyed if the internet is running slow or if there is a bad cell phone reception, think about the kids that are growing up in this type of fast-paced era. It is our responsibility, more so than ever, to help provide the scaffolding for students to develop the ability to overcome adversity and be flexible when they face change. The research shows that this is a duel approach and the development of a growth mindset is critical to this work.

If you are interested in learning more about how children develop resiliency, I invite you to read the article How Kids Really Succeed from The Atlantic, a comprehensive look at the development of resiliency in children from infancy to teenage years .

In what areas of school do you think resiliency plays out most often?

The Power of Camp

I was talking with a friend last weekend and he was a bit surprised to hear that we start the school year off at Camp. He jokingly asked, “Didn’t they just get back from camp?” After admitting that students did just return from summer break, I had the opportunity to talk about the value experiential learning has in education.

dsc_1028During Upper School Camp “Embrace the Discomfort” was a running theme. At the beginning of Camp we discussed that every student and adult were going to be exposed to something that was not in their natural comfort zone and that created an opportunity to have a new experience. The discomfort may have included things such as overcoming a fear of heights on a Zipline, sleeping in a shared bunk, eating a meal with people you do not know well, or leading an activity for the entire school. The camp experience serves as a way for students to develop resiliency and to take risks by embracing the discomfort.

ropesCollaboration. Communication. Critical Thinking. Empathy. Problem Solving. These skills were an essential part of the activities students participated in throughout the week. Whether it was finding a creative solution to the ropes course, working as a team during evening activities, or helping classmates overcome a fear, students were immersed in real opportunities to further develop the skills that will help them be successful in their academic classes this year.

Camp served as a living laboratory for Brimmer’s Core Values, Guiding Principles, and leadership development. This was evident during our grade level meetings where students shared their experiences at Brimmer, goals for the year, and ways to strengthen our community. During these discussions it was clear that our students are living the values of Kindness, Responsibility, Respect, and Honesty. It was inspiring to hear our students talk so passionately about Brimmer and how they were going to explore new ideas, lead the school with compassion, and set new learning goals for themselves.