More failure = more success


Reflecting recently, I have come to a tentative conclusion that we (educators) may be so overwhelmed with theories and programs designed to improve the resilience of our learners - so lost in the language of resilience - that we have forgotten we need to model it.

Theorists and researchers in this area have done an enormous amount to put this key wellbeing skill back on the agenda in schools and we should be eternally thankful to them for this.

There is now an abundance of literature on the building of resilience in students, most of which agrees that learners need to be able to cope with set backs they encounter, and that coping with setbacks and adversity in life is a skill that can be taught. Three particularly influential academics in the field are:

  • Martin Seligman: who advocated an approach to building resilience beginning with developing greater self-awareness. He posits that helping students to understand the interaction between one's thoughts, beliefs and consequences will afford them greater agency over their response to emotional situations;

  • Carol Dweck: who pointed to ways in which we can increase students’ resilience and approach to challenges in life by targeting their mindsets. Amongst other things, she has a large focus on the types of feedback that students receive, and what is rewarded in academic contexts for helping shape students future mindsets;

  • Angela Duckworth: who focused on persisting through challenging circumstances through what she has termed ‘grittiness’ - that determination to push on in the face of adversity.

The underlying rationality of the discussion is that we are all capable of achieving, yet some students develop attitudes (cognitive habits), which are more conducive to learning and hence learn better. This is quite intuitive when we consider the habits of really good learners in contrast to not so accomplished learners. Daniel Kahnman's two systems of thinking offers a potential insight here. He forwards that we have an fast system which works with very little effort, more or less on automatic (System 1) and a more complex, slower system (System 2), which thinks more deeply but requires our conscious attention to operate. It takes significantly more time and effort to engage in System 2 thinking and is inherently more risky in terms of the cognitive challenge and potential adversity that may lay in wait. A good example of this came from a student of mine, faced with a cleverly framed question regarding nutrition and regulation of our appetite the student responded, "do you want me to Google it or think about it?“ Couple this with other tendencies of the instant gratification, consumer centric, snap-chat generation, and you have a hypothesis for what may have led to our resilience crisis.

So what can we do aside from aim at integrating all of the 'nuggets' of knowledge we can glean from the above mentioned and implement them into our teaching and learning? I keep coming back to something I read whilst musing on an unrelated topic. That is, “it is one thing to philosophise about the world and another to operationalise it” (Poore, 2011, p. 22).

If we want to teach critical thinking, we model critical thinking; if we want to teach algebraic formula, we model algebraic formula; if we want to teach physiology, we get a scalpel and a pigs heart and lungs (because it is the best model of systems we intend to teach); if we want to teach shading, we model shading objects. So, it follows (I hope), if we want to teach resilience we need to model resilience. We need to find ways, not only to tell students to work hard and to ride the bumps, but to show them what hard work and riding bumps looks like.

Of course this isn't easy if it places your ego in jeopardy. Griffith and Burns reported that teachers with lower ego tendencies were more reflective. Given that modeling resilience in a classroom is going to necessitate some kind of personal struggle or failure on the teachers’ part, it stands to reason that teachers with a greater ego orientation would find this quite a challenge.

I am still considering ways in which it is easily possible to model resilience in an authentic way in a classroom, but it occurs to me that if it is possible in any classroom, it should be possible in a Movement and Wellbeing classroom. Everything movement related is hard before it is easy and challenge and failure are essential aspects of the movement journey. Ergo, the short clips of my failure to complete two consecutive muscle-ups.

We need to be vulnerable ourselves if we are to expect it of our students.

Forsyth, D. R. and McMillan, J. H. (1981). 'Attributions, Affect, and Expectations: A Test of Weiner's Three-Dimensional Model'. Journal of Educational Psychology, 73 (3), 393-403.

Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D. and Kelly, D. R. (2007). 'Grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals'. J Pers Soc Psychol, 92 (6), 1087-101.

Yeager, D. S. and Dweck, C. (2012). 'Mindsets That Promote Resilience: When Students Believe That Personal Characteristics Can Be Developed'. EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST, 4, 301-314.

Seligman, M. E. P., Ernst, R. M., Gillham, J., Reivich, K. and Linkins, M. (2009). 'Positive education: positive psychology and classroom interventions'. Oxford Review of Education, 35 (3), 293-311.

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow: Penguin Books.

Poore, M. (2011). 'Digital Literacy: Human Flourishing and Collective Intelligence in a Knowledge Society'. Literacy Learning: the Middle Years, 19 (2), 20-26.

Griffith, A. and Burns, M. (2014). Teaching Backwards: Crown House Publishing.

#resilience #movement #teaching

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