Five reasons to model resilience in the classroom

Ben Ward

Ben Ward is the head of Faculty for Mathematics and Financial Literacy at Whalley Range High School, Manchester. He lectures on leadership; has presented at the National Maths Teachers conference and at a number of TeachMeets; and has facilitated on middle leadership training programmes. Ben coaches and mentors middle leaders around the country and is passionate about developing teachers at all levels. Outside of school he is a governor at a local Primary, and has completed a masters in Education Leadership. He also tweets and blogs on Maths, education and leadership.

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We know that successful students are those who are resilient, and there has been increasing amounts written about how to develop resilience in our students. There is lots of excellent advice, lots of good strategies, lots of excellent applications of Dweck’s growth mindset or Claxton’s building learning power. But I think there is one simple thing that we can do in class every day that will go a long way to helping students become more resilient, or at least giving them permission to build the confidence and perseverance needed.

If you want to develop more resilient students – model resilience.

When was the last time you started working on an exam question without preparing and worked on it live in front of the class, talking through your processes?

When was the last time you drafted the start of an essay live, going back and reading and redrafting, showing students that even you don't get it right first time?

Do you always give students a model answer that is nicely typed and printed in advance, or do you create your WAGOLL (What A Good One Looks Like - I only learnt this acronym recently as a Maths teacher!) in front of the class while discussing your thinking?

When did you last genuinely get stuck in front of the class, not knowing how to answer a question or having made a genuine error, and then have to work out where your mistake was, or how you answer the difficult question?

I think there is real power in the students seeing you struggle, and here are a few reasons why:

1) It validates their struggles - giving them permission to find it hard sometimes and know that it's not something to be afraid of, embarrassed by or worried about. It helps them to understand that failure really is a valid and valuable part of the learning journey, and that we all fail in the process of learning all the time.

2) It models strategies for dealing with finding it hard - if we accept that at some point students will (and should) get stuck, when we need to show them how to deal with it. I'm sure we have all used useful strategies like ‘Brain, Book, Buddy Boss’ or ‘3B4ME’ – but have you modelled how to look back in your book, how to use google or how to question a peer to seek better understanding? One of the key requirements of a student developing confidence and resilience is to feel they have the competence – both the academic knowledge and skill base, but also a set of skills to move on when they get stuck.

3) It helps them understand your thought process - especially if you can verbalise it. Giving students a chance to understand what is going on in your head when you get stuck, when you redraft a sentence or paragraph, or how you break down a problem that has stumped you is hugely powerful. Perseverance is important in developing resilience, but unless we show students both what it means to persevere and what it looks and feels like push through, we can't expect students to develop it.

4) It demonstrates the learning process - one of the most memorable lessons I have observed, the teacher was at the board and completely beaten by a Maths problem. So she fronted up, admitted she was stuck, and then simply did what she would do in private. She used the internet and the textbook to piece together most of the solution. She got as far as she could and then sought some peer support. She looked to me and said "I've done this and this, and I know I need this, but I can't find how to link the two". I pointed out the missing piece of the jigsaw and she solved it. Every step along the way she talked the class through what she was doing. And at the end the students really understood what to do when you get stuck, they had appreciated that we all fall short, they saw that there is an alternative to giving up or just asking for help, and they saw how to use the resources at hand to help get through. Oh, and they saw how pleased the teacher was when she managed to solve it. As one student put it: “Miss seemed to enjoy getting stuck, or at least she enjoyed getting unstuck.”

5) It shows them that getting stuck or making a mistake isn't the end... Just a step on the journey. So often students see getting stuck as the end of their learning for that lesson. I've even heard teachers say such things as “keep going through the questions until you get stuck, then you can stop” – but we want students to get to the point of struggle, otherwise we aren't stretching them and challenging them. Of course, we need to ensure we enable them and up-skill them so they really can become more resilient and able to struggle through and keep on going.

Do you model resilience for your pupils? Let us know below!

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