I want students to be resilient individuals who aren’t surprised by life’s difficulties or embarrassed by struggle but who know how to identify their needs and access all the resources God has made available for meeting them.
The good news: All of my students are satisfied with their social connectedness.
The bad news: More than half of them would like to be more hopeful and take care of themselves better. These were the results from a 6-question self-assessment I created for our resilience book clubs (see this post for the self-assessment), based on an article from the Mayo Clinic website, Resilience: Build skills to endure hardship. The skills are (1) get connected, (2) make every day meaningful, (3) learn from experience, (4) remain hopeful, (5) take care of yourself, and (6) be proactive. (For further reflections on this framework, see my post How Can I More Effectively Help Students Increase Their Resilience?) I’m glad students were willing to be vulnerable and authentic. I’m glad they feel socially connected—something that is such a big part of resilience that some experts list it as its own category and then all the other tips for increasing it. And connectedness is not just important for mental health, but even for physical health—lack of it is as detrimental to health as smoking or obesity! Connectedness is essential to what it means to follow Jesus. As a Christian school, we believe we are connected to each other as parts of Christ’s body: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ .… But God has put the body together…so that…its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (I Corinthians 12:21-27). I hope that all students witness that kind of connectedness among staff, that students who are Christians deeply experience it, and that students who aren’t yet following Jesus see it as a winsome model of community that they feel invited into. I hope that the very way I structure my class with an emphasis on small group discussion and learning with and from each other echoes and builds this essential human connectedness. I’m also sobered to realize that as an international Christian school, we haven’t escaped the crisis of hope that American education is sounding the alarm on. I wonder how I as a teacher and we as a school can address this. Can we do an even better job of…
Being living exemplars of joy, gratitude, and affirmation; talking about why and how we can live this way; and giving students opportunities to practice it, too?
Understanding, using, and teaching stress management techniques as well as physical health?
Giving students opportunities in every class to set realistic goals and work toward them?
Choosing some hopeful literature to balance that which addresses injustice, lament, and brokenness?
Teaching by word and by example that instead of staying mad or sad about the past, we can be new people in the present because Jesus forgives us, loves us, and helps us grow into the people He made us to be?
Offering opportunities for service in the context of joining God in His work of restoration?
Finally, I'm wondering why so many students expressed interest in taking better care of themselves. Maybe for some 6th and 7th graders on the later end of making the shift from concrete to abstract thinking, it was just the easiest concept to grasp. Maybe there’s a measure of safety—after all, what middle schooler wants to admit they’re lacking friends (which could smack of failure), when lacking sleep can also be a badge of hard work and importance? What kind of example are we setting when the standard adult answer to my question "How was your weekend?" is "Busy!" After assessing their level of satisfaction with their use of 6 skills that increase resilience, students set a goal for improving one skill. I worked with them to make goals specific and attainable—not just “get more sleep” (how much more?) or “get 2 hours more sleep per night” (how about starting with 30 minutes?). One student finally wrote that she would not touch her phone after she want to bed. Not all students got so specific, but they got better. Here are some of their goals:
I would like to make every day more meaningful by limiting my screen time and taking breaks from technology, and getting active through physical activities.
I would like to work on learning from my experience. Sometime I couldn’t stop thinking about the past, and when I’m stressed about myself, it’s hard to let go of my past.
I want to learn from experiences more for my future. I will write a diary and fill in good spots and things to improve. (Read it, too.)
Build up strength, and maintain being hopeful on something I want or a promise I want to meet. While I’m at it, I should improve my mental health.
I would like to be hopeful and…obey Jesus, [forgiving] like he forgives me.
Learn to regulate and manage my emotions. Sometimes when I get mad, I just want to scream at someone, but I can try to keep my emotions in check by praying and asking God to help and taking deep breaths to try to calm down.
I am not proactive as you think. I get hurt easily by words. But I will at least try to pretend it isn’t happening. I will try to…calm myself down.
I would like to be more proactive and more hopeful, by writing down good things I did during the week, every week.
Right now, students are writing their response essay: Why is resilience important and how can you increase your resilience? Use resources on resilience, illustrate with examples from your book club book, and apply it to your life. I'm looking forward to seeing what they have to say. What about you? How resilient are your students? What skills for increasing resilience are they satisfied with? What skills for increasing it do they wish they were better at? How can we help them?
This blog first appeared on 02/23/23 at Learn, Unlearn, and Relearn.