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You Don't Need Good Grades To Get An A+ In Resilience

For some kids, just getting to school is a huge achievement.

18/04/2017 9:42 AM AEST | Updated 18/04/2017 9:43 AM AEST
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Remember Tyler Gage from 'Step Up'? He had resilience in bucket loads.

Jaden* is late to school again. His tardiness has recently been interspersed with periods of not coming at all.

Sara* finally gets the news that she has been determined to hear for half her lifetime: VCE results are out and she has obtained the score that she needs to take up her first university preference, launching her one step closer to her dream career.

While Sara's constant presence in the school's study hall ensured she regularly topped the class, Jaden struggles to keep up with submitting work requirements that will determine whether he passes or fails Year 12.

Sara has shown the type of resilience renowned American psychologist Angela Duckworth refers to as 'grit' by exerting perseverance and maintaining passion towards her long-term goals. But Jaden has also demonstrated resilience; a type that without adequate consideration can be easy to overlook.

When we hear the catch cry 'resilience', what we are actually talking about cannot be simplified to a one-size-fits-all description.

'Resilience' is the buzzword of the 21st century classroom. Over the past decade, the term has permeated government education policy and school leadership rhetoric. People such as positive psychology guru Martin Seligman have amassed small fortunes in briefing schools on how to nurture it in their students. But when we hear the catch cry 'resilience', what we are actually talking about cannot be simplified to a one-size-fits-all description.

While definitions vary, most explanations of resilience emphasise an ability to respond positively to adversity. Sara knows adversity, having grown up in a low-income family. While many of Sara's university classmates will have enjoyed an abundance of study resources throughout high school, Sara had to rush to the local library after school to complete homework because her family could not afford internet at home. While other students from her course may have been enjoying private tuition, Sara was working a part-time job to earn her share of the family's weekly budget.

Jaden knows adversity too, but in a different way to Sara. Jaden currently lives with his grandmother because authorities have determined it is not safe for him to live with his mother while she continues to address her mental health issues and manage her drug dependence. Jaden bears the scars of a traumatic upbringing, having been exposed to years of domestic violence while his father was still around. For Jaden, this exposure to trauma has left the indelible marks of depression and anxiety. With this life context in mind, Jaden's resilience is demonstrated by the fact that he is still attending school at all.

A sense of belonging and connection to others must be met before an individual can focus on 'higher-level needs' such as self-actualisation.

One popular theory of motivation referred to by educators is Maslow's 'hierarchy of needs' model. The theory suggests that a number of fundamental needs such as physical health, feelings of safety, a sense of belonging and connection to others must be met before an individual can focus on 'higher-level needs' such as self-actualisation -- the motivation to seek out one's full potential.

Applying Jaden and Sara's real-world examples to Maslow's theory, we see both students demonstrating high levels of personal resilience. Sara has shown perseverance and determination by overcoming challenging obstacles to achieve her university goal and reach her full potential in the process. In continuing to pursue his education with his fundamental health and wellbeing needs severely compromised, Jaden also demonstrates extraordinary resilience. For him, that resilience can be seen when he shows up for class despite his internal world -- his sense of safety and connection to others -- being turned upside down by his past home-life experience.

So what is resilience? Well, that depends on the context. But as educators and the community recognise and celebrate it in our young people, we must remember that not all resilience resides in academic success stories. For the Jadens of our education system, true resilience can be just showing up.

*Name has been changed.


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