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Resilience“I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.” – Maya Angelou

Growing up in a small community in the North of England, I consider myself to have had a relatively trouble-free childhood; although, I do recall many an occasion where I would exclaim (usually when told I was not allowed to do something) “this is the worst! A violation of my teenage rights!….” My environment was familiar and predictable. I was well connected to my community and loved (mostly) by the adults around me. The values were strong and clear. I felt a sense of belonging. Clearly, this was not something I was entirely conscious of at the time; however, looking back, it is something I am immensely grateful for.

Many years later, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to take part in a teacher exchange with a school group in Southern India. I was partnered with a teacher from an orphanage school in Mysore. It would be dishonest of me to say that I was not nervous. I was. I was out of my comfort zone in so many ways. However, this story of resilience was not necessarily that of my own (although this certainly played a big role in my personal journey) but rather that of the resilience that I observed (and came to recognise and admire) in the students within the school.

Despite the obvious hardships they had endured, each student wore their uniform with pride, raced to the classroom every day eager to learn and without fail, had the biggest smile I would ever witness. They were happy. Genuinely happy. Although they did not have all the familiar features of an Australian classroom, the toys and items we associate with childhood or a close family network – they had a sense of belonging. They were grateful for the opportunity they had been given. They had empathy for their peers. They demonstrated mindfulness. They were resilient.

Hugh Van Cuylenburg, founder of The Resilience Project, has a remarkably similar story; an experience whilst volunteering in Northern India that would become the impetus for the birth of the program. Observing the principles of practicing gratefulness, empathy and mindfulness and the resultant impact on overall wellbeing led him to establish the Resilience Project. The program is designed to support the development of positive mental health strategies and build resilience and overall wellbeing.

Growing up today, same family, same town, same school; would my experience have been the same? Probably not. Despite all the constants, the world in which we find ourselves has changed. Unparalleled opportunities exist, technological advances and globalisation (even in a small town in the North of England) have created a more complex and uncertain world. Referred to as VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) times, the students of 2020 experience a level of complexity and volatility that was not a feature of my adolescence. Although we experience many benefits of such innovation and change, there are unfortunate side effects.

The growing concern around the wellbeing of young Australians is a real factor, and one that should be the core business of schools across Australia, and indeed the world. Recent data suggests 1 in 7 Primary School students experience Mental Health Issues and similarly 1 in 4 adolescents. Perhaps of greater concern, 65% of students would be reluctant to seek help. For the young Australians in our schools today, there could be no greater weapon in their armoury than that of resilience.

Resilience can be defined as, “the capacity to respond adaptively to difficult circumstances and still thrive” As educators therfore, we have a responsibility to provide environments in which our students can thrive, not only academically, but also socially and emotionally.

Over the last decade, much research has been carried out to determine the skills required for the future of work; across the range of reports delivered, resilience features explicitly and inherently. Few would disagree that resilience would be a beneficial attribute to your skillset. However, the means by which one can be ‘taught’ resilience and the design of what constitutes best practice, is often debated.

Schools are well placed to develop and enhance resilience within the student body and the wider community. The unique position of influence provides schools with a valuable platform for such capacity to promote and enhance resilience at organisational, relational and pedagogical levels; indeed recent studies indicate a whole school approach which establishes positive social norms and an authentic sense of connectedness delivers optimal outcomes for student wellbeing.

In my experience, connectedness is one of the most significant protective factors in establishing positive student wellbeing. A sense of belonging often established through the everyday interactions between teacher and student; the sense of being known by your community and understood as an individual. This can only be achieved through a personalised approach that places the student at the centre of the organisation and recognises student voice within all aspects of the school.  Holistic wellbeing programs that are tailored to the needs of the individual and delivered collaboratively and with empathy allow for explicit and implicit teaching of skills such as self-awareness, self-management, critical and creative thinking. A network of designated supports available to students provides them access to expertise, mentoring and coaching at the point of need. An outward facing community recognises the significance of the parent school relationship and seeks to actively engage the parent community as an intrinsic part of the network of support surrounding the student, thus aligning the values and strengthening the connectedness of the student.

At The Knox School, there is a fundamental understanding of the core business of supporting and developing student wellbeing; indeed the mission statement, “to equip students to be the architect of, and advocates for their learning through their lives” articulates the scope of provision and reinforces the belief that social and emotional learning is equal to and fundamental to that of the academic. Explicitly stated as one of the five values, resilience features unequivocally and tacitly across all aspects of the school.

The Knox School is privileged to host students from ELC to Year 12 within the one campus and therefore can foster and cultivate the adaptive set of skills and values within a whole school approach for students of all ages. As a smaller independent school, each student and family are known personally by the network of supports available and thus an authentic sense of community and belonging prevails across our diverse student body.

Recognising that an education now encompasses more than the traditional disciplines such as English, Maths, Science and The Arts, programs at TKS are framed within the four principles of connect, shape, provoke, position and underpinned by the framework of the 6 Cs: communication, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, contribution and character. Within each area of the school, students are provided age appropriate opportunities that combine to nurture the successful self-regulated learner and promote self-efficacy.

The holistic approach at TKS sees wellbeing as both an outcome and a process; it acknowledges that wellbeing is fluid and multi-dimensional, impacted by internal and external factors. In committing to the provision of a positive, safe and empathetic school environment, TKS provides the optimal conditions for our students to thrive in all aspects of their learning and the tools to ensure they can experience positive mental health and wellbeing.

This year, TKS will be collaborating with The Resilience Project who will deliver programs to students, teachers and parents across Term 1. We are excited to be kicking off the year with our Junior School Resilience program early next week; the series of events was launched at our first Junior School assembly by our JS Captains who announced the inaugural GEMs awards, commendations that will recognise acts of gratitude, empathy and mindfulness! At TKS, we value the significance of the home-school partnership in ensuring the connectedness of our students. The first of our Community Engagement events will be held Tuesday February 18th, where we encourage our families to join with students and staff together in an interactive workshop led by the team at The Resilience Project. This engaging workshop delivers emotionally engaging programs, providing practical, evidence-based, positive mental health strategies to build resilience and happiness.

Through a commitment to whole school approaches, underpinned by such values it is the hope that the students of TKS will emerge from their journey not only defined by their academic grades or portfolio of achievements, but as individuals who will thrive in an adaptive global environment, advocate for themselves and contribute actively to their communities. If we can provide our students with an ability to take on attainable challenges, have confidence when faced with adversity and exhibit adaptive critical thinking and problem solving skills drawing upon their strengths, I believe we have provided an education for life, not just for attainment. An education which will allow our young people to accept change and challenges, adapt to new circumstances and refuse to be reduced by it.

 

Maya Angelou (2008) Letter to my Daughter

Data provided by: https://theresilienceproject.com.au/

Cahill et al (2013) Building Resilience in Children and Young people: A Literature Review. Melbourne Graduate   School of Education

Nikki Kirkup

Nikki Kirkup is Deputy Principal of The Knox School

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