Stuck at home with a sniffle and my in-laws last Friday night, we ended up watching their favourite show, ‘Dancing on Ice’. Not one for sequins or C-grade celebrities, I gritted my teeth and prepared to endure the next two hours (yes, TWO hours!)
But as the show progressed, I became hooked. Not by the costumes, twirls or ‘whoops / Rodney Hide’ moments, but by the amazing resilience and guts of the contestants. Many of them had never skated before, and had just six weeks to prepare for a performance on nationwide live TV.
Amongst the usual faded pop stars (Vanilla Ice, of course) and trashy mag regulars, one contestant, Johnson Beharry (pictured) stood out. A scar runs just behind his hairline from ear to ear, testament to injuries sustained as he rescued members of his unit during an ambush in Iraq in 2004; for his bravery he received a VC. He battled his way back to health and, despite ongoing physical problems, went on to prove his worth on the rink. (Don’t worry fans, I won’t tell you the outcome of this series!)
OK, so neither Johnson nor the other ‘stars’ have solved the Bermuda Triangle mystery or walked on the moon, but it got me thinking about how people can bounce back from devastating events to achieve great things. Other contestants, whose past traumas entailed nothing more than a few embarrassing photos in the press, picked themselves up off the ice time and again, and persevered with refining their skills.
So where does resilience come from? Is it innate or can it be learnt? How can we make our students more resilient?
Our children are “too safe for their own good” says Michael Ungar in his book of the same name – by ‘bubble-wrapping’ them and protecting them from every tiny bump and failure, we’re not preparing them for life in the real world.
Carol Dweck relates resilience to praise, saying "Praising students’ intelligence creates a fixed mindset and decreases motivation and resilience in the face of difficulty. But, praising their process (their effort, their strategy) promotes a growth mindset with its greater desire for challenge and learning."
And Scott Anderson of Nazareth College in Australia recently made some great points in his MYSA presentation, ‘Disappointment by Design – developing capacity and resilience ... in a ‘pro-risk’ school environment.’ Parents, teachers and schools can all model and encourage responsible risk-taking – which could be as simple as getting students involved in a community activity outside their comfort zone, such as a soup kitchen – which builds resilience.
While I don’t think we all need to be donning skates and sequins to prove a point, I wonder what you, as an educator (and perhaps a parent) have done lately to build - and model – resilience?
Want to find out more?
James Nottingham, who has worked closely with Dweck, examines resilience in his unmissable Challenging Learners Conference workshops and his pre-conference course in July.