Should we try to ‘teach’ resilience?

Resilience is the latest ‘buzz’ word in education. I’ve lost count of the times politicians have spoken about it (without actually understanding the concept) and the number of schools that have implemented programs to ‘teach’ it.

As I’ve mentioned before, I prefer to use the term ‘academic buoyancy’ to describe the ability to ‘bounce back’ from those small but personally significant setbacks students encounter every day (everything from a disappointing grade on a test to those inevitable patches of poor performance). Such incidents represent low-level stressful situations rather than major attacks on self-confidence or perceived abilities.

Even though many schools have implemented programmes, these interventions remain difficult to assess due to few of them being similar to each other or measuring that which they are supposed to be promoting. A recent systematic consultative review found that many resilience programs within schools used the term ‘resilience’ is such a vague and conceptually weak manner that the authors found it difficult to identify those which could be realistically described as resilience-based (Hart & Heaver, 2013). Furthermore, results from the largest UK trial of resilience training in schools (the UK Resilience Project) continue to be largely ignored, perhaps due in part to disappointing outcomes and criticism concerning the intervention package (Coyne, 2013).

While the issue of definitions is certainly a problem, I think an equally destructive issue surrounds the view that we must teach resilience, rather than concentrating on factors that nurture academic buoyancy.

Four factors that (appear) to strengthen academic buoyancy.

1. Academic Self Concept.
Those learners who view their academic selves in a positive way appear more able to deal with daily setbacks. ASC represents a specific sub-category of self-esteem but recognises that our view of ourselves as learners is state rather than trait buoyancyspecific (so you might have high ASC for English but not for Maths). It would therefore follow that you could cope better with setbacks in those subjects where your ASC is high but not in subjects where it is low. ASC is, in part, related to our past experiences of ourselves as learners – poor experiences in Maths will lead to a negative view of ourselves within the area of Maths (e.g. Marsh & Martin, 2011)

2. Positive Emotions & Emotional Regulation.
Perhaps a little more controversial because of the relationship to the Positive Psychology movement. Nevertheless, evidence has found that negative emotions do negatively impact on buoyancy and that those who experience more positive affect manage to better safeguard themselves from setbacks through their ability to re-frame failure in more positive ways. (Putwain & Daly, 2013; Tugade & Fredrickson, 2011)

3. Implicit Theories of Intelligence.
Carol Dweck’s ‘mindset’ theory has been marketed to death but the general theory remains sound. Those who view their own intelligence as malleable (so-called ‘Growth Mindest’) are better equipped to deal with setbacks in a more constructive way (e.g. Dweck, 2000)

4. Growth Goals.
Setting goals can be a very powerful tool, particularly if those goals are incremental and represent a ‘better than last time’ or ‘personal best’ approach. And never neglect good feedback. (e.g. Liem, Ginns, Martin, Stone, & Herrett, 2012)

The assumption being made is that these factors influence and nurture buoyancy. Of course, there is more likely to be a reciprocal relationship and much more work needs to be done in order to better understand these complex relationships.

Ultimately, it’s less about teaching resilience and more about encouraging those factors that allow resilience to flourish.

Coyne, J. (2013). Positive psychology in the schools: the UK Resilience Project. PloS blogs. Retrieved October 18, 2014, from
Dweck, C. S. (2000). Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. Essays in Social Psychology (p. 214). Psychology Press. Retrieved from
Hart, A., & Heaver, B. (2013). Evaluating resilience-based programs for schools using a systematic consultative review . Journal of Child and Youth Development, 1(1), 27–53.
Liem, G. A. D., Ginns, P., Martin, A. J., Stone, B., & Herrett, M. (2012). Personal best goals and academic and social functioning: A longitudinal perspective. Learning and Instruction, 22(3), 222–230. doi:10.1016/j.learninstruc.2011.11.003
Marsh, H. W., & Martin, A. J. (2011). Academic self-concept and academic achievement: relations and causal ordering. The British Journal of Educational Psychology, 81(Pt 1), 59–77. doi:10.1348/000709910X503501
Putwain, D. W., & Daly, A. L. (2013). Do clusters of test anxiety and academic buoyancy differentially predict academic performance? Learning and Individual Differences, 27, 157–162. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2013.07.010
Tugade, M. M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2011). Resilient Individuals Use Positive Emotions to Bounce Back From Negative Emotional Experiences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86(2), 320–333. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.86.2.320.Resilient


4 thoughts on “Should we try to ‘teach’ resilience?

  1. Pingback: Education Panorama (December ’14) by @TeacherToolkit | @TeacherToolkit

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