Resilience: A Skill Worth Building - Kingswood Oxford


January 07, 2019

Resilience: A Skill Worth Building

Carolyn McKee, Interim Director of the Upper School


When I led the Student Life Team at KO, we had many conversations about how we teach resilience and how kids learn it. We asked ourselves whether our school culture values and fosters resilience. And we wondered whether adolescents today were missing out on the opportunity to develop their resilience while still in high school, which is a safe place to make mistakes and to learn, with the support of parents and teachers nearby.


I was reminded of these conversations recently when I came upon an article by Ann Klotz, Head of School at Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio. In it, she addressed the role of schools in helping to teach students resilience. Klotz writes, “If we want them [students] to take responsibility, we have to let them stumble and accept the consequences.” One of KO’s core values is to take personal responsibility. Yet many kids are afraid of stumbling, of making a mistake, of disappointing, and so they avoid taking risks or challenging themselves at all costs. As a result, they miss out on the opportunity to see that, if they own the mistake or acknowledge the challenge, they will get the help or support they need and will learn something important about themselves or about the struggle, and they will grow as a result.


Klotz warns that by rushing in to assist students we might actually be stifling their growth. “If we race in to smooth every bump,” Klotz writes, “we send a message to our children that we don’t think very much of their ability to manage.” And perhaps we foster their dependence on adults to make things better. I know that on numerous occasions I have attempted to take the sting out of a low test grade for a student, to alleviate the disappointment of a player whose error cost the team a point, a game, or a match, or to ease the hurt of an advisee who hasn’t received a coveted leadership position. And perhaps in trying to protect these students, I have failed to help them learn to manage, to cope, to be resilient.


The failure to develop resilience in high school helps to explain the current mental health crises on college campuses. How much of the anxiety that college students experience is related to their inability to employ the necessary coping strategies to deal with the many challenges of living on one’s own, being away from home, and learning in a different (and probably bigger) school environment?


I am certainly not proposing that we create more opportunities for kids to struggle in an effort to build resilience, but rather than identifying and talking about those struggles when they arise and problem-solving how best to address them WITH our students (and not FOR them) can only help better prepare them for college, which is an essential part of our role as educators.

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