From the Principal – Resilience

Posted 21 June 2019 1:06pm

As we near the end of Semester 1 assessments, and for our Year 12, trial AST exams, I observe students rising to the occasion as they move through this challenging period. As educators and parents, it is our role to teach, guide and support them to build up trust in their own abilities and understand that while things will not always be smooth sailing, some of the most gratifying achievements come after a period of adversity. A confronting statistic states that 24 out of 40 British prime ministers (up until 1970) lost a parent in childhood or adolescence. I do not wish that upon any child, however, it is a compelling example of how adversity can result in one achieving greatly.

Key findings from research out of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the American Institutes for Research, Turnaround for Children, and the Center for Individual Opportunity[1] identified that while all children are vulnerable to risks and adversities, the development of resilience has the potential to lead to positive outcomes, even when individuals are faced with significant adversity.

The research showed that periods of stress resistance, breakdown, recovery and normalisation help develop resilience and that some exposure to adversity may be better than none.

Further research out of Queensland looked at the impact of adults ‘micromanaging’ children’s lives.

In 2010, Dr Helen Stallman, from the University of Queensland’s School of Medicine, said today’s parents often feel a lot of pressure to have their children excel in co-curricular and academic activities from a young age. Her study was to determine whether our attempts to give children more structure and safety, and a better educational footing, is of benefit or ultimately robs children of feelings and responsibility.

While we hope our children will grow up within loving and secure environments, and we do whatever we can to ensure this, we must recognise that adversity has the power to bring out the best in some people.

Speaking to the Year 10 girls about their Year 11 & 12 course and subject choices, I reminded them that some of the biggest rewards come from taking on the biggest challenges. The IB Diploma Programme is an example. Students dedicate themselves to a rigorous course of study and as a result, IB cohorts tend to display academic perseverance - confronting difficulties, obstacles and distractions, knowing they are inevitable parts of the road to success. Moreover, as a smaller group within the larger school, they form a special bond which often results in unlikely friendships and a support network each of them know they can call on in times of need.

As part of the IBDP, students must meet creativity, activity and service requirements (CAS). Research into the impact of CAS shows a direct improvement in interpersonal skills, perseverance, and the willingness to take risk and accept challenges.

At the heart of each of the IB programmes is the IB learner profile, which consists of ten attributes that reflect the holistic nature of an IB education. In the Junior School, where we deliver the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP), the attribute of ‘risk-taker’ is intrinsically linked to our Girls with Grit signature program which aims to build resilience in students. The program is a catalyst for Year 5 girls to understand and embrace their strengths and challenges while striving to do their best in all situations.

While it is common for students to feel tired at this mid-point of the school year, let us help them know what it is to be challenged, face it down, sit with discomfort and ultimately prepare them for the next growth phase in their lives. And finally, remembering that the student holidays give us an opportunity to rest and refresh.

Anna Owen

[1] Pamela Cantor, David Osher, Juliette Berg, Lily Steyer & Todd Rose (2018) Malleability, plasticity, and individuality: How children learn and develop in context1, Applied Developmental Science, DOI: 10.1080/10888691.2017.1398649