I know this year is hard. I’ve been in education for 16 years and have seen and heard a lot of education policy come and go. This year is no different, except that it is. The difference here is that we are literally trying to survive a virus that is raging all around us while being asked to move mountains with children. I know at my campus we’ve been asked to implement a few new things and with every step I feel the same way, “how am I supposed to survive until the end of the year, both literally and figuratively?” I hope this post can shed some hope and maybe help you feel some sense of peace for our future. Here I offer five ways to increase student resiliency and in turn, help your own resilience.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from stress, adversity, failure, challenges, and trauma. When students are resilient, they take healthy risks, do not fear falling short, are curious, brave, and trust their instincts. Resilient students know their limits, push themselves, set and reach long-term goals, and can solve problems independently. So how do we go about promoting student resiliency?
When you create a positive physical space for students, you promote calmness and positivity. When you give the students brain breaks, predictable greetings, transitions, and independent work time, they can rely on the routine to help face adversity. In your routines, allow for time to focus on character strengths to teach children how to identify, recognize, practice, and use those strengths. Foster a place where mistakes are not only welcomed but embraced as part of learning. When your classroom culture reflects diversity, encouragement is the norm, and student input is valued, students in your class will be more likely to take risks and accept failures.
The first step to resilience is acceptance. You need to accept and validate their emotions, allow them to feel and work through their emotions in a healthy way, and always let them know you are there to help. Do not tell a student to stop doing XYZ when they are expressing emotions. If a student is crying, for whatever reason, validate their emotions, acknowledge their feelings, and help them understand that crying and feeling what they feel is okay, and let them know you are ready to listen when they are ready to talk. I am not a person that allows students to cry at the same level for every issue they encounter. I try to incorporate a learning opportunity of the severity of the situation versus their reaction. We react this way when someone hurts me but when I do not get the color I want, crying is alright, but we do not need to explode and become angry or violent.
Product Over Process
Do not emphasize product over process, especially in the elementary music room. We want students to explore, create, and learn music within the confines of what is right, sure. However, when we “teach to the test” as they say, we ruin that process. When we stress over the final product, the performance, this takes away from the learning process from which the students are learning all their vital musical skills. You do need to of course measure right from wrong, teach correct technique, but also allow students to try again without negative consequences. Let the process be a place of creative thinking and trial and error, not a time to perfect and polish a performance. During the learning process when a student is frustrated, turn their I can’t statement into a resilient statement such as, I’m tired and need a break or I have solved this problem before and I can do it again. Teachable moments happen all the time during music class or ensemble rehearsals. We can use those moments to talk about resilience and how we can not only improve has musicians, but as humans. When we do this, we show that resilience is not the stamina it takes do hang in there and learn a difficult concept, rather a process we go through to affect the outcome.
Be an Example of Resiliency
Show students that you make mistakes and can find another path. When you tell students what and how you’re feeling and how you’re overcoming your stressors, it helps them decipher their feelings and manage their stressors. Students need to know that we understand them because we also go through hard times. Even now, during the pandemic, we can demonstrate resilience. We don’t have all the answers, and it is alright to be scared. When we acknowledge our fears about the future and demonstrate that knowledge is power it will help them remember that it is okay to be scared and uncertain, but we can make it through and move on!
Practice Self-Care: No, not spa days, pjs, and coffee
Teachers can suffer from caregiver fatigue very quickly. When you teach in a trauma informed environment, this lessens our potential for caregiver burnout. When you care for others with trauma you can suffer from insomnia, fatigue, aches, pains, lack of motivation, lack of concentration, isolation, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness or anger. We can alleviate these symptoms by changing how we do things in the classroom to increase our own resiliency and our student’s. These are not permanent conditions, and you can overcome burnout. You can make simple changes like issuing trigger warnings before teaching a lesson. You can learn your students’ triggers (write them down if you need to) and do your best to avoid them or issue a trigger warning before proceeding. Allow students the chance to opt out of triggering activities without penalty. No, they can’t get out of work, but they can skip a song or lesson if it means they avoid being triggered and you avoid a trauma response. You can practice and teach a few grounding techniques by working with their classroom teachers or special education teachers to find out what helps the students calm down, reset, and move forward.
There are two camps about resiliency. Some feel resiliency is taught and practiced, much like learning an instrument. Others think resilience is something you are born with, like talent. As musicians we have a unique perspective on this as some of us are exceptional musicians because we worked at it, practiced, and became masters at our craft, others have raw, natural talent that helped along the way. We can see a struggling student and remember that resiliency is like learning music, either you have it easier with talent or you don’t, and hard work can move mountains.
Sing! Say! Dance! Play! Care!