In the wider world there is a new awareness of mindfulness as a means of focusing on the positive. The latest incarnation is a recognition of the importance of resilience as a route to happiness, a step beyond what some see as the ego-based annexation of spiritual mindfulness.
Mindfulness pioneer Rick Hanson, has written a new book, “Resilient", about the need to develop “12 fundamental inner strengths’ if we are to become more robust. These include compassion, mindfulness, learning, grit, gratitude, confidence, calm, motivation, intimacy, courage, aspiration and generosity. The list seems self-evidently helpful but how to develop such skills in a chaotic and ever-changing school environment?
What’s intriguing is this development in conjunction with the way the world is changing around us. We need to build a more resilient world to adapt to ecosystem change and we need to build a more resilient society to manage the changes coming forced by increasing automation and inequity, which are likely to challenge the business, working and living models we’re used to living within today.
A number of programmes have sprung up which focus on helping children develop their own resilience. What is usually meant by this is learning to work as a team and rely on others, and learning not to give up when something ‘doesn’t work’ or doesn’t go as planned. It’s about teaching problem -solving in a fun way to ensure that children learn that trial and error includes error.
That’s to be lauded, as are the practitioners who enable children to experience these approaches. What matters in the wider educational system, however, is the importance of embedding these values within the educational system every day. In many ways it is arguable that developing student’s skills and ability to respond positively to challenges and setbacks is a key goal of education. That means it teaches that ‘error’ or being wrong isn’t necessarily a bad thing, rather it’s a milestone on the road to learning something new. “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts,” said Winston Churchill.
Building individual resilience, the belief that they can overcome, results in students being open to learning. Critique becomes no longer personal, but rather another part of the learning journey. The development of the idea that learning is a pursuit, it’s something to experience not be given, helps to develop motivation and reward effort. And when the self-help books are arguing that this is the way forward, it’s worth considering whether your school is encouraging children to learn in the most effective way, and whether scores and percentages of correct answers is giving the most helpful message.
This column first appeared in the April issue of Education Today.