TeacherTales: Building educational resilience in pupils

Posted by Guest blogger Dr Maria Jagiello - Last updated on December 21, 2021

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again...

I have been interested in understanding and building resilience in educational aspects of teaching/learning for a long time, however nowadays it seems like a very current and almost trendy topic. Especially in the light of recent changes caused by the pandemic; resilience has become a necessity. 

When I reflect on my own educational history and adult life experiences I have always been determined to prove my abilities. As far as I remember, whenever I faced any obstacles, challenges or someone doubted or dared me, I felt the fire and ignition to prove them wrong, thinking ‘you better watch me now’. A big part of this attitude was shaped by my upbringing, educators and idols to ‘seize the moment’ and always try to do my best, to carry on and not give up. This manifested in my personality and became a valuable life skill. Not only does it help me in achieving goals but it sets a good example for my students too.  

I would like to share some of my observations and good practice in the context of teaching Mathematics. However, resilience is a versatile skill that can be learnt and applied in different topics including life itself. 


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What is psychological resilience?

According to Wikipedia, psychological resilience is the ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis or to return to pre-crisis status quickly. Resilience exists when the person uses "mental processes and behaviours in promoting personal assets and protecting one’s self from the potential negative effects of stressors".

In simpler words, resilience is like positive adaptation: the ability to remain calm during crises/chaos and to recover quickly from an incident without long-term negative consequences.

Most research now shows that resilience is the result of individuals being able to interact with their environments and processes that either promote wellbeing or protect them against the overwhelming influence of risk factors.


How about resilience in education? Is it different? 

No. There are no other specifications. It’s a quality that allows pupils to approach learning with confidence and persistence in the face of difficulties; a willingness to discuss, reflect and research in order to achieve a successful outcome to their effortful work.  (Johnston-Wilder and Lee 2010.)

In education, it is believed that when teachers employ particular teaching approaches, they help their students overcome negative attitudes towards a subject and develop resilience. It is all about spreading love for learning, enthusiasm for your subject and perseverance.


There is hope

Take this example. Many times we have heard or even said: ‘I am not a Maths person, my brain doesn’t like Maths, I struggled with Maths and so do my kids’ or similar statements. Unfortunately, by saying this or hearing it we can unintentionally project fears, animosity or apprehension onto our children or learners towards certain subjects. Instead a more constructive approach would be to share enthusiasm and encouragement as well as supporting the development of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in order to practice perseverance and building resilience.  

Studies show that there is no maths, art or other subject ‘brain’. Albeit we might have some predispositions, preferences or talents, but the human brain is malleable which allows us to learn anything. It might take us longer or require more effort, but we are able to learn whatever we wish to. Among other skills or abilities, resilience is not fixed. We can learn how to be resilient; it’s a  quality that can be taught, trained and developed.

Research and subject literature shows that teachers who demonstrate perseverance and  determination can help their students overcome negative attitudes to learning and develop students’ resilience which can prove to be a life skill empowering them to become successful.  


Top tips to building student resilience

1.  Develop your own growth mindset

We are change agents. We teachers can create a culture of growth, cultivate resilience in the classroom, promote intelligent failure, make mistakes and learn from them, all as a part of ours and our students’ development. If we expose learners to some challenges by introducing activities such as ‘spot the mistakes’, ‘beat your teacher’, and ‘true or false’, and allow them to make mistakes and learn from them - this promotes independent thinking, judgement and curiosity. This models positive personal attributes and supports our students to deliberately cultivate determination and resilience in solving these problems.


2.  Develop a growth mindset in your pupils

Actively encourage the growth of positive mindsets and perseverance. Expose learners to positive images, language, motivational thoughts and strategies. Use a positive learning attitude and positive language. Avoid negative projection such as ‘it is difficult’, or ‘when I was  your age I did not like Maths’ etc. It can be done in a form of class display, assembly or thought of the day. Positive encouragement or projection, for example by saying ‘If I work hard I can improve my abilities in Maths’, ‘I cannot do it yet but I will keep trying’ or ‘I can’t do this yet but I will find the way’, can go a long way towards the development of your pupils’ growth mindset. 

Read more about developing growth mindset in you and your learners >


3.  Challenge your pupils

Get to know your learners, find ways to reach them and challenge them according to their needs and levels. As John Hattie says: ‘A teacher’s job is not to make work easy or just fun. It is to make it difficult. If you do not experience difficulties, you are not stuck, if you are not challenged, you do not make mistakes.’ 

Discover the benefits of engaging pupils in the challenge of learning with one of John Hattie’s groundbreaking books > 


4.  Equip pupils with learning strategies to overcome problems

Give your pupils the learning strategies and tools they need to overcome a challenge they feel stuck on. For example, you could simplify the situation by re-writing questions in simpler words; re-reading questions, breaking tasks down, scaffolding questions, solving problems step-by-step, differentiating, using dual coding or adopting the abundance of technological devices at hand to support their learning and become as independent as possible. 

Here are 10 tips for supporting pupils that build on strategies such as scaffolding > (It’s targeted to SEND but you can easily use with all pupils.)


5.  Reflect on your practice

Regularly reflecting on your practice and teaching your students how to do so, helps you to further train resilience. 

  • Ask yourself if you would like the teacher you are
  • Ask colleagues to observe you and make most of learning walks
  • Ask your learners to tell you what helps them learn
  • Reflect on how you can improve your teaching
  • Video your lessons and reflect on them from a different perspective. Is there something you could be doing differently to better support your pupils’ development?

Read more about how and why to get started with reflective practice >


Thomas Edison said: ‘You must learn to fail intelligently, falling is one of the greatest arts in the world. One fails forward towards success.’

It does not matter how many times we fall over, what matters is how many times we stand up, shake it off and move on… this is resilience. Keep practicing it.

Written by guest blogger Dr Maria Jagiello,  Honywood School

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