How do we grow resilience, when our lives are so comfortable? A 21-Day Journey is a good start!
Anne S. Masten, a professor at the University of Minnesota, is regarded as one of the leading academics and researchers in the field of Resilience. Professor Masten has studied resilience in young people that have been exposed to poverty, homelessness, migration, disaster, war and other adversities. In 2015, she published ‘Ordinary Magic’. The following three quotes sum up her research findings and the key messages of her book:
“It’s because I realized some years ago that early researchers were looking for some special secret ingredient for resilience. What I concluded after a number of years of research was that the powerful engines for resilience, the most protective systems, are completely ordinary and common. Thus the title “Ordinary Magic.”
“The most powerful protective system for a human child is a loving, caring family.”
“Resilience emerges from multiple processes. It’s not one trait; it’s not one thing,”
Masten identified the following the Short List of Resilience Factors:
Resilience Factors (with Implicated Human Adaptive Systems):
- Positive attachment bonds with caregivers (attachment; family)
- Positive relationships with other nurturing and competent adults (attachment)
- Intellectual skills (integrated cognitive systems of a human brain in good working order)
- Self-regulation skills (self-control systems and related executive functions of the human brain)
- Positive self-perceptions; self-efficacy (mastery motivation system)
- Faith, hope, and a sense of meaning in life (meaning-making systems of belief)
- Friends or romantic partners who are supportive and prosocial (attachment)
- Bonds to effective schools and other prosocial organizations (sociocultural systems)
- Communities with positive services and supports for families and children (sociocultural)
- Cultures that provide positive standards, rituals, relationships, and supports (sociocultural)
Clearly, there are many and varied influences upon the development of resilience and only very few could be considered innate factors. Socio-cultural factors seem to be the most influential; in particular, families, communities and schools.
In an article for ‘Education Canada’, Masten emphasises the key role that schools can and should play in developing resilience.
“In fact, schools, along with families, play a central role in nurturing all the tools of resilience. While caregivers and families carry the greatest responsibility in early life, as children grow older, the importance of schools increases. Both parents and teachers contribute to the development of intellectual and self-control skills as young brains gain the capacity to control attention, emotion, and behaviour.”
One thing that Masten emphasises is the need to reduce the level of risk or adversity so that few, if any, high-risk scenarios remain. However, her research has focused upon families which regularly face significant trauma and adversity due to war, disaster, poverty and homelessness. In these communities, local schools play a vital, potentially life-saving, role in the way that they can reduce the risks which children are exposed to, by providing a safe and protective haven – a socio-cultural system with attachment potential.
Where only relatively low-risk scenarios exist, such as in affluent, supportive and comfortable communities, more challenging, higher risk scenarios may need to be created by parents and schools, to boost resilience levels. Enter Sport, Outdoor Education programs and ventures. Since schooling began, schools around the world have always recognised the potential for sport and Outdoor education to develop resilience and character. Such programs became part of life in Independent schools long before any terms like ‘self-efficacy’ and ‘mastery motivation’ were developed by Psychologists, to scientifically explain the potential gains. Of course, the risks associated with sport and ventures still need to be managed appropriately to ensure that the experience and the outcomes are predominantly positive. Simply having a program does not guarantee positive outcomes. The staffing, the underlying philosophy and the levels of organisation are always key.
I am biased of course but I suspect that very few, if any, schools in Australia could boast better sports programs or outdoor education ventures than St Peter’s College. On the 21-day journey, every aspect of risk is thoroughly assessed and managed, and the equipment, resources and levels of supervision are of an extremely high standard, at all times. Ongoing support is provided by a team of carefully selected field instructors which is supplemented by an increasing number of teachers who visit and assist the journey throughout. Of course, we cannot control the weather, injury or illness may occur, and some boys will clash with each other, but remember …. that’s the point. It is supposed to be challenging, a little uncomfortable and slightly risky. Crucially, all boys will have the support networks around them (school, teachers, instructors, friends and family) to cope with challenge of the journey, learn from it, grow… and become more resilient. This includes positive attachment bonds with caregivers (family) and positive relationships with other nurturing and competent adults.
The 21-day journey is also an ideal environment to engage the mastery motivation system which Masten refers to. The journey experience encourages all boys to learn to master new skills and overcome challenges in an unfamiliar environment. This develops confidence and self-esteem as boys enjoy their independent success. This sense of mastery and independence, promotes resilience and positive self-perceptions.
“Adaptive behaviour is also supported by a powerful system of ‘mastery motivation’, whereby we experience pleasure in agency, or being effective in the world. Teachers, as well as parents and coaches, often motivate children for learning by engaging this system. They create opportunities for successful mastery experiences, building a sense of mastery in graduated steps. In this way, they scaffold the development of competence over time, as the child gains confidence and a stronger motivation to learn, solve problems, and engage successfully in the world.”
This quote by Masten emphasises the need for teachers and schools generally to encourage independent learning and to avoid any urge to ‘spoon-feed’ success. By encouraging boys to take responsibility for their own learning and independently master, they will develop more positive self-perceptions, feel higher self-efficacy and so develop greater resilience.
|Short List of Resilience Factors
|How ventures can build resilience
|Positive attachment bonds with caregivers (attachment; family)
|Parent/son letters – Gratitude focus. Send off and welcome back celebrations, parent information evenings, reassuring talks from parents about risk/discomfort, Loving reunions etc.
|Positive relationships with other nurturing and competent adults (attachment)
|Mentor and HOH involvement/support, group instructor connection, caring/compassionate responses to injuries and other issues, Reassuring interactions with other teachers, instructors and venture organisers.
|Intellectual skills (integrated cognitive systems of a human brain in good working order)
|Teamwork and problem-solving skills, map-reading and leadership skills, a growth mindset attitude to challenges, mindfulness practices and meditation skills, cooking skills!
|Self-regulation skills (self-control systems and related executive functions of the human brain)
|Mindfulness self-regulation skills, positive self-talk to cope with overcoming fears, managing risk, discomfort, fatigue, fear, managing food rations, pacing yourself etc.
|Positive self-perceptions; self-efficacy (mastery motivation system)
|Emphasis upon effort and growth mindsets and a can-do attitude, realising personalised, SMART goals, awareness of Character strengths, positive self, new skill mastery opportunities, leadership opportunities,
|Faith, hope, and a sense of meaning in life (meaning-making systems of belief)
|Connections to Anglican faith, building hope via growth mindset and can-do attitude, Connecting venture to real life/big picture, meaning & purpose focus, beyond ATAR, gratitude focus via letter writing task,
|Friends or romantic partners who are supportive and prosocial (attachment)
|What makes a good friend/mate, no bullying culture, inclusion, positive humour, gratitude and empathy focus, good leadership, character strength focus, positive relationships and teamwork.
|Bonds to effective schools and other prosocial organizations (sociocultural systems)
|Referring to connectedness via house community groups, school culture, school and house pride, school ambassador/representative conduct, general teamwork emphasis,
|Communities with positive services and supports for families and children (sociocultural)
|Support to help cope with anxieties around venture: Heads of House and mentor links and support, Learning support services, Counsellor services, venture information evenings. Instructor support & encouragement.
|Cultures that provide positive standards, rituals, relationships, and supports (sociocultural)
|Venture Connections to Indigenous culture and values, Anglican faith, references and connections to school values – Truth, Respect, Service, clear & consistent behaviour standards and expectations.
Of course, St Peter’s College does far more to develop resilience, than just run journey programs. Sport is the other obvious area where these resilience factors apply but the culture of the school generally, and the Wellbeing Program specifically, have vital roles to play. I will expand upon these areas in future newsletter articles, but it is important to focus upon the potential resilience gains of the Year 10 21-day journey, whilst the experience is fresh in the minds of students, teachers and parents.
Head of Wellbeing