Skills Students Need: Resilience

Part 1 of a three-part series

Career educators will tell you that what we teach and how we teach is constantly evolving. Today, that evolution is centered on automation; how will it impact the jobs of the future, and how do we prepare students to thrive in an unknown landscape? In a word: resilience.

Resilience is defined as the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity (Ovans, A. 2015). Resilient people are naturally good at trying, failing and trying again. They’re often referred to as entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs are skilled at taking a dream or idea, identifying how it could benefit others, and monetizing it. Traditionally the “it” is a product or service, but as automation increases and the labor force changes, “it” is likely to become the laborers themselves.

It’s been estimated that just five years from now, more than 40% of the American workforce will be freelancers, part-timers, contract workers, or otherwise self-employed (Seth, R. 2015). This means the steadiest jobs will be the ones we create for ourselves. Trying, failing and trying again is about to become a highly marketable skill, one that today’s students will need to be successful at tomorrow.

We aren’t born resilient. In fact, in today’s culture where terms like ‘helicopter parent’ and ‘personalized learning’ are commonplace, resilience is often suppressed rather than encouraged. In our quest to make children comfortable or improve test scores we proactively solve their problems or try to prevent challenges from arising in the first place. We forget that in order to be resilient and try again students first have to fail.

Automation will bring changes, and those changes will likely result in a shift or even disappearance of some jobs. To help today’s students adapt to these unforeseen changes we need to teach them how to respond when they fail. We have to forego comfort and teaching to the test in favor of teaching resilience. We need to teach them to think like entrepreneurs.

The School’s Role

Traditional education generally has a beginning and an end,culminating in students proving their knowledge by taking a test (Leyden, A. 2018). This model, in which teachers lead students through classroom exercises that are then duplicated through rote memorization and recall, has been around for hundreds of years, not without success. However, the rise of the digital age has led to questions whether this traditional model is the best option to prepare students for their future.

Promoting rote memorization and recall essentially rewards the ability to follow directions and discourages creativity, which may be key to producing good employees, not leaders. In fact, a recent NASA study evaluated our ability to come up with new and different solutions (an entrepreneurial trait) and found that as we age our ability to innovate declines from a rate of 98% at age five to a mere 2% in adulthood (Engels, 2017).

When educators promote conformity or dismiss creative ideas if they were not included as part of the assignment, students lose their natural tendency to be creative. They slip into the role of “good employee,” a role computers are beginning to dominate. However, if schools nurture creative ideas they can arm students with the ability to adapt to the changing labor force or dictate their own career path, a resilient trait found in entrepreneurs.

Rather than placing a premium on memorization and test scores we should be encouraging creative thinking and problem solving, which can be done by assigning open-ended problems that require students to ask questions and reflect on the answers. Problems are eventually solved when students ask the right questions. One method schools are using to promote this concept is Project-Based Learning (PBL).

Project Based Learning is a strategy of student-led education that encourages engagement, educational motivation, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking (Horpyniuk, 2015). Though teachers assign a problem it is up to the students to determine the best strategy to find the answer thus resulting in a process that requires them to be internally motivated to find the solution.

Success in project based learning does not come from test scores, but from the student’s ability to drive themselves toward the answer, however they choose to proceed. Students may travel different paths and arrive at different solutions, but in the process they will have gained the skills entrepreneurs use every day: critical thinking, internal motivation and resilience. Further, because skills are attained at the student’s own pace, everyone has the opportunity to succeed to their best ability.

PBL promotes resilience because it challenges students to be internally motivated to find answers. However, any task that encourages students to ask, “what if” can achieve the same results. “What if” I could sell more than books online? “What if” cars could run on electricity? “What if” my phone was also a camera? Entrepreneurs start with a question, and resilience drives them toward the answer.

Entrepreneurial thinking nurtures unconventional talents like tenacity and risk-taking (Rodov & Truong, 2015). These traits help people advance their skill sets or create opportunities to utilize those skills, which will benefit them as employees or business leaders. However, in our effort to nurture more unconventional skills we must be careful not to discourage the skills that have been the foundation of the education industry for centuries.

Mastery of concepts, time management, and autonomy are critical skills that can be negatively impacted by unstructured teaching methods if assignments are so ambiguous or complex that students feel overwhelmed or teachers end up offering too much assistance to bring the project to fruition. Provided the assignments have the appropriate level of difficulty and time requirements, assignments that encourage a “what if” style of problem solving can expose students to the real-world skills that are defining the careers of the future.

The Parent’s Role

It probably feels like much more, but in reality, North American kids spend less than 15% of their time in school (Seth, R. 2015). That means a significant part of a child’s development comes from what happens outside the classroom, and lessons are everywhere.

Grocery shopping, laundry, yard work and playing with others are opportunities to expose kids to planning, organization, time management and creative thinking skills. Offering to do work for neighbors teaches social interaction and sales. Even the inability to complete any of these tasks without making a mistake offers a lesson in resilience. However, that’s a lesson parents often struggle to teach.

According to Lynn Lyons, psychotherapist and author, “We have become a culture of trying to make sure our kids are comfortable, trying to stay one step ahead of everything our kids are going to run into.” This approach teaches children that someone else will step in to solve their problems, a train of thought that is characteristic of a good employee, not an entrepreneur.

A parent’s natural instinct is to protect their child, but in the case of preparing them for life as an adult parents need to adopt a wait-and-see approach. In other words, parents need to let their children falter, and give them an opportunity to try again before they come to the rescue. The goal is to communicate that it’s okay to fail, but not to give up which promotes resilience.

Encouraging resilience may require parents to shift their way of thinking. For example, rather than giving out allowance ask children to suggest ways they might earn money. Instead of giving them a game and telling them how to play ask if they can think of a different way to play it. In place of showing them the answer to a homework problem ask them how they think it could be solved, and experiment with different ways to reach a solution.

Each time a child is given the freedom to accomplish a task on their own they learn problem solving and creativity, develop self-confidence, and may even acquire a curiosity for how things work or how they can be adjusted to work better. Taken together these skills result in an internal drive to succeed, a key trait of resilient thinkers.

Another way to raise resilient thinkers is to push children outside their comfort zone. Encourage them to try a new sport, join a new club or meet a new friend. Even class selection can be used to push boundaries, such as encouraging the musician to try a math explorations class, or the mathematician to try drama.

Letting children reside in the places that are familiar to them may seem like a good way to ensure their comfort, but it can also condition them to fear change. Resilient thinkers aren’t afraid of change. They welcome the opportunity to explore things that are new and different. As parents we should be encouraging that exploration.

Perhaps the greatest lesson in resilience parents can offer their children is to be resilient themselves. Children often model the behavior of those around them, and if they see their parents struggling to find motivation, avoiding risk or giving up they are likely to adopt those traits in their own lives. In extreme cases, where parents rely on substances to cope with failure, children may learn to model that behavior as well.

Parents don’t have to be entrepreneurs or over-achievers to promote resilience, they simply have to be willing to face change head on. Volunteer for a special project at work, tackle a DIY project at home or take another run on the slopes after falling the first time. Modeling resilience does not require a complete upheaval of your daily routine, just the ability to face rather than avoid opportunities that come along.

Parenting is about guidance, not solving every problem or preventing problems from occurring. According to Dr. Roshini Raj, business-owner and entrepreneur, it isn’t necessary to teach kids to become entrepreneurs themselves, but rather to, “teach the values that enable it; hard work, creativity, and, above all, passion.” The best way to teach these values is through example.

Giving children age appropriate responsibilities and freedoms provides them with the opportunity to learn failure and resilience without lasting consequences. This in turn will help them adapt to and ideally thrive in a workplace fueled by automation and a labor market that may cater toward contractors and freelancers rather than full-time employees.

Merging Parent & School Roles

Parents and teachers are both thoroughly focused on teaching children the right way to do things. Teachers may be motivated by district-mandated test scores and the need to keep an orderly classroom, and parents may be motivated by safety and security concerns, but by removing challenges and risks they are not educating the whole child.

Teachers and parents alike need to reward creativity as much as they reward conformity. They need to praise both failure and success while acknowledging that neither scenario means the task is complete if it can be done better the next time. They need to celebrate what makes each child unique and encourage them to pursue that which inspires them. Doing so will help stimulate pride in achievement, resilience and self-confidence, which can lead to a love of learning and an appreciation for hard work. By giving seemingly opposite skills equal weight we can educate the whole child, creating entrepreneurs rather than employees.

Join the Conversation

Lessons promoting the right way or the safest way to do things can and do help children learn to navigate the adult world. However, we shouldn’t be so focused on showing children what we believe is the best solution that we rob them of the opportunity to explore their own solutions.  

Parents and schools must find a balance between the old and new ways of thinking. By giving students a solid foundation of core knowledge (the traditional method) and challenging them to apply that knowledge to open-ended problems (Project Based Learning) we promote resilience and entrepreneurial thinking.

How does your school teach kids to be resilient? Does your school follow a traditional teaching strategy, a PBL teaching method, or another method? How do you feel about the strategies used at your school?

References

Bell, S. (2010). Project-based learning for the 21st century: Skills for the future. The Clearing
House, 83(2), 39-43.

Bennet, P. (2016). Edutopia Project-Based Learning: Where’s the Evidence that PBL Measures Up? (https://educhatter.wordpress.com/2016/12/18/project-based-learning-wheres-the-evidence-that-pbl-measures-up/)

Engels, C. (2017). Ideapod – We Are Born Creative Geniuses and the Education System Dumbs Us Down, According to NASA Scientists https://ideapod.com/born-creative-geniuses-education-system-dumbs-us-according-nasa-scientists/

Horpyniuk, P. (2015). Department of Education, University of Victoria –  Using PBL With Junior High School Students https://dspace.library.uvic.ca:8443/bitstream/handle/1828/6095/Horpyniuk_Paul_MEd_2015.pdf?sequence=ambigious =y

Leyden, A. (2018). Teachthought – 10 Simple Ways To Engage In Lifelong Learning (https://www.teachthought.com/learning/10-simple-ways-to-engage-in-lifelong-learning/)

Ovans, A. (2015). Harvard Business Review – What Resilience Means And Why It Matters (https://hbr.org/2015/01/what-resilience-means-and-why-it-matters)

Tartakovsky, M. M.S. (2018). PsychCentral – 10 Tips For Raising Resilient Kids (https://psychcentral.com/lib/10-tips-for-raising-resilient-kids/)

Rodov, F. & Truong, S. (2015). Entrepreneur – Why Schools Should Teach Entrepreneurship (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/245038)

Seth, R. (2015). Fast Company – How Parents Can Teach Kids Entrepreneurship Early https://www.fastcompany.com/3054063/how-parents-can-teach-kids-entrepreneurship-early

Shandrow, K. (2015). Entrepreneur – 8 Entrepreneurial Skills You Should Teach Your Kids https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/252004

 

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