Resilience education

Mrs A Ingram, Dean of Students

Resilience can mean different things across various disciplines.

‘In physics, resilience describes the process by which other objects revert to their original shape after being bent or stretched. In medicine, it refers to the ability of patients to recover from injury or illness’ (Clarke & Nicholson, 2010).

Howard and Johnson (1999) define resilience as ‘the inherent and nurtured capacity of individuals to deal with life’s stresses in ways that enable them to lead healthy and fulfilled lives.’

Psychologist Andrew Fuller is an expert in child, adolescent and family psychology and consults to communities and schools about the promotion of resilience. He provides a more accessible definition for youth, describing resilience as ‘the happy knack of being able to bungy jump through the pitfalls of life’ (2012). Whenever ‘tough stuff’ happens, resilience is the ability to rise above and rebound from adversity (Fuller, 2012).

QUOTE4Whatever the discipline, the recurring theme linked to resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’. Research has identified that some people appear to be more resilient than others, less deterred by setbacks and clearly demonstrating a greater ability to bounce back, regardless of life experiences that threaten to disturb and overwhelm them. How we develop and promote resilience is an area of intense research and debate.

Research into resilience often focuses on risk and protective factors. Risk factors are particular characteristics or circumstances that, if present, increase the likelihood that an individual, when exposed to stress, will develop an emotional or behavioural problem (Keogh & Weisner, 1993).

Longitudinal studies in this area have revealed that, as the number of risk factors in a person’s life increases, the chance of a positive emotional outcome decreases  (Gilligan, 2000). Cumulative risk leads to poorer outcomes with respect to emotional resilience. Reducing the number of risk factors, even by one, has been found to have a significant impact on the individual’s level of functioning (Gilligan, 2000).

In the shift towards a strength-based approach, research has broadened to consider protective factors, which have a profound impact on resilience and can serve to ameliorate the adverse effects of risk factors. Indeed, psychological outcomes are now understood to be determined by the interplay of risk factors and protective factors. Protective factors are described as attributes of the individual and their environment that temper the effect of the individual’s susceptibility to stress (Carbonell, Reinherz, & Giaconia, 1998). Research has identified a range of protective factors that impact on outcomes for at-risk youth, making it clear that there is no single pathway to resilience (Fuller, 2012). Characteristics of the individual found to promote resilience include high levels of persistence, approachability and well-developed social skills. Environmental factors that have been shown to lead to a positive outcome include family stability and support, sound peer relationships, community involvement, and a sense of connectedness to family and friends.

Problems arise when risk factors outweigh protective factors; however, while an increased number of risk factors can be associated with low resilience, the right combination of protective factors could prevail over the negative effect of risk. It is this process of interaction between risk and protective factors, at both the individual and environmental level, that is said to determine resilience (Kalland, 2002). There is evidence that it may, in fact, be the individual level factors that have the greatest contribution to resilience and, therefore, exert the most influence (Kalland, 2002).

In 1993, Werner (cited in Keogh & Weisner) identified that young people with inadequate coping skills were still able to develop resilience through the use of education and intervention programmes that focused on the promotion of social skills and problem solving. In the last two decades, a range of intervention programmes for youth have been developed world-wide. These programmes aim to reduce the number of risk factors while simultaneously promoting protective factors and individual strengths. Working from a strength base to develop a positive outcome is ultimately more respectful of the young person. A sound example of one such model is the evidenced-based ‘Friends’ programme, written by Dr Paula Barrett, Founding Director of Pathways Health and Research Centre, and currently used in the Year 8 Ethics programme.

An important component of the School’s strategy for resilience education is engaging authoritative guest speakers to address students, staff and parents. This year we have benefitted from presentations by Mr Paul Dillon and Mr Brett Lee, experts in drug education and cybersafety respectively. Both these respected presenters have identified that the key to protecting our youth rests in education.

Paul Dillon has been working in the area of drug education for the past twenty-five years. Through his own business, Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA), he works with many agencies and organisations across the country to give regular updates on problem drug trends within the community. Paul’s work with many school communities ensures that they have access to good quality information and best practice drug education. His best-selling book for parents, Teenagers, Alcohol and Drugs, was released in 2009.

Paul Dillon’s presentations to the students are quite unique and always exceptionally well-received. A previous teacher with a tremendous wealth of knowledge in his area and a talent for connecting with teenagers, Paul is able to engage with the girls in a very special way and build meaningful relationships with them that continue to develop across three years. Each year, members of staff comment on his ability to connect with his student audience. Paul’s key focus is on developing a trusting relationship with the girls, which ensures that the information he offers is accepted.

As emotional ties of connectedness between youth and adult occur, information provided during the teachable moment is more likely to be accepted and become deeply learned, not because of the information per se, but because of its context, the caring process. (Brown, 2004)

Presentations such as those given by Mr Dillon and Mr Lee have their foundations in resilience education. Resilience education acknowledges that some people have certain protective factors built in. These factors in a person’s life promote wellbeing, and can be qualities inherent in either the individual or their environment. Resilience education aims to strengthen the existing qualities of the young person and improve the environmental factors they are exposed to in order to assist them to make positive decisions across important areas such as alcohol, drugs and using online technology.

Unfortunately, some drug and cyber education programmes are delivered in an attempt to scare young people through techniques that involve fear arousal. Research has shown that this strategy has not been successful for many young people and, in fact, can have the reverse effect, discouraging a young person’s quest for knowledge and limiting their opportunities for critical decision-making (Dillon, 2013).

Resilience education centres on fostering a balanced environment that is supportive of youth with a direct focus on the specific protective factors and appropriate information that will allow for lifelong flourishing. There is little evidence to suggest that resilience-based prevention programmes will reduce the rate of experimentation with alcohol and other drugs; however, the research does indicate that the more resilient young people are, they will be less likely to fall into serious trouble with high-risk behaviours including frequent or heavy alcohol or other drug use (Dillon, 2013).

By nurturing and strengthening the individual protective factors of our students and ensuring that we continue to provide a range of positive environmental factors for them, we increase their resilience and give them a greater chance of bouncing back when they are faced with future challenges.

References

Brown, J. (2004). Drug education and a resilient (re)action. MAPS, 14, 28–31.

Carbonell, D. M., Reinherz, H. Z., & Giaconia, R. M. (1998). Risk and resilience in late adolescence. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 15, 251–272.

Clarke, J., & Nicholson, J. (2010). Resilience: Bounce back from whatever life throws at you. Surrey: Crimson Publishing.

Dillon, P. (2013, February 19). Young people and drugs. Presentation to students at Brisbane Girls Grammar School, Brisbane.

Fuller, A. (2012). Resilience and young people. Retrieved May 10, 2013, from http://vimeo.com/43821184

Gilligan, R. (2000). Adversity, resilience and young people: The protective value of positive school and spare time experiences. Children and Society, 14, 37–47.

Howard, S., & Johnson, B. (1999). Tracking childhood resiliency. Children Australia, 24, 14–23.

Kalland, M. (2002, August). Risk and protective factors affecting the development of children in foster care: Systemic approach. Paper presented at the IFCO 2002 Conference, Tampere, Finland.

Keogh, B. K., & Weisner, T. (1993). An ecocultural perspective on risk and protective factors in children’s development: Implications for learning disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 8, 3–10.

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