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This is Resilience

Google how to develop resilience in students and an endless list of sites pop up with advice for teachers and parents. It’s amazing how many organizations are focused on developing this single quality. In truth, I’m not a believer in our students’ resilience deficit. Do I see students and parents struggling with disappointment? Sure. Does it concern me? Yes. But I attribute it more to a greater sense of care about meeting one’s goals or parental expectations in the modern era than a lack of personal fortitude. An intense focus on personal success and disappointment in not achieving one’s personal goals is different, in my mind, than a lack of resilience. 

Resilience is a quality developed throughout one’s life. It’s learned through adversity far greater than the grades one earns or college to which one is admitted. My grandmother, who grew up in an orphanage, went to work to support herself at 13 and lived “a good life” until the age of 99, often told me, “Janey, life is grand as long as you don’t weaken.” She had challenges in her life but she’d be the first to say how fortunate she was. She was resilient not because someone taught her to be, but because her life presented her with so many opportunities to learn to be. 

My life has been easy compared to hers but I, like all of us, have faced disappointments, tragedies and misfortune. When I run up against these experiences, I remember my grandmother’s stories and take a moment to reflect on how I navigated through past challenges. Getting through each one, some better than others, earns each of us a brick in what I call the resilience foundation. We draw strength from these discouraging, unpredictable or scary life experiences with each brick we lay in that base of support. 

Living through the COVID-19 quarantine reminds me of the necessity to revisit the challenges I’ve faced and to encourage students and families to pause to reflect on this exercise in resilience. It is scary. It is unpredictable. It is discouraging. And, it presents those basic human instincts that focus our attention in a crisis—self- and community preservation. I don’t know how to do a lot of the things I’m doing now. Run a distance learning program with no homebase? Never heard of it! Each one of us can list all the things we are learning how to do right now without time to perfect our skills. We need to get on with it and we have. This is resilience. 

When I hear that our attendance in classes is close to 100% despite illness and worry in the community, I think that our students are resilient. When I listen to their active engagement in our remote classes, I think our students are resilient. When I hear seniors signing up to help teachers with young children at home or who need technical assistance and students at large reaching out to offer their skills and humanity at neighborhood nursing homes and schools, I think they are resilient. 

We are living through a time that asks us all to dig deep and find the hard-won resilience that exists in our souls. It’s there. Remember a personal loss or disappointment and use that experience of fighting your way back to fight your way into helping others who need you, us, Brearley now. This is resilience.

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