Defining Success Through Resilience

Photo by Anna Samoylova, Unsplash

I recently stumbled upon Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg and his work in defining the importance of resilience in youth. I can relate to this both on a personal and professional level. In his book, Building Resilience in Children and Teens (Ginsburg et al. 2015), Ginsburg talks about how important it is to strike a balance between the two extremes of parenting. On one side of the extreme you have an overprotective parent that won't let their child do anything without them knowing and on the other side you have a parent who never really knows where their children are. He then goes on to say that "with any extreme, you need to recognize it for what it is, craziness". He states that it is up to us to find the right answer somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. He refers to this as a "balanced approach to parenting" where we can find a middle ground that both allows our children to learn from consequences and guarantees their safety. He states that this is what will help prepare children to be successful in life.

Photo by Pawel Janiak, Unsplash

Childhood is the time to truly learn who we really are as people. It is the time for us to learn from our mistakes and to discover our own personal limitations while simultaneously learning consequences and boundaries. As a parent I completely agree with this philosophy. I practice this with my own daughter as I strive to instill a sense of resilience in her as well as an appreciation for the idea that our actions have consequences.

As an educator I feel that this philosophy continues in the classroom as well. A large part of the teacher's job is to create successful, well rounded students. Just stating it like that makes it sound easy enough but really the idea of instilling resilience has very little to do with just teaching the content and a heck of a lot to do with essential skills. Creating a well-rounded person that can adapt and deal with disappointment requires a lot of commitment and perseverance on the part of the parent or educator but the payoff is well worth it. If we truly are striving to empower our students to become anything they want and to tackle the world's problems with a determined and open mind we need to prepare them for this.

I would argue that, although resilience can be taught in a traditional classroom setting, it can be achieved more effectively through project-based learning and inquiry. Ginsburg calls this realm "free play" and goes on to state that unstructured playtime gives youth the chance to discover their interests and to tap into their creativity. Let's take those two extremes of parenting described by Ginsburg and parallel them to teaching. On one end you have the extremely structured teacher that always relies on right and wrong answers. They are good at what they do but have a very structured way of doing things. In this environment students may feel pressure to get the right answer and may experience high levels of stress when they make mistakes. Students are driven by fear of failing and have no connection to the content. On the other end of the scale you have the teacher that has no structure in their classroom whatsoever. In this environment students have no concept of consequences, no drive to succeed and one could describe it as chaos.

In finding a midpoint between these two extremes we can stumble into inquiry. In this sweet-spot of learning we maintain structure but allow the students to explore and play freely. By giving students the chance and the time to explore and discover on their own they are discovering themselves as people. Through this process they learn their interests, their passions and their shortcomings. Moreover, they learn how to work cooperatively and how to be innovative and creative.

Ginsburg goes into more detail describing the impact of this process by breaking it down into the seven C's of resilience:

1. Competence - Students need to be recognized when they are doing something right and to be given the

opportunity to develop specific skills.

2. Confidence - Student confidence can be nurtured or bolstered by educators by teaching real skills (the Four C's of 21st Century Learning for example) and by helping them set achievable goals.

3. Connection - Being part of a larger community allows students to feel that they are part of something that matters and helps them realize that they are not alone. Having a network of skilled individuals around you to help you through challenges and makes the task seem less daunting.

4. Character - Students need to understand what is right and wrong. Ginsburg talks about being able to receive and give constructive criticism and this definitely comes from having empathy and a strong character. The ability to acknowledge when something is not right is essential to succeeding in life.

5. Contribution - When students contribute something meaningful to a larger community they feel good about it. They feel that they are impacting the lives of others in a positive way. This larger community creates a safe space for students which translates into them feeling more comfortable asking for support when they need it.

6. Coping - As educators it is our obligation to teach students that it is okay to fail. When our students are able to learn from their mistakes and to work through high stress situations they are less likely to give up or feel defeated when the going gets rough.

7. Control - The final piece of the resilience puzzle is understanding that we are in control. A huge part of being human is testing the limits of our environment and working toward controlling or understanding it.

Inquiry and the maker mindset embodies all of these characteristics. I honestly can't think of a more effective way to achieve all of this than through empowering a student through making. When a student is given the opportunity to create and express themselves in their own way they are not only building competencies and skills for the real world but are connecting with a larger community of makers that are supportive and motivating all at once. This connection to a larger community gives the student purpose and meaning and a feeling that they are contributing to something significant. This in turn leads to them feeling the need to share their successes and failures in order to help others. Their desire to understand and control what they are passionate about builds strong coping skills that allows them to see failure, not as the end of the road but as an opportunity to learn more about the world around them.


Ginsburg, Kenneth R., et al. Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2015.

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