Pupils often describe experiences as a “disaster” or a “catastrophe”. Their emotions might “flood over” or “erupt”, or cause a “collapse”.
It’s perhaps not so fanciful, then, to use the language of hazard mitigation to establish a framework for supporting pupil resilience in schools.
In managing hazards such as earthquakes and hurricanes, geophysical policymakers and planners often use a model based on four elements – prediction, preparedness, protection and prevention – to guide strategy and interventions aimed at reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience.
So, how might we use the model of the four Ps to develop a resilient pupil body?
We know these tests to our pupils’ resilience are coming. It is also clear that some students have a greater number of issues to face or more challenging problems to deal with. In addition, some are more sensitive to setbacks than others. What we need to do is offer tailored support to build a child’s resilience in the face of these predicted difficulties. If we do this, there is a better chance that the hazard will not become a full-blown disaster; and if the disaster does come then the resilient child is more likely to bounce back.
Schools already have considerable support in place, whether that’s teaching resilience in personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) lessons or one of a variety of school initiatives on supporting wellbeing and good mental health. Schools also do other things to develop resilience in the pupil body. Activities such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and community support programmes take students out of their comfort zones in a controlled way. At their best, such activities have a steeling effect that helps build self-reliance and self-esteem, which are closely linked to resilience. Pedagogy that emphasises collaboration and independent learning can also build preparedness in this way.
Our aim in schools should be to build cumulative support factors into our structures. We might want to armour-plate our pupils but hard-won lessons from hazard-defence engineering suggest that flexibility and give are more effective than the rigidity of a barricade in dealing with high-magnitude events. In school terms, such support is when a pupil knows they have a person of warmth they can turn to if they feel the walls crumbling and the ground shaking. It would be no bad thing, then, for schools to check that every pupil can name at least one person they would speak to if they felt the need to press the hazard alarm bell.
We cannot prevent many of the hazards that our pupils will face as they move up the school. In any case, it would not be healthy to screen them from every difficulty. However, we should look at whether we are actually contributing to these pressures and conflicts. Psychologist Carol Dweck, who developed growth mindset theory, suggests that we should praise wisely – by not complimenting intelligence or talent but “the process that kids engage in: their effort, their strategies, their focus, their perseverance, their improvement – this process-praise creates kids who are hardy and resilient”.
All pupils are at risk from the storm and thunder of growing up. Because of this, it is vital that all are given support to develop their resilience. Schools can use this four-Ps model to identify need, raise awareness and build strategies. The plural is key – we need to employ a number of different but complementary approaches if we are to nurture and support a sustainably resilient pupil body.
Kris Spencer is an assistant head at Latymer Upper School, and governor and director of Notting Hill Prep School, both in West London
Share ideas on what it means to be resilient with this assembly.
This series of classroom activities on building resilience comes from Wellbeing@School.
This Year 12 class teaches “resilience rounders” to help students develop positive self-talk.