Resilience is the ability to cope and thrive in the face of negative events, challenges or adversity. Schools have the capacity to promote the resilience of children and young people.
What resilience is
Resilience is the ability to cope and thrive in the face of negative events, challenges or adversity. Key attributes of resilience in children and young people include:
- social competence
- a sense of agency or responsibility
- a sense of purpose or hope for the future
- attachment to family, to school and to learning
- problem solving skills
- effective coping style
- pro-social values
- a sense of self-efficacy
- positive self-regard.
Schools can enhance resilience through program that build positive and social norms and generate a sense of connectedness to teachers, peers and the academic goals of the school.
What schools can do to enhance resilience
Schools can enhance resilience through programs that build positive and social norms and generate a sense of connectedness to teachers, peers and the academic goals of the school.
Building resilience: A model to support children and young people
The building resilience model was created to support schools to foster the learning resilience and wellbeing of children and young people. It is an evidence-based approach to developing personal and social awareness, including:
- social awareness
The evidence base that underpinned the development of this model is available below.
Partner with the school community and local community services.
Why work together?
Working together is the best way to positively influence student outcomes. Positive approaches to building the resilience of children and young people include active partnership with:
- the broader community
- health and wellbeing service providers.
Effective school partnerships enhance a sense of connectedness to school for students, parents and providers. A sense of connectedness to school is an important protective factor for young people. Children and young people who feel cared for by people at their school and who feel connected to learning are more likely to be motivated, and show improved academic outcomes.
School connectedness is also associated with a range of positive physical health and mental health outcomes. Children and young people with a higher level of school connectedness are less likely to abuse substances, engage in violence, report mental health problems or engage in sex at an early age.
Students with low connectedness to both learning and to peers have higher risks of substance or mental health problems, and are more likely to leave school early.
Self-belief and empowerment are among the strongest indicators for school engagement.
Research has found that a broader focus on a student’s strengths and assets is important for building their skills and competencies as well as reducing problem outcomes.
Recognising the importance of parents
The development of social and emotional skills is not confined to the school. These skills are also learned and practiced in the family. There is strong evidence that parental involvement in schooling and the atmosphere towards learning in the home make a significant difference to educational achievement and wellbeing.
The Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework stresses the importance of family engagement, as children learn in the context of their families and families are the primary influence on children’s learning and development. For this reason, it is critical that school staff and early childhood professionals foster strong relationships with parents and families.
Effective leaders recognise the importance of a whole-school approach to building resilience in children and young people, by embedding resilience at organisational, relational and pedagogical levels.
They also encourage positive teacher-student relationships that have been shown to enhance student cognitive, emotional and behavioural engagement.
At a classroom level, each teacher is a leader. They model the personal and social skills they want their students to develop, and provide collaborative learning activities to help students engage with each other and the learning tasks.
Promoting positive peer relationships
Whole-school approaches take a proactive approach to promoting a healthy peer environment. The quality of their peer relationships significantly influences students’ overall experience of school (Holfve-Sabel, 2014).
Positive peer relationships provide friendship, support and inclusion, and are a protective factor linked to positive educational outcomes, reduced risk taking and mitigation of other existing risk factors (Holfve-Sabel, 2014).
Negative peer relationships, such as those related to bullying, have a significant negative impact on student wellbeing. Both bullies and victims are likely to suffer from mental health problems later in their school years (Allison, Roeger, & Reinfeld-Kirkman, 2009; Dake et al., 2003; Ken Rigby, 2013; Rønning et al., 2009) .
Levels of engagement
Schools enhance wellbeing and engagement, and build resilience at three levels - organisational, pedagogical, and relational.
At an organisational level, schools:
- establish a culture of high expectation for learning
- develop a sense of optimism, purpose and school pride
- foster a friendly, respectful & inclusive environment
- generate a sense of optimism and purpose in students, staff and families
- implement a positive approach to behaviour management
- establish proactive policies addressing wellbeing and inclusion
- make effective use of teacher professional learning
- provide opportunities for student participation and leadership
- foster strong partnerships with students, parents, carers, community and service providers.
At a pedagogical level, schools:
- explicitly teach social and emotional learning skills
- provide a relevant, rigorous and well-taught curriculum tailored to age and ability levels
- provide a comprehensive wellbeing education program
- use a variety of instructional methods and technologies to foster participation in learning
- embrace the use of collaborative teaching strategies throughout the curriculum
- provide experiential, hands-on learning opportunities
- explicitly develop personal and social capabilities
- use feedback and coaching effectively
- use data to inform teaching
- provide an engaging curriculum.
At a relational level, schools:
- establish a friendly, respectful and inclusive environment
- have high but achievable expectations for student learning and behavior
- promote positive and supportive teacher-student relationships
- promote positive and supportive peer relationships
- use positive approaches to manage student behaviour
- foster a range of strategies to prevent and respond to bullying
- provide a range of extra-curricula learning activities to foster social interaction, team spirit and school pride
- notice and intervene when students experience problems related to learning or wellbeing.
Teachers and early childhood professionals are well-placed to identify children and young people with additional academic, social or wellbeing needs and to instigate school-based efforts to provide targeted support.
At particular times all students need more care and attention than usual, and some children and young people need greater social, emotional or academic support on a more intensive or ongoing basis.
This may include the provision of additional support within the regular classroom or withdrawal for provision of counselling, additional pastoral care or skills-development programs, or specialised learning activities.
Students with higher levels of social or emotional distress also continue to benefit from the provision of secure and positive routines within a supportive and friendly classroom.
Teachers work with their school wellbeing staff, leadership team, regional support staff, and other service providers to provide appropriate support for those in need.
Some social and emotional problems affecting students require specialist assessment and intervention. Schools can play a key role in the early identification of students in need of specialised mental health support and in linking them and their family to the appropriate service provider.
Identifying these issues early can help to minimise the impact of mental health distress, and enable students to continue to develop key emotional and social competencies whilst receiving the support they need.
Approximately 14% of 12-17 year olds and more than a quarter (27%) of young people aged 16-24 experience mental health problems and/or mental illness each year. Teachers have an important role to play in de-stigmatising mental health problems, fostering positive attitudes towards help-seeking, and preserving students’ connectedness to the classroom if they experience periods of absence or illness.
Help-seeking studies have found that students are reluctant to seek help from professional sources because this means engaging with a person who is a stranger about their most personal problems. However, teachers can have a powerful role in acting as a gatekeeper for the young person to access professional help (Mazzer & Rickwood, 2013; Rickwood et al., 2005).
All schools should have well-developed reporting pathways and connections with specialised services. These pathways can also be used to accelerate referral of students experiencing significant mental health distress or signs of suicidal thinking or behaviour.
One way that schools can promote resilience in children and young people is through the teaching of evidence-based programs that explicitly foster social and emotional learning (SEL).
This includes the skills of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social management. Within AusVELS, this is described as Personal and Social Capability.
This capability involves students developing their skills in recognising and regulating emotions, developing empathy for others, understanding relationships, establishing and building positive relationships, making responsible decisions, working effectively in teams, handling challenging situations constructively, and developing leadership.
Education settings promote the personal and social capabilities of students by incorporating explicit evidence-based health, wellbeing and social and emotional learning (SEL) programs into their curriculum, and through the use of collaborative learning activities across the curriculum. Research demonstrates that students who participate in rigorously designed and well-taught SEL programs are more resilient, show improved academic outcomes, demonstrate more positive social behaviour, and are less likely to engage in risky and disruptive behaviour, including risk-taking with alcohol and other drugs.
Collaborative games, role-plays, stories, group tasks, experiential exercises and class discussions are commonly incorporated within SEL programs. Effective programs include a combination of knowledge, social and life skills, normative approaches, critical thinking and negotiation skills.
They are most effective when delivered within a broader wellbeing curriculum that incorporates a focus on a range of social, physical and mental health issues, when delivered by the classroom teacher, and when provided in schools with a positive relational climate and as part of broader organisational, relational and pedagogical strategies to promote wellbeing.
Key external resources
Evidence base: building resilience literature review
The building resilience literature review provides a summary of the current evidence base to inform schools in their approach to building resilience and promoting the personal and social capabilities of their students. This evidence underpinned the development of the building resilience model.
To view a summary of the review, see:
building resilience executive summary
To view the review in full, see:
building resilience in children and young people
Student transition and resilience training (START) resource helps increase the capacity of schools to build student’s transition from year 6 to 7. For more information, and to access the resource, see:
transitions and student wellbeing