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Education as it should be – passion-based.

Resilience: The Other 21st Century Skills

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Due to the interest of my post The Other 21st Skills, I decided to individually discuss each of the skills or dispositions I proposed that are in addition to the seven survival skills as identified by Tony Wagner.

This post focuses on resiliency.  The first post focused on Grit:  The Other 21st Century Skills.  Some would categorize Grit and Resiliency as the same skill, but it is my belief they are involve two different, but interconnected, skill sets.  While grit focuses on persistence, resilience is about bouncing back in the face of challenges and/or failure.


Some of characteristics or dispositions of Resilience include:

  • Bouncing Back
  • Managing Emotions
  • Awareness of Strengths and Assets
  • Passion-Driven Focus
  • Resourcefulness
  • Sense of Personal Agency
  • Ability to Reach Out to Others
  • Problem-Solving Skills


Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.

Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn’t experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.

Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone. (The Road to Resilience)

Resiliency is not one specific thing, but a combination of skills and positive attributes that people gain from their life experiences and relationships. These attributes help them solve problems, cope with challenges and bounce back from disappointments.

Personal resiliency is about our assets – the resources, attributes and skills that help us recover from negative events or feelings, cope with challenges and adversity, and look after ourselves when things aren’t going well. (Kids Can Cope: Parenting at Home and at School)

Resilience research clearly reveals the following key points:

  • All individuals have the power to transform and change
  • Teachers and schools have the power to transform lives
  • It’s how teachers do what they do that counts
  • Teachers’ beliefs in innate capacity start the change process

A common finding in resilience research is the power of a teacher–often unbeknown to him or her–to tip the scale from risk to resilience. Werner and Smith (1989) found that, “Among the most frequently encountered positive role models in the lives of the children . . . outside of the family circle, was a favorite teacher.” The approaches, or “strategies,” used by these turnaround teachers provide a set of best practices or benchmarks to guide our work in classrooms and schools. Repeatedly, these mentors are described as providing, in their own personal styles and ways, the protective factors.

  • Caring Relationships which includes loving support, respect, compassion.  The bottom line is that learners are provided with a sense of “You Matter”  (see Angela Maiers initiative YouMatter)
  • High Expectations which includes belief in the learners’ innate resilience and self-righting capacities; challenge-with-support messages (“I know your can do this”); guidance without coercion; and a strengths-focus
  • Opportunities for Participation and Contribution which is facilitated by giving learners opportunities for being responsible for self and others; for reflection and critical thinking, for mastery learning and creative expression

(From Risk to Resiliency from Bonnie Bernard)

Research by Werner, Bernard and others indicate that one fo the major contributing factors towards resiliency is a positive relationship with an adult.  Optimally it should be a parent.  But if the parent is not available for any reason, it can be a teacher or coach.

Ways that educators can connect with learners include:

  • Finding one on one time with learners – during group work time, walking to lunch or specials, during recess, etc.
  • Listen deeply and attentively to what the learners have to say.
  • Insure that each and every learner knows “You Matter”
  • Enjoy being with the students.  If you don’t care deeply about them, then I believe there is problem.  I have said and will continue to say to my pre-service teachers, if you don’t love them find another profession.

Given the skills that promote resiliency, it is also the educator’s responsibility to:

  • Build a sense of community in the classroom;
  • Give students the opportunity to ask for help;
  • Give learners the opportunity to assist one another during difficult and challenging learning activities;
  • Honor, encourage, and reinforce the expression of feelings;
  • Encourage and reinforce learners’ own innate resiliency;
  • Promote and teach learners how to be assertive;
  • Ask learners to be accountable for their behavior – both positive and negative;
  • Normalize failure – teach learners how to reflect on their failures as opportunities for growth;
  • Help learners recognize and change negative, self-defeating self-talk;
  • Teach and help learners cope with stress.

If you, as an educator, take one idea from this post, let it be that working to maintain a positive and significant relationship with learners is the most important way to contribute to their resiliency.

Parting message to educators:

The key point from resilience research is that successful development and transformative power exists not in programs per se but at the deeper level of relationships, beliefs and expectations, and willingness to share power.

Relax, have fun, and trust the process! Working from your own innate resilience and well-being engages the innate resilience and well-being of our students. Thus, teaching becomes much more effortless and enjoyable. Moreover, resiliency research as well as research on nurturing teachers and successful schools gives us all the proof needed to lighten up, let go of our tight control, be patient, and trust the process.

Remember, you matter! Resilience research clearly tells us when you care, believe in, and “invite back” our nation’s most precious resource – our children and youth – you are not only enabling their healthy development and successful learning. You are, indeed, creating inside-out social change–building the compassionate and creative citizenry that will be critical to the 21st century. (From Risk to Resiliency from Bonnie Bernard)

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 30, 2013 at 2:36 am

5 Responses

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  1. “”Resilience comes to people of different ages. A two-year old boy named Kayden, remained strong even when he went through a double amputation. His video inspires people of all ages on overcoming obstacles in life.”

    Tara Schimmer

    July 22, 2014 at 2:27 am

  2. I absolutely love the idea of this series! Thank you for keeping my passion ignited! Can’t wait for the rest!

  3. I can’t believe I have found what I have been searching for… someone with passion for education… not just in teams of teaching but loving the students first and there by accepting a student with all of his/her’s strength, shortcomings,… but still continue to love and educate them.
    I accidentally got to this site…. I am wonder struck.. Thank you for writing this and inspiring


    December 15, 2015 at 4:25 am

  4. I found it very powerful to think about resilience being learned and taught. Not something you have or don’t.


    October 8, 2018 at 2:01 pm

  5. I am delighted to read a blog with insights into resilience. It is my interest area for research but above all its something I can relate with when it comes to students growth and development. I find it fascinating that how failure can lead to success… with a resilience, that I believe is built upon patience. A very refreshing read indeed.


    January 23, 2019 at 12:56 pm

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