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What is resilience? This was the first question I had to ask myself when I began investigating the phenomenon several years ago. Back then it was an area that was only just beginning to attract the attention of teachers and it would be a couple of years before it was pushed to the forefront of the educational agenda. It soon became clear that answering this question was more problematic than it at first seemed. Delving into the research literature, I found little that related directly to learning or the difficulties that school pupils face daily. Instead, there were descriptions of young people raised in extreme poverty or other dire circumstances who thrived despite these early challenges. This view of resilience didn't seem to fit with what I wanted to investigate - how I could help my students to better cope with day-to-day hassles such as a disappointing grade on a test, competing deadlines or the anxiety that arises as high-stakes exams approach.

As for interventions, I discovered that they were many and varied in their intentions. Some had vague outcome measures while others adhered more strictly to the research. Far too many failed to even define what they meant by resilience or did so in a rather woolly and indeterminate way. They also tended to try and accomplish too much, such as increase academic outcomes and tackle wider mental health and wellbeing concerns.

Resilience is, therefore, determined by outcome, or what it is we want to target. Becoming Buoyant isn't about assisting young people facing extreme adversity but looks at ways teachers can help students face daily challenges. The emphasis, therefore, is not on teaching students to become more resilient but on equipping them with a set of skills and psychological attributes that prevent minor yet subjectively relevant challenges from developing into major problems. Many of these skills aren't new or revolutionary and may well have played a role in your teaching career already. The difference is that they are now brought together under a single unified approach inspired by a concept known as academic buoyancy, a sub-category of resilience that emphasises the role of daily hassles in academic settings.

Proven methods

The strategies included in this book all have a strong research base drawn primarily from psychology, behavioural economics and wider aspects of cognitive and behavioural science. They include common techniques such as routine building, habit formation and stress management, but also delve deeper into the latest findings from personality psychology and goal theory. The overarching emphasis is on the five primary components of academic buoyancy along with the added emphasis on external factors, or community (a sixth C).

  • • Confidence
  • • Coordination
  • • Control
  • • Composure
  • • Commitment
  • • Community.

These 6Cs are powerful when used together under a single embedded intervention. The first five are taken from the model of academic buoyancy devised by educational psychologist Andrew Martin, with the sixth (community) included because much of the research into resilience highlights the role of wider factors, such as parents, teachers and community groups. Schools are communities and a strong shared ethos of challenge and high standards can help students who experience the pressure of academia more acutely.

The 6Cs needn't be (and perhaps shouldn't be) explicitly taught, but be integrated in the fabric of the whole school. Indeed, there is good reason to suggest that pupils shouldn't necessarily be aware of the process at all, as this can lead to some students declaring themselves to be more buoyant than others and feed into a performance goal orientation (one where comparing ourselves to others restricts the ability to engage in challenging goals).

Why now?

The plethora of interventions and the increase in talk around resilience have inevitably muddied the water to some extent. There are many common notions of resilience and those within education and beyond have their own ideas of what it means in a practical sense. Interventions also differ as do the tools used to measure outcomes, that is, if they measure outcomes at all. Some schools award students resilience scores in the same way as they share predicted exam grades without being able to explain clearly where these scores come from. Measuring these attributes is incredibly difficult and there are currently several methods of doing so, all valid in their own right but difficult to correlate with each other because they often measure different things.

There is also a tendency to conflate resilience with other so-called non- cognitive factors. These other factors usually include aspects of character, grit, growth mindset and several other components that tend to wax and wane over time. The UK government has certainly promoted character and resilience at different times over the past few years, but their commitment seems tied to the whims of the incumbent Secretary of State and ambitious intentions have often been abandoned or scaled back as the job is handed from one individual to another.

Despite government inconsistency, interest in resilience has been largely maintained within schools themselves, as can be seen by the number of organisations offering training. However, the time has come to take a more pragmatic approach and return to the research that has been informing our understanding of resilience for more than half a century. Becoming Buoyant strips back the layers that have accumulated over the past few years and asks a simple question - 'what is it we want to achieve?' If the answer is simply 'to make our students more resilient' then, chances are, we don't quite understand the question, because resilience is a complex, multifaceted construct that needs deconstructing before we can even attempt to answer such a question. Becoming Buoyant attempts this deconstruction before building a model of academic resilience from the ground up.

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