Springing forwards

There are many factors that go into making us who we are. We are biological entities whose current manifestation has been shaped by our evolutionary past and determination to survive, yet we are also products of our more recent history: our experiences both good and bad, hopeful and tragic. We not only survive, but also thrive in often hostile environments, adapt, grow and mature in order to provide the planet with a seemingly endless supply of our species. In this respect, we are resilient - all of us.

This book began with a number of assumptions, including the weaknesses of the deficiency model of human (or more specifically, child and adolescent) resilience. Young people do not lack resilience, determination, grit, buoyancy or any other psychological construct we care to choose, at least, no more or less than the wider adult population. All of us simply muddle through life to some extent or another, it's just that some of us muddle more effectively than others. People become resilient by experiencing adversity and all our experiences are different and each individual reacts uniquely to circumstances. Faced with life-threatening situations we are pre-programmed to display certain behaviours, but beyond this instinctive fight or flight response, we still behave in our own way.

Individual differences

Why is that some people will shake nervously when finding themselves in a dangerous situation while others will cry or break into fits of hysterical laughter? In this respect (and to paraphrase Clyde Kluckhohn and Henry Murray) every person is like every other person, somewhat like every other person and nothing like any other person (Kluckhohn & Murray, 1953). It would appear that all these differences would make it highly problematic to conjure up an all-encompassing way of teaching people how to cope better with both the big and the small problems we face each day Our genetic predispositions interact with the environment in highly complex ways, in part due to the differences in inborn traits and schemas stored in response to early experiences.

Academic buoyancy constitutes a number of important factors that can be present in some people, absent in others or exist in varying degrees in many. For this reason, Becoming Buoyant has investigated individual, stand-alone strategies that together increase the chances that students will be better able to cope with the setbacks and hassles that populate the everyday. Many of these strategies represent a kind of staying ahead of the game, or anticipating the hassles before they arrive and ensuring that students are able to head them off at the pass. It's more than just bouncing back and, in many ways, it's more about springing forwards. Bouncing back implies returning to a state that previously existed, perhaps overcoming the anxiety that arose during a stressful situation. What we truly need is a real and long-lasting adaptation, a newly adapted and stored blueprint that informs us that we do, indeed, have the capacity to move forwards towards our goal.

Students who set realistic goals know where to go and how to get there; they plan for unforeseen eventualities and use adaptive strategies to cope with anxiety and overcome failure. At the same time, these accumulated skills, habits and attitudes are stored in the form of psychological capital that can be utilised far beyond academic settings. They, therefore, represent life skills as much as they do study skills.

This is not to claim that buoyancy is only about the individual student because there is certainly a need for strong external support mechanisms, a culture of high expectations and an effective ethos that runs through the entire school. The ethos, or ecology, was highlighted as far back as the 1970s when Michael Rutter investigated pupils in London schools. In addition Emmy Werner highlighted the importance of wider support mechanisms and a strong sense of community in her own study of the Kauai children.

Interventions can be useful

Certainly, resilience interventions can be useful, especially when they are directed towards mental health. In addition, those interventions that employ strategies drawn from CBT have been found to be the most successful. It seems logical, therefore, that we include such techniques in any attempt to increase the capacity to deal effectively with anxiety, seeing as anxiety has been found to negatively impact buoyancy. The techniques and strategies discussed in this book are not intended to replace or provide an alternative for resilience interventions, but can be used to supplement them. In addition, while some of the factors discussed in this book might be found in resilience interventions, many would be referred to more as study skills than resilience skills.

Becoming Buoi/ant doesn't, therefore, represent an intervention. Interventions need careful design and implementation and their outcomes require careful evaluation. The preceding chapters do represent a series of strategies that can be used to design interventions because they have all been chosen due to their evidence base, an evidence base that has been referenced throughout, should you want to investigate further. There are other factors that play a role and these have been included in less detail. However, it's worth returning to these so that we can obtain a clearer picture of how we can encourage a more buoyant classroom culture.

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