Adaptability

One thread that runs through the preceding chapters concerns adaptability. While not explicitly introduced, the capacity to manage new, changing and uncertain situations as they arise is certainly an underlying facet of academic buoyancy. A related factor is the capacity to recognise when the strategies we are employing aren't working for us or are actively working against the pursuit of long-term and short-term goals. Being critical about the way we are doing things isn't easy by any means and often what we perceive as familiar appears to help us deal with emotions such as fear. We, therefore, often stick with what we are doing because it's better than facing uncertainty. In the same way that people might remain in a destructive relationship or in a job they despise, students often stick with strategies and modes of behaviour that are damaging but familiar.

Two examples of such behaviour might illustrate how we cling onto maladaptive behaviours. The first is the insistence of some students that they work better whilst listening to music. They might offer several explanations for this, including better concentration and the filtering out of distractions and they might truly believe that listening to music has benefits for their learning. Generally speaking, this notion is both counterintuitive and isn't supported by evidence from memory research. A problem also arises because it's impossible to test the claim beyond a carefully controlled laboratory setting. The student might indeed be aware of their error but ignores it because it feels right.

A second example involves the way students revise for exams. We know from research that techniques such as highlighting and re-reading content have minimal effect on exam preparation, and that self-testing reaps the biggest rewards (Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, Nathan & Willingham, 2013). Nevertheless, highlighting and re-reading remain the most popular revision strategies with students because they represent a low level of uncertainty. Testing, on the other hand, can lead to a drop in confidence and a number of other deactivating emotions that students prefer to avoid.

Adaptability, therefore, involves some kind of risk and less buoyant students feel unprepared for it. Rather than face the possibility that they might highlight their weaknesses and lack of knowledge, they continue with strategies that award them a false sense of progress and success. This might safeguard their self-esteem in the short-term, but their overconfidence may soon turn to disappointment. This jettisoning of unhelpful strategies requires us to re-write these internal narratives.

The problem of bias

Another important area that has recurred throughout this book concerns our perception of success and failure. Often, these perceptions include errors in thinking such as the belief that we are a failure despite evidence to the contrary. However, other errors occur when we are attempting to process and interpret information from the world around us; these errors are known as cognitive biases. People often reach conclusions based on short-cuts that are formed over time and constitute rules of thumb; sometimes these can be useful but at other times they can be harmful, such as in the case of stereotyping. They are also necessary because the human brain simply can't handle the amount of information that is thrown at it every day. However, these short-cuts (biases) can also lead to us making poor decisions and bad judgements as well as leave us open to manipulation by others. From an academic buoyancy perspective, they can also encourage us to keep going when things get difficult or adapt when we encounter new situations. We can also shift these biases to make them useful to goal pursuit and habit formation.

Relationships

Despite the seemingly obvious connection between positive academic outcomes and student-teacher relationships, there is still a distinct lack of good quality evidence available. Often, we only have anecdotal post-hoc information regarding that inspirational teacher or the teacher who helped us turn our life around. But it's also perfectly feasible to do well academically and have very poor relationships with teachers. What, perhaps, we need to think about is the kind of relationship. Supportive relationships, as we have seen, help students to cope with adverse conditions and having someone that they can talk to about their fears and problems was highlighted by Werner as being an important protective factor.

Teachers should engage, support and challenge (not necessarily in that order) but needn't try and become the most popular. Being optimistic yet realistic about student outcomes is vital if teachers are to place themselves in a position whereby they can support students with their goal pursuit, including overcoming setbacks. Rutter highlighted high expectations and school ethos, including clear and consistent notions of how rewards and sanctions should be applied and relationships often break down if some teachers are seen to be favouring some students over others. Teachers, therefore, need to nurture their own psychological capital if they are to encourage it in their students, and they will also find it useful to set their own goals.

 
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