Resiliency in the Classroom – Martin Smith

For some reason the other day I was thinking about an old friend from my undergraduate days who once said to me, “I really don’t think I’m smart enough to do well in school.”  As a result of this memory, I wanted to take a moment to reflect upon what it means to be resilient in the classroom.  For The Power of Resilience authors Brooks and Goldstein, resilience is the ability to adapt under different situations with a positive mindset(1).  To simplify their model, they suggest resilience occurs when we can each identify negative mindsets in our life, set goals to change a negative mindset and replace the negative mindset with a positive one in order to meet our goals.  But how does this translate into the classroom?  What does it mean to be a resilient student?
If we apply this to students, they are constantly adapting to new learning environments such as new classes as they progress through their studies towards the end of their degree.  Therefore, to me, a resilient student must be someone who can readily adapt to new unfamiliar topics and set goals to understand them. If, for example, a math student thinks, “I am bad at statistics…” how will this mindset influence their ability to succeed in the classroom when they have to take a new statistics class? If you were to compare this against a similar student that enters the class with a positive outlook I think most people would agree that the math student with the negative mindset is more likely to quit when faced with adversity because they believe they are bad at statistics. On the other hand, the student with a positive outlook will be more likely to succeed.  It makes me wonder exactly how common this type of negative mindset really is.  Hopefully if we are privy to them, situations where negative mindsets have taken hold will become obvious and we can help students find positive mindsets to achieve their goals.
I’m happy to say my friend has gone on to successfully defend her MSc and is now doing well in medical school.  Apparently, she found her resilience!
(1) Brooks, R. and Goldstein, S. The Power of Resilience: achieving balance, confidence and personal strength in your life. (2004) McGraw-Hill, USA.


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One thought on “Resiliency in the Classroom – Martin Smith”

  1. Hi Martin,

    I agree that adaptability is important. I don’t think I believe in the positive mindset, at least in the way you phrase it. Research seems to suggest that people learn best when they think that their past successes are because they worked hard, not because they’re smart. In fact, if you tell someone that they did well because they’re good at X, it seems that they then develop paralyzing fear about being discovered to not actually be good after all. So indeed, if you think you’re bad at stats, but you get good results, you might be more likely to do the work that you need to do.

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