California Educator

JUNE 2010

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Q&a Resiliency expert weighs in Pediatrician and author Kenneth Ginsburg, an expert on child and teen resiliency, visited Gunn High School in Palo Alto earlier this year after a s tudent “suicide c luster” devastated the school community. We talked with him recently about the importance of teaching coping skills to students. CALIFORNIA EDUCATOR: Why is there a need for schools and teachers to foster resiliency in children and teens today? KENNETH GINSBURG: Children and teenagers need many layers of support in order to be resil- ient. While parents are probably the primary layer of support, teachers provide a critical support to young people within the school setting. They watch over peer relationships and teach kids how to thrive despite academ- ic bumps. The bottom line is that teachers spend more time with kids than many par- ents do and are vital to children’s resilience. Teachers contribute both to helping kids thrive and to catching problems in the early stages, hopefully preventing most crises. Is there a tendency to protect young people instead of teaching them to bounce back? There’s no question that parents want to wrap kids in protective quilts to somehow protect them. But kids have to learn their own life’s lessons. You don’t do them a service by pro- tecting them from every little thing, although you need to protect them from big and dan- gerous things. You also have to let them fall down sometimes so they learn how to get up. How do teachers convey to students what’s important — and what’s not — when it comes to stress? The bottom line is that if it can’t physically hurt you, it’s not a true emergency. Our body reacts to stress as if we are in a jungle running from a tiger, and that is what makes us so un- comfortable. We have to be able to distin- Once thought to be an inborn trait that some have and some do not, resilience is now recognized as a process that everyone is capable of, and this capacity can be tapped and even cultivated by educators. Researchers Bonnie Benard and Sara Truebridge assert that resiliency allows for development of social competence, problem-solving skills, critical consciousness, autonomy and a sense of purpose. Truebridge, a former teacher, says, “Resilience is more about how one teaches than what one teaches.” She currently works with students, educators, and administrators to help them understand the power of resilience and supports them in developing strategies and a plan of action that foster resilience for everyone in the school community — students, teachers, administrators and parents — to promote school success for all. The Penn Resiliency Program, a behavioral therapy program at the University of Pennsylvania, received coverage on National Public Radio, which noted that resiliency curriculum “can be as powerful as taking antidepressant medicines.” An evaluation of the program showed that it prevented symptoms of depression and anxiety among students and negative behavior. Resiliency training may be a trend, but it’s not exactly new: There has been more than 40 years of developmental research in the area of resiliency and student outcomes, observes Truebridge. ABOVE: Kenneth Ginsburg, pediatrician and author, is an expert on child and teen resiliency. guish between a real tiger that can hurt you and paper tiger that just feels like it might be dangerous. A real tiger is something that can chew your face off. A paper tiger is some- thing that feels stressful, but can never really Continued on page 29 Cultivating resiliency in students “What people have found is that when high-stakes testing was put into effect, it didn’t totally work, and it didn’t change the way children were performing. I think we’re finally getting to resilience by default — because nothing else works. Resilience is about looking at the whole child. And, ironically, it works and it doesn’t cost any money.” She believes that the three most important factors in developing resilience in students are “external assets” which she defines as: caring relationships with school staff; high expectations and conveying to students they are “worth something”; and giving youths opportunities for participation or meaningful involvement in school and community. These external assets, in turn, engage students’ innate capacity for positive characteristics or “internal assets,” which include cooperation, communication, empathy, problem solving, self-awareness, and setting goals and aspirations. In school communities that focus on building both external and internal assets, students engage in lower rates of “risky” behavior, such as binge drinking, smoking cigarettes and marijuana, and bringing weapons to school. A study by Truebridge and Benard found this especially true in California and noted, “In this way, school communities throughout California can weave the fabric of resilience for all of our children and youth.” JUNE 2010 | 13

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