California Educator

JUNE 2010

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Teaching students to bounce back Keira Flionis greets every student at the door with a handshake and a personal greeting when they enter her classroom at Wells Intermediate School in Riverside. When some- thing goes wrong, she talks about the importance of “bouncing back” and hands out rubber balls to make her point. She focuses on her students’ strengths and what they are doing right, rather than their weaknesses. Flionis, a member of the Alvord Educa- tors Association, attempts to foster resiliency in her students, because she believes it will help them do better in school and better in life. She doesn’t teach it as a separate subject; rather, she incorporates her philosophy of be- ing resilient in her regular curriculum. She decided it was necessary after real- izing that resiliency was the “missing piece” to help her low-income students be more successful. She attended training on how to foster resiliency in students, and started applying what she learned in day-to-day teaching. As a result, she says, her classroom became a better place. “I firmly believe that looking at resiliency had a huge part in t hat,” says Flionis. “The trick, I believe, was in focusing on what the individual students already had going for them. Before the training, I was focusing on what was wrong with the class.” For example, if a student misbehaves, she may take that student aside and comment on that student’s ability for natural leadership, and ask them to use that strength in a positive way. “Instead of saying ‘stop t hat,’ I’ll remind them that they know what’s right.” Necessary coping skills Flionis s ays s tudents these days are under more stress, but lack basic coping skills — and the ability to recover from adversity — in a way that previous generations did not. She counts herself among the growing number of educa- tors who believe it is necessary for schools to foster resiliency among students, since these skills may not be taught at home. Nan Henderson, who taught the resilien- also has strengths somewhere else. The chal- lenge is both to be aware of the problems and to draw upon the strengths of the person to help solve them — as well as to sincerely communicate the belief that the current problems can be successfully overcome.” Another example might be a student strug- gling with family problems who is failing two classes. Instead of confronting the student with the problem, another approach might be, “I know about all the problems in your family. Please tell me how you have man- aged to do as well as you have done? Perhaps we can use these things to bring up your grades in math and science.” Henderson has created the Nan Henderson Resiliency Wheel (see sidebar, be- low), which displays six key ele- ments to help build resiliency into the school environment and mitigate risk factors. The Resiliency Wheel cy workshop that Flionis attended, believes that it is important for educators to commu- nicate a resilient attitude that says to students: You have what it takes to get through this. “I interviewed a young man a few years ago who had lived a painful life of loss and abuse,” says Henderson, who has worked with school staff in Santa Monica, Los Ange- les, and other districts throughout the state. “Most of his adolescence was spent in one foster home after another. He told me that what helped him the most in attaining his own resilient outcome was people along the way that told him: What is right with you is more powerful than anything that is wrong. “In my trainings, people tell me that this is difficult to do,” continues Henderson. “For example, a child who is skipping class and re- sponding with anger and belligerence to any offer of help presents a typical paradox: At the very same time a person is weighed down with problems in one area of life, he or she Nan Henderson created the Resiliency Wheel to encapsulate the six key factors in developing resiliency in students. It includes three strategies for building resiliency in the environment: 1 Provide caring and support through positive relationships with adults and peers. 2 Set and communicate high expectations of success and reward small steps in the right direction. 3 Provide opportunities for meaningful participation and contributing to others. It also includes three strategies for mitigating risk factors in the environment: 4 Increase pro-social bonding through positive activities such as sports, drama, and community service. 5 Set clear, consistent boundaries with fair expectations and appropriate consequences. 6 Teach life skills such as communication, problem solving, stress management, and confl ict resolution. LEFT: California Faculty Association member Frank Lilly at CSU Sacramento. 10 California Educator | JUNE 2010 For more information on Nan Henderson’s training, visit

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