3 ways I model resilience for my students

By Ashlee Upp, MEd

Even as a veteran educator, I began this school year feeling uneasy. Navigating new learning systems. Following enhanced safety rules. And on top of school concerns, worrying about the well-being of my family. I questioned my ability to juggle it all.

This year hasn’t been easy. But it’s been a real-life exercise in the power of resilience for me — and for my students. 

Resilience is a trait that helps us cope with challenges. During the pandemic, we have the obligation and opportunity to help build resilience in our students.

Here are three ways I’m modeling and teaching about resilience in my classroom. 

1. Emotional awareness

Being aware of all our emotions helps us label them accurately. Once we label them, we’re better able to choose appropriate regulation strategies. That’s why emotional awareness is critical to building resiliency.

With that in mind, I teach my students to label their feelings. I use the Mood Meter. But you can use any system that works for your classroom.

I begin each class by sharing how I’m feeling using precise language. I might say, “Today I’m feeling very proud because of the excellent work you all did on your assignments yesterday.” Or “Today I’m feeling tired because my baby woke up four times last night. I need to take a big breath to help me focus on the day.”

Next, my students reflect on their feelings. They communicate their mood and energy level through colored cards. For example, green cards mean a pleasant mood and low energy.

Then, students share how they feel aloud with the class if they want to. We talk about our feelings and practice empathizing with the feelings of others. 

2. Self-compassion

Self-compassion means being kind and understanding to yourself. When something doesn’t go the way we intended it to, we can respond in a way that’s considerate of ourselves. We understand that making mistakes, feeling uncomfortable, and having conflicts are all parts of life. 

To model self-compassion, I often share my challenges with my students. For example, if I’m having trouble with technology during a lesson, I use mindful breathing and positive self-talk. I show how these strategies can relax the nervous system and allow me to move forward. 

I also remind my students that we can use self-compassion even when challenges result in big feelings. I teach my students to use loving-kindness with themselves.

Together, we take time to quiet our environment, close our eyes, and think of kind thoughts to send to ourselves. These positive messages help us mindfully connect with the process of learning. 

3. Humor and happiness 

Many of us are feeling stress, anxiety, sadness, and even guilt during the pandemic. These feelings are all valid, but we need to remind ourselves that many of them are temporary.

It’s also important to know that naturally, our brain focuses more on negative stimuli than positive stimuli. It’s our brain’s way of alerting us to potential danger and keeping us safe. But this bias can impact our resiliency unless we purposely find bright spots. 

One way to bring positivity into the day is with laughter. That’s why I tell a joke — or have my students share one of theirs — as part of my welcoming routine. This activity primes our systems for resilient learning and helps us refocus on the positive even during tough times. 

Another way we find bright spots is with reflection. At the end of the day, my students and I use the Three Good Things strategy to think about small moments that sparked joy.

For example, I might share how I felt proud when they cheered each other on during a game at recess. This reminds us of the good that’s all around us, even when things might not be ideal. 

The school year has been undeniably tough so far. But while many doors closed during the pandemic, the door to strengthening our resilience has opened. That gives us an opportunity to help students thrive in these uncertain times and beyond. 

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    About the author

    About the author

    Ashlee Upp, MEd is an Understood Teacher Fellow and teaches first grade in Camden, Delaware.