Working Toward Developing Resilience in Our Students

By Pete Hoepfner, AASB Board President

Greetings school board members!

Fall seems to be approaching quickly and the excitement of the new school year starting is transiting the great state of Alaska. I hope everyone has high expectations of all of our students, staff, administrations and school boards starting out fresh in this new school session!

This year, my commentaries have been focused on ways of identifying issues that children are facing, that hinder or create barriers for their education. By being proactive in our approach and policy work, rather than punitive, having staff work with children who are having difficulties with attendance and those that are floundering or frustrated in the classroom, we can elevate our students to success!

This month I would like to talk about RESILIENCE:

  1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.
  2. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity (the brain!)

Resilience is that quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise up. Some of the factors that make someone resilient, are a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. Resilient people have an outlook that they are able to self-change their course.

Coping and functioning well despite adversity or trauma is resilience. If schools recognize the importance of students’ social and emotional well-being as well as having a supportive school climate, this will promote positive academic and behavioral outcomes, and helps in increasing our students resilience.

Families, schools and communities can support students development of resilience by:

  • A positive and supportive family, including warmth, stability, cohesiveness, a positive parenting style, and high expectations.
  • Presence of a caring adult outside the family, such as a teacher, counselor, coach, or mentor.
  • Belonging to groups and institutions, like schools, clubs, organizations, and religious communities.

In the school setting, here are some strategies that can be used to build resilience in students:

  • Promote positive social connections between staff and students, among students, and between schools and home.
  • Nurture positive qualities, such as empathy, optimism, or forgiveness, and give students a chance to use them.
  • Notice and reinforce qualities that are key to resilience.
  • Avoid focusing on failure or negative behaviors.
  • Teach by example, which is an effective approach; train staff to develop the same qualities.
  • Applying restorative justice techniques can help schools by giving students a structured opportunity to work difficulties out by encouraging reflection and empathy.
  • Foster feelings of competence and self-efficacy.
  • Set high expectations for students; teach them to set realistic, achievable goals, and also how to reach out for help when needed.

The following website is an excellent guide for resources on building resiliency in all age categories. Please take a few minutes and look at this resource: Resiliency Guide for Parents and Teachers

Everyone is shaped by their life situations. Children come to school from a variety of backgrounds, carrying their “baggage” with them, just like adults. By trying to understand the circumstances and home life that the children come from, gives us a picture of the “whole child”.

As school board members, we can help children succeed simply by stopping and talking with the children, asking students what their goals and dreams are, acknowledging their work in school, giving them kudos for their struggles and successes in the classroom and in student activities.

The main work that school board members take part in is policy development. By creating policy in which Resilience and the whole child are considered, ensures that children will be looked at as more than just a student failing courses, and can help address the reasons why the child is not seeing success.

This diagram is taken from the Alaska Resilience Initiative website. Being proactive, and thinking of the “whole” child – the environment they come from – and realizing punitive measures do not help when a child come from an adverse background.


For more information on resilience, visit:


Also, if you’re a Facebook user, a great page to follow is: Alaska Resilience Initiative. “Follow” this page to get updates on what they are working on around the state, and the progress they are making.