Tips for Teachers and Classroom Resources

Resilience: Brought to You by the Letter C

By Darri Stephens

Despite representing a just-average score, the letter C in education has popped up recently as a reminder of the A-worthy skills we want our children to cultivate today in order to thrive in tomorrow’s world. P21, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, championed the idea of “the 4 Cs” as part of their Framework for 21st Century Learning. These 4 Cs: Critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity speak to the shift from memorizing A, B, Cs and 1, 2, 3s to cultivating lifelong skill sets around problem-solving, teamwork, and ingenuity (watch Introduction to the 4Cs (4:01) by Common Sense Education).

Yet, as conversations have become more common recently around children’s social-emotional needs, another set of Cs has gained traction. Dr. Kenneth Ginsberg, M.D., M.S. Ed, is a pediatrician, professor, and author of several books around building resilience in children and teens. In his books and on his website, Fostering Resilience, he lists The 7 Cs: The Essential Building Blocks of Resilience, which are adapted from The Positive Youth Development movement:

  • Competence: When we notice what young people are doing right and give them opportunities to develop important skills, they feel competent. We undermine competence when we don’t allow young people to recover themselves after a fall.    
  • Confidence: Young people need confidence to be able to navigate the world, think outside the box, and recover from challenges.     
  • Connection: Connections with other people, schools, and communities offer young people the security that allows them to stand on their own and develop creative solutions.    
  • Character: Young people need a clear sense of right and wrong and a commitment to integrity.    
  • Contribution: Young people who contribute to the well-being of others will receive gratitude rather than condemnation. They will learn that contributing feels good and may, therefore, more easily turn to others, and do so without shame.   
  • Coping: Young people who possess a variety of healthy coping strategies will be less likely to turn to dangerous quick fixes when stressed.
  • Control: Young people who understand privileges and respect are earned through demonstrated responsibility will learn to make wise choices and feel a sense of control.

But let’s back up a bit … When you think of the goal of schooling, what comes to mind? What do you think its purpose is for the individual child? John Dewey, often thought of as the forefather of America’s public education, believed that public schools ought to give kids experiences that encourage them to tailor their learning and shape their future. He applauded intellectual growth as well as self-expansion.

His original theory ties to many of today’s “progressive” schools of thought: whole-child education, project-based learning, and social-emotional learning. Dr. Ginsberg concurs by outlining his 7 Cs for both parents and for professionals:

Ginsberg’s Fostering Resiliency website provides a list of questions for professionals (and a separate set for parents), which is a good tool to evaluate your own beliefs. Many of the questions ask what we, as teachers, are doing within our classrooms to foster a sense of safety, discovery, and independence — how we are giving the kids the space for trial and error?

Ginsberg rightly starts his list by questioning our expectations of our students. Like the Hippocratic Oath, I believe that teachers need to commit to the notion and sincerely believe that ALL children can learn and succeed; that each is worthy of high expectations. Sadly, in my years in education, I have met educators that don’t hold this belief. Some believe that if you hold low expectations, you won’t be disappointed — yet when it comes to children, it isn’t about our disappointment, it’s about their achievement.

If you Google “setting expectations for kids”, you will get a host of articles full of advice. The resounding theme in all of them is about being clear and consistent when talking with kids. Many advise making such expectations the norm by celebrating the small steps towards goals. Also, it is crucial to celebrate the notion of “failing forward” — recognizing that failure is part and parcel of learning.

Are we modeling desired behaviors and attitudes through our actions? As professionals, educators truly understand the importance and impact of modeling. The difference, in this case, is making connections between our personal perspective and our classroom methodology. An interesting exercise is to reflect upon your own sense of personal resilience by reading through Ginsberg’s questions substituting “them” for “you.”

So how can you embrace the letter C? Are there any other C-words that you’d add to describe your beliefs for kids’ individualized growth? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page.

Darri Stephens is a former member of Teach for America and a seasoned educator, with more than 10 years’ experience in Los Angeles and New York City public schools. She’s a published author, who has also worked for education-focused media companies including Nickelodeon, IMAX, EdSurge, and Discovery Education. With master’s degrees in education from both Harvard and Stanford, she’s passionate about creative curriculum development that pushes boundaries, especially considering the influx of today’s technologies. Her most recent positions as Senior Director of Content at Common Sense and Director of Education at Wonder Workshop underscore her love of instructional design, writing, and the ever-changing edtech world — so much so that she has now founded her own content consulting agency, Darrow Ink.

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