Resilience can be defined as: ‘a person’s capacity to handle environmental difficulties, demands and high pressure without experiencing negative effects’ (Kinman and Grant 2011 – lead Professor at Bedford University and Chartered Psychologist).
It is a word that is used quite a lot in the media and in education but what does it look like? How do young people acquire it? We tend to idealise childhood and adolescence as a carefree time, but youth alone offers no shield against the emotional hurts and traumas many children and young people face.
At School, the pastoral teams work closely with girls to encourage and support their development of resilience because we know that adolescents have to deal with problems ranging from adapting to a new phase of education, falling out with friends, and possibly traumatic family situations in addition to the uncertainties that are part of growing up. Building resilience can help our girls to manage stress and feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.
However, being resilient does not mean that young people will not experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common when we have suffered major trauma or personal loss, or even when we hear of someone else’s loss or trauma.
Dr Ginsbury, a leading paediatrician specialising in Adolescent Medicine at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, US has identified 7 “C”s of resilience. These identifiers are what we encourage and foster at Northampton High School.
Competence – the feeling of knowing that you can handle a situation effectively
During PSHEE sessions, students are given scenarios that young people face regularly such as falling outs with friends, bereavement, stress and many more and discuss positive coping strategies to deal with these.
Confidence – a young person’s belief in her own abilities
This is about focusing on the best in a young person. Getting to know our girls, developing a close tutor/tutee relationship is crucial so that we can praise their qualities, personal achievements and academic success.
Connection – developing close ties to family and community, creating a sense of security leading a young person to connect with others
Recognising our values and core beliefs as a person so that young people understand what constitutes a healthy relationship. Working with peers, staff, the community and parents in a positive way helps a young person foster healthy relationships.
Character – how a young person develops a solid set of morals and values to determine right from wrong and to demonstrate a caring attitude toward others
How older girls modelling positive behaviour influences younger girls to treat others with respect and tolerance. Working not only as a school community but smaller communities within that, such as the House system, tutor groups, charity working groups, and many more.
Contribution – understanding the importance of personal contribution and how that can serve as a source of purpose and motivation
We encourage girls to take part in as much volunteering and charity work as time permits. Sometimes young people may feel helpless but can be empowered by helping others. Duke of Edinburgh Award Schemes, National Citizens Service, House charities and Form charities are opportunities for each young person to contribute in some specific way.
Coping – learning to cope effectively with stress through developing positive and effective coping strategies
Guidance by staff, tutors and parents enables a young person to model positive coping strategies. The Big Sister Little Sister programme builds ties with older girls who share their experiences with younger girls, in order to provide them with the right guidance in how to cope with a stressful situation and advice on which person from their network of support can assist.
Control – young people who realise that they can control the outcomes of their decisions are more likely to realise that they have the ability to bounce back. Empower girls.
Tutors and teaching staff dedicate a lot of time to talking with girls, providing guidance and support in their personal endeavours and academic needs. The partnership between staff, girls and parents is very important to us as we aim to nurture and promote confidence and competence in our girls.
There is no simple solution to guarantee resilience in every situation but we believe that knowing girls well and the adequate training and experience of staff can help girls develop the ability to negotiate their own challenges and to be more resilient, more capable, and happier.
Recently, a cross section of teaching and support staff were trained in a Mental Health First Aid course, designed to equip staff with the skills needed to support girls who face mental health issues. We know that mental health and emotional problems often develop during adolescence. With greater awareness and understanding of these issues, we are able to provide help to prevent the emotional or mental health problem developing into a more serious state.
Even our Prime Minister, Teresa May’s speech signalled a ‘long-awaited and much-needed shift in thinking’ on Mental Health and the government’s recognition ‘..that the key to creating a mentally healthy society is held within our schools, communities and workplaces, not just in our health service…. This is perhaps the most vital context to help prevent mental health issues. We need the whole school to take responsibility for our children’s wellbeing’. This is a welcome approach and focus as mental health influences how we think and feel about ourselves and others. The capacity to learn, communicate and to form, sustain and end relationships, coping with change, all test our resilience.
We aim and believe in fostering an environment that enables girls to develop their emotional and spiritual resilience which allows them to enjoy life in school with a positive sense of well-being and an underlying belief in their own self-worth.
Head of Pastoral Care