If you are a teacher, you have probably had to learn resilience very early into your job. Either that, or you will have very quickly moved into a totally different profession. Lately our school has placed a greater focus upon teacher well being, knowing that ultimately, our students are going to be better off if they have a teacher who is well-rested and able to cope with the demands of the job. Mental illness impacts more lives than we may even realise and children often fall victim to its presence, whether it be through the life of a family member who is struggling, or their own feelings of inadequacy.
While a great deal of learning will naturally happen through modelled teaching, how else do we teach and equip students with the skills to cope when the world around them causes them pain or stress? How do we help them to even identify the warning signs? With very little time allowed for Personal Health and Development in the school curriculum, how do we embed this sort of teaching into our day-to-day routine? As much as students are in our class to receive an academic education, they will walk away with more social and life skills than we will ever realise. Every moment of the day is opportunity for them to learn a life lesson. And this will often occur, whether you plan it into your schedule or not.
The first thing I believe we can do to teach students resilience, is to encourage thankful hearts. This process of thanking God for the little things each day, will eventually assist them to focus more on the positives than the negatives within a situation. Even if you do not work within a Christian school, you can still draw students attention to the blessings in their lives and make them aware of the things they may naturally take for granted, such as hot running water or an education.
Another important question to ask is, ‘What should we do when we feel sad or afraid?’ While I would suggest first and foremost that we pray to God when we are feeling upset, we can also encourage students to talk to someone special in their lives. It may be their mum, dad, a school friend or even you, their teacher. Whoever it may be, the vital part is that when they are feeling overwhelmed, they know there is someone they can go to to share their worries with. Often, this someone will offer them just the right amount of comfort, support and encouragement, to lift them out of the place of darkness they may have stumbled into.
Children also need to realise that one way of increasing their resilience is to do something kind for the sake of another. God made us to love others and share His love with the world. The simple act of caring for another human being, by doing something nice for them, blesses us as much as it blesses them. It is almost a form of healing. Some of the most beautiful and giving people I know have experienced a lot of pain in their lives. Yet despite this, they have moved through it, loving and blessing others as they go.
I once had a class who were frequently involved in a high level of social incidents to do with unkindness. In my frustration in dealing with what seemed like the same incidents every day, I created a ‘kind-o-meter’ to measure the level of kindness in my class. While it was nothing fancy, starting purely as a drawing of an empty vase on my whiteboard, it became a focus point for the class very quickly. Whenever I noticed someone saying or doing something kind, I would begin to fill the vase with small amounts of water. Once the vase reached water capacity, flowers would then begin to appear with each kind deed I saw or heard about. Students were encouraged to tell me if someone in the class did something kind for them in the playground and if so, this would be added to my vase. It was a matter of creating new habits, and it significantly reduced the amount of negative social incidents I was battling with at the time.
Speaking of nature, being outside in God’s creation is a wonderful way of coping when you feel overwhelmed. Having suffered with depression myself, I know that I am a better, healthier person when I have spent some time outside in a field, a park or even just the school grounds reflecting upon the wonder of God’s beautiful world. Every sunrise and sunset is a gift freely given to us by God. Often just taking your students outside for an art lesson can be a truly rewarding experience which can teach them to step outside more often.
Children also need to be reminded that they are unique, loved and of value. They need to feel that there is a reason for their life on this earth, even if they have not uncovered their specific purpose yet. Hope will keep you more grounded than you could imagine if you believe there is something special that God intends for you to do, even if you are not exactly sure of what that me be. Children who are regularly reminded to trust and believe in this, will hopefully turn into adults who will remain calm in the midst of the inevitable storms of life and keep pressing on towards their goals.
As Matthew 6:25-26 reminds us,
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
If students feel they matter, that their thoughts, their words and their work matters, then they will better equipped to face the unexpected hurdles of life head on.
The other thing to remember is that when you open up your heart, children will listen. When you admit that you are human and vulnerable by sharing the ways you have made it through hard times, these moments will remain in their minds for a long time to come. The advice you give today, could be the very advice they draw upon to help them get through the stress that their adult life (or even childhood life) will bring them. If we realise and embrace the fact that teaching is not just about academics but also about teaching life skills such as resilience, then hopefully we stand a better chance of impacting more hearts in a positive and life-changing way.