By Susan Palmer, Head of Middle School
“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” – James Joyce
“Failure is not the opposite of success. It is part of success.” – Arianna Huffington
These quotes and more grace the entry to Don Myers’ Idea Lab, the spot in the Middle School where making mistakes (and bouncing back from them) is on display each and every day. As students employ engineering design thinking, they often encounter setbacks and challenges on their way to creating a workable robot or building an effective phone charger. Resilience is the ingredient that permits our students to revise and retool, leading eventually to a finished product of which they can be proud.
Students who demonstrate resilience finish what they begin and try very hard, even after experiencing failure. They work diligently and independently, seeing setbacks as temporary. They have effective coping skills and a positive self-concept. They cope in the face of adversity, and resilience is often related to perseverance. Strongly correlated with academic achievement, resilience also has value in the workplace, in personal relationships, and in managing life’s challenges.
Suggested reading on grit, perseverance, and resilience includes Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed and Angela Duckworth’s work at the University of Pennsylvania. On the Mission Skills Assessment administered at Greenhill, boys score higher on resilience than girls, and there is a strong correlation between resilience and life satisfaction. Our own Middle School Exemplars lists ”Reacts resolutely to setbacks” as a specific behavior to encourage and teach in our young people.
When Middle School teachers observe students who seek assistance after a disappointing grade, who learn from their errors in judgment, or who move through disappointment to yet another attempt, they know that they are seeing the emergence of a resilient and positive self-concept. The data provided us by the MSA and the sharing of programs with other schools like Greenhill are allowing us to learn new ways to coach and encourage resilience. Although defined often as bouncing back from failure, I see resilience more as the ability to move on, select another path, or firmly problem-solve in the face of disappointment. Middle School is the perfect place to develop resilience, a skill that has far-reaching benefits.