“When our students graduate from our program, they are resilient.”
In higher education, it is a well-known idea that survival in a difficult program makes a student resilient. But this idea is wrong. Yes, the students have proved their mettle. They survived. But this determination does not translate into an elastic person.
The resilience of teaching gives students the time and space to develop the skills they need: self-awareness, flexibility and the ability to learn from experience and focus on solutions, not problems. It changes their social barriers, their history and the way they view themselves so that they can confidently transfer those skills into their lives.
I teach resilience through the Institute of Applied Creativity for Transformation at the University of Dayton. The class completes the capacity per semester, with about 30 students in each department and a total of 120 students. Students acquire a resilient microcredential, created in collaboration with Education Design Lab, an educational-innovation nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. The digital badge assigned to their Credley account is loaded with metadata and helps future employers understand and transfer students. Applies resilience to their lives. And learned from experience.
For example, employers can click the Elasticity sub-qualification “Demonstrates Flexibility” and see evidence, such as a student’s final project, which could be something like an audio story or a business plan. On the student side, they can click on their own sub-skills and see a list of employers in their area or country who are looking for candidates with similar skills.
The concept behind microcredentials is, of course, broader than a distinct class. Any professor can weave this skill into the fabric of their existing course.
So how do we help students become more resilient in the classroom?
It begins by acknowledging that learning these skills is not easy. I have a quote at the top of my syllabus: “It takes courage to do this sitting down. Put your great self back.
It also takes a degree of weakness. Professors may struggle to get the meaningful and open discussion needed to teach resilience in the first week of a new class because they can get to know their students and students can get to know each other. The work is ideally suited to an integrated program or learning community where faith is already established. For example, when University Flyer Promise Scholars acquire resilience microcredentials, they already have a strong relationship with each other as they engage in service, mentoring, leadership training and other opportunities together during their undergraduate careers. Existing relationships allow them to develop deeper conversations about resilience or empathy as well as the development of understanding and skills.
It also helps to have a vehicle through which students can explore. I do this with music videos as a catalyst for students to understand how the most innovative artists today exemplify resilience through visual and verbal descriptions. In an interview with Soe Lee’s “Sunflower” video, students evaluate their own lives to identify their inspirations and concerns. They reflect the depth of their failures and responsibilities in understanding what they have learned through tone and for my video “Never See the Rain”. In the final project, each student creates a visual experience that bookings using a music video of their choice and two one-minute stories of how resilience and entrepreneurship skills existed and will continue, in their lives and why they are important. .
You can also use written reflection as they do in our nursing programs when they teach resilience. Nurses also share their reflections in a group, focusing on sub-skills such as self-awareness. Or you can use active learning, as another professor conducts an accessibility audit by inspecting an off-campus building to achieve creative problem-solving microcredit for students in his Foundation of Disability class.
Finally, to teach resilience we need to adapt our ideas about teaching our professors. As teachers we think we are the bearers of knowledge and we are passing that knowledge on to the students. The reality is that when you teach resilience, it has to be a collaborative experience. Of course, as an educator, you manage the room. But students give knowledge back to you and importantly to each other.
Resilience in practice
At our institution, we work to meet students at the crossroads of purpose, passion and potential. Experimental learning models designed to teach skills such as resilience claim that those human values are at the core of any education. The process is learning, practicing, reflecting. To begin with, “What does it mean to learn from someone’s experience?” I use a music video to discuss this. We then put it into practice with an activity like a “failure toss” that allows students to dynamically reflect on a recent failure in their lives and the knowledge they have gained from it. Students then discard their failures, their wisdom, or both. Ultimately, they spend time reflecting on the experience: Why did they throw away their failures? Why do their saints throw away their knowledge?
Yes, students get a grade for the course. But really, you can’t grade elasticity. There is no multiple choice test. For now, when I work to make something more grainy, I use a rubric for each sub-qualification that is a simple yes / no. For example, did the student actively participate in the failed toss? I don’t want to judge their resilience, but rather if they have developed an understanding of it and how to apply it. Student Capstone audio stories titled “Driven” are also profound examples of students demonstrating their resilience and empathy skills, which are published each year on our university’s public YouTube site.
This work is clearly necessary, especially in the context of the epidemic that has put additional pressure on each student. Now more than ever, students hear over and over again that they need to be more resilient — but no one is telling them what that means. Elasticity must be relevant — its sub-skills are placed in the context of each student’s life. This is how they begin to understand what that word means.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, this type of work is also valuable because more employers are looking for candidates who can demonstrate flexibility, initiative, and problem-solving skills rather than screening applicants with things like their GPA.
Many of us rethink our curriculum as we tackle the barriers posed by epidemics, so now is the ideal time to integrate students ’required skills into our courses. Let’s give students the tools they need to turn their perseverance into resilience.