Developing Deep Reservoirs of Resilience
As the dust settled after a year like no other, many of us are looking back to make sense out of one of the most challenging stretches we have experienced in our lifetime. Naturally, we want to understand the impact on our students, and what this means for them as they begin school this fall and their lives beyond. The answer lies not only in understanding what happened to us, but--more importantly--how we responded to the events over the last 15 months. What we saw was that our teachers and students responded by developing a deep reservoir of resilience—not in spite of, but because of, the hardships that were encountered. It was inspiring, and just what the research tells us about resilience!
One of the most important things a teacher can do, is to genuinely reflect back to a student their strengths and their growth areas. When their days include both high expectations and support, students feel that their experiences are important to the adults in their lives, and begin to understand their strengths can outweigh their struggles. A hallmark of a resilient culture is the one that seeks not to shield children from challenges, but rather to teach them how to overcome them. That is the goal. Resilience is not a fixed trait, but a learned response--it is a muscle that our children can develop when we allow them to experience disappointment, failure, and frustrations, and when we share these painful situations with them, without “fixing” them for some short-term gain that might be more important for us than for them. By standing back and allowing this important transformation to take place, we are giving them one of the most priceless gifts.
What we have seen over this past year, is what we have always known--or at least hoped--was there: that Waterford’s environment provides the right conditions for resiliency to develop. The winning combination is made of high expectations, caring relationships, and opportunities to participate in a larger purpose than oneself. While content knowledge is essential, at the core it is how a teacher interacts with her students that matters the most. Waterford’s teachers believe that each and every student has the capacity to be resilient. Every word and action of our teachers conveyed again and again to our students that their teachers believed that they could cross the finish line in a difficult year. And they did!
During the last week of school, Lower School students reflected on the ways in which they demonstrated resilience this year, writing their messages on helices, tangible representations of resilience that are found throughout nature, in galaxies, weather patterns and in our own DNA. As the students walked through the hallway transformed by almost 400 spirals, their amazement and wonder was evident. The helices are safely tucked away for a time in the coming year when we want to remind our students of how they developed resilience in a challenging year. While the tangible reminder will be meaningful, we know that they will carry their resiliency with them forever.
Melanie holds a doctorate in School Psychology and a Master of Science in Counseling from the University of Utah. Prior to being the Lower School Head at Waterford, Melanie held several positions at the McGillis School including Associate Head of School and School Psychologist. Melanie and her husband Michael moved to Salt Lake City 30 years ago to pursue their educational goals. In addition to appreciating the natural beauty of the mountains as a place to feed her passion for the outdoors, she and Michael quickly realized that Utah was the perfect place to raise a family. Melanie and Michael are proud Waterford School alumni parents of Benjamin ’17, Nathaniel, ’19 and Carolina ’21.