A New Twist on Fostering Resilience

The concept of building "grit" or resilience has become something of a fad in the education world. It has the usual challenges of a fad - a burst of interest, often not grounded in practice or research - but it also has lasting value if considered and implemented carefully. Helping young people develop resilience can lead educators to consider students' emotional and inner lives, not just their outer performance. It can lead toward a culture that embraces failure as a learning opportunity, rather than simply punishing failures with a bad grade. And at best, it results from a school culture that values reflection and self-awareness. This is our hope in embracing the concept at Millennium. 

Earlier this month, an article in the New York Times added a new dimension to this conversation. It combined two studies of how people handle stress and adversity; one study focused on adventure racers and special-operations soldiers, the other on average healthy adults. The results were fascinating - among those who coped well with stress, the key to their capacity was body awareness, not rational thought. When the going got tough, those who were unaware of the stress building up in their bodies until it became overwhelming panicked and did not fare well. Those who were highly aware of how their body was responding were able to calm their physiological response to stress, maintaining focus even in very stressful conditions.

"“To me, this study says that resilience is largely about body awareness and not rational thinking,” said Dr. Martin Paulus, the scientific director of the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Okla., and the senior author of the study. “Even smart people, if they don’t listen to their body, might not bounce back” as quickly from adversity, he said, as someone who is more attuned to his or her physiology." (reference)

We find this research very promising, as it encourages educators to see students even more holistically, linking physical awareness with goals that are broader than physical health alone. It speaks to a more "integral" approach to seeing a young person. As we develop our PE program, we're focused on approaches that build physical awareness and help to connect mind and body; practices like yoga, breathing techniques, and aikido can all contribute directly. More broadly, this speaks to a way of seeing human potential in multiple dimensions, integrating students' intellectual, emotional, social, creative, ethical and physical capacities.