Styles to Increase Student Resilience and Success
Suzanne Miller, Kristina Kauffman and Patricia Smith
ability to succeed in life as a worker, partner, parent and even
student depends on much more than a person's inherited intelligence
or IQ. Increasingly, business and personal success are being
linked to emotional intelligence or EQ. Emotional
intelligence is how we relate to and understand others and the world
around us. Regardless of a student's IQ, a student who has
a high level of emotional intelligence is more likely to have the
resilience, resourcefulness, and positive concept of self and others
necessary to succeed in college.
of Emotional Intelligence
infomation on Emotional Intelligence
a college setting, it is easy to see that students must rely on the
skills and characteristics of emotional intelligence every day to motivate
themselves to come to school and learn, to be considerate and work cooperatively
with others, to recognize one's strengths, and to have the confidence
to set and work toward personal goals. As an instructor, you will
encounter students who seem inherently capable of successfully completing
course requirements, but who fail to do so because of a lack of emotional
intelligence. They may exhibit characteristics and accompanying
behaviors such as those in the chart below.
Lack of discipline
Unrealistic view of self
lack of self confidence
over-confidence; over compensation
failure to acknowledge
accomplishments of self & others
anticipation of failure
excessively critical of
self and others
blames others for personal
Lack of respect for self
disruptive in class
sarcasm, cynicism, criticism
unable to work cooperatively
and Student Success
cumulative result of the behaviors that signal weaknesses in emotional
intelligence, especially among community college students, is a general
lack of optimism about their ability to learn. You might say these
students are the victims of their own "stinking-thinking"...
didn't pass this exam; I'm just no good at math."
40 years old; it's too late for me to start learning anything new
have 2 kids at home; I'll never be able to get through school."
You can help
these students develop their emotional intelligence through the teaching
strategies you select as well as by helping them recognize the patterns
of negative thinking that can have such a devastating effect on their
academic experience and success. These thought patterns are
referred to as the students' explanatory styles--the students'
internal dialogue that suggests their degree of optimism or pessimism
in the face of adversity and challenge--factors that are directly related
to student success.
Explanatory Styles to Increase Student Resilience and Success
It is true that
every student can't excel at every subject, but there is a difference
between thinking, "Advanced mathematics is rather challenging
so I have to work harder at it." versus, "I'm terrible
at math; I'll never get it." Students who give up easily
and think themselves incapable of succeeding are
more likely to drop out of college or severely limit their options.
Resiliency Project at the University of Pennsylvania is based
on the work of Martin Seligman, Ph.D., author of Learned Optimism.
The project has developed and tested workshops where valuable tools
from cognitive psychology are used to help participants become more
effective in their personal, academic and professional lives.
The work focuses
on Seligman's Explanatory Styles scale for pessimism/optimism.
The skills taught hold great potential for promoting student retention
and perseverance. They teach people:
on automatic thoughts and internal dialog when adversities occur
and challenge one's belief system
to be assertive
to deal with
failure can occur when talent and desire are present in abundance
but optimism is missing..." -
According to Seligman, "Learned
optimism is not a rediscovery of the 'power of positive thinking.'
What is crucial is what you think when you fail, using the
power of 'non-negative thinking.' Changing the destructive
things you say to yourself when you experience the setbacks that life
deals all of us is the central skill of optimism." (p. 15)
Seligman's work points out
that students are often trapped in negative thinking (or errors in logic).
How You Can
You're most likely
to discover this pattern of thinking in a student when he or she has experienced
a setback (academic or personal) and comes to see you in your office or
seeks you out after class for help. You will be able to recognize
some of the characteristics of a negative explanatory style:
in the face of unexpected adversity, e.g. a flat tire
on the way to school
"This is horrible.
The teacher won't believe I got a flat tire. I'll be late and
miss the test."
"This is a bad time to have a flat, but while I wait for the
auto club, I'll use the time to study for the test this afternoon."
"I'm doomed! If I miss this test, I'll probably flunk the
whole class, and there's nothing I can do about it!
"I'll call the instructor from the repair shop and ask for an
alternate test date in case I'm late."
"I'll never be able to finish my degree."
"This could have been worse. I'll be back on track in a few hours."
"Nothing ever goes right in my life. This flat tire is just
one more thing in a long line of bad luck."
"I haven't bought new tires in a while; I guess it's overdue."
"That instructor never liked me. That's why she wouldn't stop
to talk to me about my situation just now."
The instructor may be on the way to her next class, so I'll leave
a detailed note about my situation in her box. I'll
call her again later during office hours."
When working with
a troubled student who has a negative explanatory style:
for the student's situation
between an optimistic and pessimistic outlook; distinguish
between permanent and temporary outcomes
student of the constancy of change
for how the student might change the "internal tape"
that sees all or most negative things as permanent and most positive
things as temporary.
Trust your instincts. If you notice any signs of excessive
despair or hopelessness, immediately refer the student to health services
and/or counseling for more comprehensive help.
Keep in mind that your
role as a professor is not to treat people with serious psychological
Learned Optimism Work?
Valley College and the
University of Pennsylvania are participating in a
Resiliency Project studying explanatory styles and learned optimism.
The learned resiliency model begins with the premise that emotion and
behavior follow from thoughts and beliefs that may be out-moded or over-personalized,
and from the errors in logic mentioned above.
The focus on:
- Optimism over pessimism
- Accurate thinking, realistic
- Developing alternatives
and persistence, leading to increased confidence
- Improved mood, persistence,
may have profound implications
- Students with school-related
- Students lacking in basic
- Re-entry Students
addition to teaching students to change their explanatory styles (internal
dialogues), educators can build resilience by fostering:
competence. Good health provides protection. Students, without
their basic needs met, cannot learn. The College Health Services can
provide appropriate health, social and mental health resources. Encourage
and model fitness, nutrition, rest, recreation and other positive
Competence: Create opportunities
to enhance cultural pride; provide mentoring programs by utilizing
community volunteers, concerned parents and elders, local business
people, friends and advisors.
Become familiar with community resources that might assist
students, for example legal aid and public health resources.
Competence: Encourage creativity, social and life skills training,
career awareness, communication, problem solving and decision-making
skills, resistance skills training, and a sense of humor!
Competence: Educators can direct students to become involved in
campus and community projects. Peer health education programs, campus clubs and organizations,
and student government provide opportunities to contribute which enrich
both the student and the world.
Competence: Educators have the opportunity to share and convey
the meaning of their lives with students. Faith in something beyond
the self is helpful in overcoming adversity and living a constructive
Relationships: “Reciprocal, caring, respectful and participatory
relationships are the critical determining factors in whether a student
learns…whether a program or strategy is effective, whether an educational
change is sustained, and ultimately, whether a youth feels he or she
has a place in society” (Bernard, 1995). The literature supports that
resilient individuals point to a teacher who made the difference.
“Adolescents who viewed their teachers as providing both academic
and emotional support were less likely to experience alienation or
emotional distress” (Roeser, Eccles, and Sameroff, 1998). Diero (1996)
gives the following strategies for making healthy connections:
one-to-one time with students;
high expectations of students;
with family, friends and neighbors of students;
a sense of community among students within the classroom;
rituals and traditions in the classroom.
your own mental health is critical to bringing out healthier
levels of functioning in students.”
- Diero, 1996
are in a prime position to foster students' resilience -- not merely survival
-- in the face of adversity. Through your teaching and interactions
with students, you can promote the pure joy and self confidence that learning
can bring. Keeping resilient
people resilient, and teaching non-resilient people how to become more
resilient, is an important part of your job.
of strategies that instructors have used to build resiliency and community
among students are detailed in the Apply section.