Being caught in the middle of two friends arguing, being caught in the middle of parents separating, and being caught in the middle of right and wrong. Being caught in the middle is hard – we often feel torn and unsure of what to do. It can be an emotionally frightening place to be.
So why would schooling be any different? Being caught in the middle between the safety of elementary school, and the independence of high school is a juncture called middle school. And it is hard. And it is critical that in this space we provide the protective factors necessary for students to build academic resiliency so that students start high school on the right path, with the correct mindset towards success in life.
In my research, a key factor in identifying what was “different” about high-achieving, low-income, Latino high school youth from their less successful peers was academic resiliency. This resiliency was critical to the success for each of the students, and the protective factors that fostered that resiliency were similar enough to code into a specific framework.
In order to build some essential background on resiliency, so that the word used in these writings is consistent with the readers’ context – a summary of resiliency is provided below.
Resilience was explained by Bryan (2005) as “the capacity of an individual to overcome difficult and challenging life circumstances and risk factors” (p. 220). A classic and more specific definition as it relates to academic resilience was offered by Wang, Haertel, and Walberg (1994) who stated that it is “the heightened likelihood of success in school and other life accomplishments despite environmental adversities brought about by early traits, conditions, and experiences” (p. 46).
Benard (2004) explained that resiliency is not an isolated trait that some children have, and that others do not have. Rather it is the “innate capacity bolstered by environmental protective factors” (p. 9). Therefore, all students have the capacity to be resilient but this resilience is often in need of being fostered by environmental forces. As suggested by Reis, Colbert, and Hebert (2005), by studying the resiliency in “academically talented students” (p. 112) who have overcome the odds based on their life stories and situations, efforts can be made to recreate the outside forces that helped to foster academic resiliency in students. This suggestion was echoed by Vargas-Reighley (2005) who stated, “By understanding what factors promote resilience, it is argued that we may be more effective at designing prevention and intervention programs that build on existing strengths” (p. 3).
The last quotation stated that we need to understand what factors promote this critical resiliency. Some factors have been discussed in earlier posts (motivation, challenge, Mindsets, etc), and they will continue in the future. For now, one such protective factor is institutional agents. This means teachers, other caring adults, programs, and supports within the school to aid with tutoring, life issues, college & career awareness, time & organizational skills, as well as opportunities for school connectedness. It is the deep discussion of these specific issues that will fuel next week’s post, and provide take-away’s for schools that can immediately be done to help build this critical resiliency in all students. After all, it is hard to be caught in the middle....
"Critical Resilience" This work is dedicated to the equal and fair education of all children, locally and globally.