Five ways to build resilience in students

Five ways to build resilience in students

Building resilience in students begins in the classroom. It is the key to making young people stronger and more assertive – here we share five ways to do it. Resilience means having the ability to overcome stressful, challenging and sometimes traumatic experiences in our lives....


Building resilience in students begins in the classroom. It is the key to making young people stronger and more assertive – here we share five ways to do it.

Resilience means having the ability to overcome stressful, challenging and sometimes traumatic experiences in our lives. Whereas adults may have the skill sets and mental capacity to deal with certain problems, children and teenagers may not.

In this post, we’re look at why building resilience in students is important and examine five ways in which you can help develop it in students in the classroom.

Why do we need to build resilience in students?

It’s important to remember that difficult situations can arise at any point in life – there is no easy journey for anyone. However, we can equip ourselves with the tools needed to face these challenges and overcome them.

When children and teenagers are more resilient, they become more curious, adaptable and capable. Furthermore, they become more able to handle failure, disappointment and cope with loss. By beginning to develop resilience in the classroom, we are helping to ensure that students enter adult life with more readiness to handle life’s challenges. So how can teachers help to build student resilience? Let’s explore.

1. Promote positive emotions

Nowadays, for various complex reasons – not least the global pandemic – more students are suffering from bouts of anxiety and stress.

In the face of rejection, fear, loss and disappointment, having a more positive outlook can have a calming effect. So one way of combating this in the classroom is to promote positive thinking and emotional processing. Your students will be in a much better state of mind to tackle the problems they face and reduce anxiety around certain aspects of their lives.

How to introduce positive thinking into the classroom

Introducing mindfulness techniques into the classroom can be a great way to increase overall positivity among your students. One way to do this is try meditation in class (online or in-person), by having students sit quietly and with a guided breathing exercise for five minutes at the start of the lesson.

Another is to encourage your students to each come up with a positive daily affirmation to put on the board or wall as a reminder and to inspire positive thinking.

2. Teach the importance of health and wellbeing

Resilience is not only psychological but physical too. In order for students to feel strong and ready for life’s challenges, they’ve got to be feeling good physically. This means sleeping enough hours during the night, doing some regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water.

Not only will this keep students fit and healthy, it will in turn improve their personal wellbeing and mental health. This will help to make them more resilient, strong and capable.

How to teach health and wellbeing in class

A great way to get students thinking about their health and wellbeing is by facilitating a group discussion on healthy habits. Ask your students to name one healthy habit e.g. eating five pieces of fruit or vegetables per day, and make a list of their suggestions.

After the list is complete, ask students to pick three healthy habits they will try that week. Once the week has passed, ask your students to reflect on how these habits have impacted them. Ask them to choose another three for the following week.

3. Encourage goal setting

Teaching students to set achievable goals in class helps them focus on specific tasks. The process of goal setting encourages students to reflect on what they want to achieve and gain. It also offers them the opportunity to think about potential obstacles they may face and how to overcome these.

Students will be able to witness their development firsthand and feel a sense of accomplishment at reaching their goals. More importantly, they will also experience setbacks along the path to reaching their goals. This will teach them how to face challenges, overcome obstacles and build resilience.

How to encourage goal setting in the classroom

Having your students set SMART goals is a great way to introduce them to this technique. SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. One way to show your students how these work is by sharing some of your own goals in class. For example:

Goal: I want to complete this term’s reports for all my students this week

  • Specific – I will make sure that every report is written and ready to share.
  • Measurable – I have 25 students in total.
  • Achievable – I will set aside five hours  this week to complete the task.
  • Relevant – It will help students understand whether they’re on track with their learning.
  • Time-bound – I have until Friday this week to complete it.

Alternatively, ask your students to answer the following questions when setting goals:

  • What do I need to do?
  • How will I measure my progress?
  • How will I do it?
  • Will it help me improve my English skills?
  • When will I need to complete it by?

4. Develop problem solving skills

Problem solving skills are fundamental to child development as they help to create confident and capable children, who then become confident and capable adults. Research suggests that students who learn how to find solutions to problems early on are more likely to be able to cope with issues later on.

When students are asked to face problems either alone or in a group, they learn to tackle challenges. As such, they understand how to approach problems, calculate risks and think logically. This in turn helps them to become more resilient.

How to introduce problem solving skills into class

Each time a student faces a learning problem they’re happy to share publicly, write it on the board. Then, have students brainstorm the best ways to solve the problem, experimenting with different strategies. Not only can this help solve the problem, it will help teach your students how to deal with difficult situations as they arise.

5. Practise gratitude

Practising gratitude is more than just saying ‘thank you’. It is a technique that helps students remind themselves of what is positive in their lives. Be it friends, family or their health, there is always something to be thankful for. This activity helps to generate optimism and remove negativity.

Neuroscientist and author of The Upward Spiral, Dr. Alex Korb states that practising gratitude ‘brings the power to elevate your physical and mental health, boost happiness, improve sleep, and help you feel more connected to other people.’ All of which can help our students become happier, healthier and more resilient individuals.

How to encourage your students to practice gratitude

Once a week, ask your students to express one thing that they are grateful for. Write this down on the board and have students review it and discuss it. Ask them how they feel after seeing this information in front of them. Do they feel more positive or motivated?

Note how this changes their attitude and remind them that they can use this tool at any time when they are feeling negative.

Further reading

If you’d like to know more about building resilience in students, read our article How reading helps students deal with stress and anxiety.

And why not also explore our resources for practising mindfulness for teachers?

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