Teaching Resiliency: A Tool Kit


Resilience is the ability to negotiate and recover from adversity. Humans experience all kinds of unique life experiences that demand an element of resiliency in order to move forward. We may endure physical illness, family dysfunction, abuse, transition, migration, loss or defeat.

We are also hard-wired with tools to overcome these events. We add to this tool box of healthy coping mechanisms as we move through life. We experience significant events that require us to manage defeat and rise again, and we also observe resilient-oriented behaviors of others who pass through struggle.

Sometimes, our ability to overcome adversity becomes compromised- perhaps our systems have become overwhelmed by challenge or we have not had access to healthy examples of resilience (or we have noted plenty of examples of unhealthy coping behaviors). Because resiliency is largely learned, students can benefit from lessons that explicitly teach and allow for practice of resilience-oriented behaviors.

In speaking to a school-based approach to resilience, I find it helpful to examine the concept from four lenses: foundation, regulation, incorporation and education.


Foundation, in the context of achieving resilience, relates to the meeting of basic needs.  Access to essential goods and services such as healthy food, clean water, clothing, transportation and medical care are considered foundational to resilience. Other features of resilient children include a sense of safety and “access to open spaces and free play”, which enriches multi-faceted age-appropriate development (1).   Discrimination plays a role in determining a baseline for resiliency, too.   As incidences of prejudice, discrimination and bullying are decreased, resilience is encouraged. 


Resilient individuals are capable of self-regulation.  That is, they have developed healthy ways to negotiate and recover from unexpected or undesirable life events. (4) Healthy regulation mechanisms include self-soothing, creative problem solving, acknowledging and keeping boundaries, practicing bravery, calculated risk-taking, asking for help, flexibility and exercising a sense of humor when things don’t go as planned.


A sense of belonging, or “feeling valued and respected within a community”, is critical to resilience. (3) (4) Children, in particular, need to be able to identify specific people and places that make them feel welcomed and protected.   Positive recognition and inclusion are critical tenants of belonging. (3) Positive relationships matter, and a diversified portfolio of relationships is ideal: family members, school friendships, non-school friendships, teachers and mentors. (1) Research indicates a a robust support community- and a deep sense of belonging within that community- are strong indicators for resilience.  (2)


Resilience can impact student learning; and learning can influence resiliency.  Those who have their basic needs met and belong to the learning community- are more receptive to receiving and storing new information.  Similarly, students may gain confidence through learning and sharing existing strengths, which promotes resilience. (4) Many indicators for resilience are embedded throughout the school day: organization, relationship building, access to play, opportunities to share expertise, and practicing commitment and follow-through.

From each of these four lenses, let’s explore some ways that we can actively approach resiliency and engage students in resilience-oriented behaviors at school.


Students cannot learn when they do not feel safe.  Similarly, they will struggle to process new information after a poor night’s sleep or missed breakfast.   Those who are facing social challenges, such as discrimination or bullying, may find it impossible to concentrate on the learning at hand. So, before we address the curriculum, we must address the learner.  How are our students showing up for each learning day?  How can we encourage those students who come to school in survival brain move toward learning brain… and stay there?

One of my favorite activities is the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT House.  You can visit the activity description and view students samples HERE.   The strategy is also available in the book, The Newcomer Fieldbook (Louise El Yaafouri), available HERE

The DBT House exercise allows a glimpse into students’ lives, so that we re better able to meet them where they are.  To foster resiliency, I like to follow the DBT House with this “Being Safe” lesson from Resilient Tutor Group:  View it HERE.


·      Learning on the Move

·      7 C’s of Resilience VIDEO

·      Change Kids Lives


·      Bullying No Way!

Non-academic foundations for learning:

·      K. Brooke Stafford-Brizard @ EdWeek


Self-regulation leads to resiliency.  Most self-regulation behaviors are learned. With this in mind, it makes sense to incorporate and model effective regulatory strategies throughout the school day.  Chances are, we do this already.  We may ask a student to count to 10 slowly before reacting; to self-evaluate and record distress levels; to identify “safe” spaces in the school or to diffuse disagreements with a Peace Circle.  

Here are a few of my favorite techniques to use with learners of all ages. 


Check out these other worthwhile resources, too!

·      American Psychological Association

·      We Are Teachers

·      Responsive Classroom


There are many ways to encourage students to grow in their sense of belonging at school.  A great way to begin is by deliberately focusing on simple cues of belonging, such as making eye contact and referring to each child by his or her preferred (and correctly pronounced!) name. The following lessons and tools provide an entry point to promoting healthy incorporation in a school setting. 

·      MindSet Kit LESSONS

·      MindSet Kit INTERACTIVE

·      I Belong!


How can we draw from students’ existing resilience?  How do we make room for bolstering new strands of resiliency in our already congested school day?   We can begin by choosing resilience-building strategies that can be easily incorporated into a lesson and into the daily functioning of a classroom.   Examples include:

·      creating and adhering to routines (as much as possible!);

·      opportunities to practice responsible choice-making (hey-hey, flexible seating!);

·      brain breaks that engage students in physical exercise and creative play (GoNoodle is the bees knees!);  

·      learning games that encourage memory and impulse control;

·      encouragement to practice safe risk-taking;

·      and modeling of resilient behaviors, such as reframing disappointment.

As these tools and expectations become consistently embedded throughout students’ school experiences, they become part of the culture of the school.  Ready to get started?  Check out these recommended launch-points:


·      Hey, Sigmund   


·      North Carolina Early Learning Network   

 ·     Colleen Springer-Lopez


·      The Inclusion Lab

·      Career and Life Skills Lessons Channel VIDEO


·      Positive Psychology Program




1. Pearson, Umayahara and Ndijuye. Play and Resilience: SUPPORTING CHILDHOOD RESILIENCE THROUGH PLAY A facilitation guide for early childhood practitioners

2. Sarah V. Marsden, Resilience and Belonging https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057/978-1-137-55019-4_4

3. Taylor & Hart. The Resilient Classroom A Resource Pack for Tutor Groups and Pastoral School Staff, Published by BOND and YoungMinds.

4. Nowicki, Anna. 2008 Self-efficacy, sense of belonging and social support as predictors of resilience in adolescents Anna Nowicki Edith Cowan University