For many children worldwide, the pandemic is the first time they’ve had to deal with such large-scale disruption of their daily life. The past year has been incredibly challenging, with the effects of the pandemic altering or stopping activities like school, extracurriculars, and even time spent with family and friends.
It’s impossible to shield anyone from these circumstances, but educators can play a crucial role in the well-being of their students during such a difficult time. Giving students the tools to overcome adversity will help them tackle obstacles big and small—even after the pandemic is over.
“The road to resilience comes first and foremost from children's supportive relationships with parents, teachers, and other caring adults,” writes Marilyn Price-Mitchell, a developmental psychologist and author. “These relationships become sources of strength when children work through stressful situations and painful emotions.”
Cultivating students’ perseverance and resilience in school can begin by creating a classroom culture where failure and setbacks are expected and even celebrated. The benefits of failure in the classroom are two-fold: not only do students get to improve from past mistakes, but they also learn to be resilient and move forward in their learning, according to Sarah Gonser at Edutopia. Encouraging students to take responsible risks and challenge themselves helps create this positive culture.
However, the same way a positive culture can cultivate resilience, a negative one can lead to helplessness and a lack of grit.
The rise of well-intentioned “over-parenting,” or “helicopter parenting” has serious counterproductive effects for children, according to Juliette Tocino-Smith’s research. A helicopter parent doesn’t allow their child to experience failure, which in turn hinders the child’s ability to positively respond to future setbacks.
“These parents are highly responsive to the perceived needs and issues of their children, and don't give their children the chance to solve their own problems,” writes teacher Jessica Lahey in an article titled “Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail.” Children who are over-parented often develop a sense of helplessness when faced with obstacles, and they never learn failure, consequence, or resilience.
The frequency of over-parenting means that the responsibility of teaching resilience and grit falls increasingly on educators. It is therefore essential for teachers to implement a classroom framework that encourages failure and responsible risk-taking, especially if students aren’t learning these skills at home.
DigiPals is a simple way for teachers to integrate the teachings of resilience and responsible risk-taking into their daily classroom activities. Students communicate with a digital pen pal, a peer from another part of the world, to build language skills, develop cultural intelligence, and become kinder, more tolerant people.
Additionally, through their conversations with their pen pals, students also get the opportunity to fail and learn from their failures in a relatively low-stakes learning environment. Both students are trying to learn, which makes their partnership mutually beneficial and also relieves them of the stress of failure on both ends.
Classrooms participating in a DigiPals partnership are constantly learning from each other, which is what makes them so successful. Together, they share their lives, their experiences, and even their mistakes to become more resilient students and humans.