Resilience in Students

15 November 2013

Recently  I was asked to speak at a national conference about growing resilience in students; I know this is a topic that many of you are interested in, so here is some of what I discussed at the conference.

You may have read recently of  what is described as the death of the self-esteem movement. It seems that it is finally dead. In 1969,  psychologist Nathaniel Brandon wrote that  “feelings of self-esteem were the key to success in life,” and this view was picked up around the world.


Increasingly, however, that belief has been challenged. In the Wall Street Journal Kay Hymowitz concludes: And what do (15,000 studies) show? That high self-esteem doesn’t improve grades, reduce ­anti-social behaviour, deter alcohol drinking or do much of anything good for kids. In fact, telling kids how smart they are can be counterproductive. Many children who are convinced that they are little geniuses tend not to put much effort into their work. Others are troubled by the latent anxiety of adults who feel it necessary to praise them constantly.”

New Zealand’s John Hattie  has established through meta studies that giving  feedback is  the most powerful thing we can do to shape student learning, but that the feedback  must be real and about improvement,  not  “You did well – you are good at this”; that’s about self esteem but it  doesn’t improve performance.

That kind of feedback can actually diminish success.

Highly regarded researcher, Carol Dweck says there are  four  things we can do as parents and teachers to give good feedback and to encourage resilience:

1. Encourage persistence and reward struggle.

2. Use praise thoughtfully to encourage stretch.

3. Don’t let our own experiences shape our children’s.