Resilience is the capacity to recover effectively from challenge, threat or change.
As a resilient student, you use all of your coping skills, social networks and connections to make sure that you keep learning successfully, no matter the challenges. You are adaptive, flexible, creative when you have to be, and take steps to anticipate what you need to do to maintain your performance.
You take the following five key steps:
- Plan your work and anticipate challenges
Use the tools available to you, including the diaries built into your learning management system (LMS) and other tools such as To Do Lists and nudges built into your mail system, to make sure you do not miss key dates and meet study expectations.
- Make great use of the support systems colleges and universities make available
Take advantage of instructor office hours, writing support service, math support service, guidance and financial support services to get help just when you need it.
- Use peer and social networks to get help
Whether you attach yourself to existing self-help groups or create them, you are proactive in ensuring you feel supported, have access to expertise and can get advice and assistance “on demand”.
- Find a balance between study-work and other aspects of your life
Students are students for part of the day, but you (like the rest of us) need to balance studying with other activities and interests. Resilient students find a balance and work hard to ensure it is maintained.
- Don’t mourn the loss of face-to-face instruction and what you are “missing” from college or university life
Focus on “what is” rather than “what used to be”. As one student said, “it’s not what I hoped it would be, it is what it is. This is my time to learn – so I am!”.
Three Resilient Students: Do You Recognize Yourself in These Cases?
Taylor is a third-year student whose online statistics course was taught by a faculty member who had never taught online before and, frankly, stumbled. Taylor created a What’s App help group for students so they could help each other. She built a simple sharing space using Milanote so students could share materials and resources they found helpful. She made sure students made the best use of the faculty members’ office hours and located a student who “aced” the course in a previous year who offered an hour a week to support those in the current class who were struggling. Taylor did well (A+), despite her doubts. Doing this helped her feel good about her ability to cope with a challenging course.
Ciara is a first-year student taking five online courses, something she’d never had to do until now. Two of the courses are designed around the idea “here are the materials you need to study, and there will be a mid-term and end-of-term exam”. The other three are instructionally designed, highly engaging and involve student-led project work.
The non-designed courses had no Zoom or face-to-face sessions, but did have office hours. The contrast between the two groups of courses (engaging and designed versus content + test) was stark for Ciara, who is 18 and straight out of high school. She organized a reading group for the content + test courses and members met twice a week for an hour using Zoom. She also arranged for each student to review each reading item and write a short note about the key points they felt important. She coordinated the consolidation of these notes as well as the use of office hours so every question the group was concerned with got addressed one way or another. All the students did well on their mid-term (the lowest grade was an A-) and Ciara did exceptionally well on the course.
Reid tested positive for COVID-19 part way through his spring/summer semester. He was taking four courses. His symptoms were not severe, but he experienced exhaustion, headaches, and respiratory challenges. He quickly connected with his college and explained the situation. They made certain accommodations, including extra time for assignments and waived the requirement to attend specific Microsoft Teams classes. But reinforced the expectation he watch recordings of any sessions he missed (he missed nine in all). Reid asked his best friend in college, Sue, who was taking the same courses in the same program to keep him posted on topics and ideas brought up in the Microsoft Teams sessions. He did his best to keep up with his work, and used all of the accommodations the college provided. Sue created a space using EverNote for Reid and his fellow students to share ideas, materials and resources. She also set up a weekly “pub quiz” night, so they could socialize online, and have questions and answer quizzes based on the courses they were taking. After 10 days, Mike was “back on track” and didn’t feel he missed much.
All three of these students adapted to the challenges in subtly different ways by leveraging their personal strengths and by making use of available technologies, such as Milanote, EverNote, What’s App, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and video recordings. Their ability to adapt and cope shows the importance of perseverance, networking, adapting, planning and using all the options available. You can do the same by finding your own path to resilience.
The Path to Resilience
The success of these three students suggests they all followed the path to resilience, including these steps:
- Accept reality. It is what it is.
- Believe in possibilities and one’s self.
- Commit to achieving specific goals within a specific time.
- Discover and use new resources, services and supports.
- Evaluate and enjoy the process, moving past things that don’t go well.
- Learn from the process – what worked and what did not work – and be ready to do it again.
None of these three students displayed any signs of mental frailty, though Reid was not physically well for some time (10 days is a long time in a 10-week course). Many other students, however, found their work challenging during the pandemic. Ontario, for example, hired 180 mental health workers to support students from high schools. Colleges and universities also focused resources on supporting students who are struggling in this difficult time.
There are specific things you can do to develop resilience and strengthen your sense of wellbeing, including:
- Make connections
Develop friendship in a way that encourages close friends to be critical in a positive way. A critical friend at a time of need can stimulate positive responses.
- Be mentored
Find a mentor or life coach who can provide support at a challenging time.
- Set boundaries
Develop rules of conduct – how to behave in given circumstances – and stick to them. Work at modeling the behaviours you admire in others.
- Get involved
Find events and activities that allow for meaningful relationships and peer networks to develop and that speak to causes and issues of importance. These can be small in-person gatherings or virtual events. Don’t be passive. Get involved.
- Be You
Be assertive without being aggressive and look for opportunities for self-discovery. Use these opportunities to better understand yourself.
- Stay positive
Look for positive examples of the things that matter and keep things in perspective.
Be a constant learner, especially about yourself and how you work. Connect to the networks that can provide help and support. Develop needed skills and understanding. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can always new ways of coping and adapting.
- Show compassion, care and concern for yourself and others
Develop compassion, empathy, warmth and genuineness both for yourself and in your interactions with others.
- Be a mentor
Be a role model and mentor to another person, especially a younger person. This enables self-reflection and understanding.
- Develop your capacity for self-reflection, understanding and analysis
Seek to understand and reflect on the situations before taking action. Work at analyzing a challenge or threat before responding. Break problems into smaller chunks and tackle them one chunk at a time. Break the habit of responding before reflecting.
- Take decisive action
Take action informed by understanding. Don't put off acting for too long. Make sure your actions are purposive and mindful.
- Connect to the spiritual
Learn how to recognize and connect with the spiritual aspect of yourself and cultivate qualities associated with it.
- Learn how to become ‘present moment aware’
Present moment awareness means that we are aware and mindful of what is happening at this very moment and not distracted by items from the past or worries about the future. It helps develop your internal resiliency and supports mindful action.
- Learn to develop ‘perspective’
Cultivate your ability to observe yourself so you can stand back and watch things from a detached perspective. Don’t get caught up in issues and circumstances but be able to observe while also being engaged.
- Create space for yourself in your daily schedule
Make sure you have time each day to reflect on the day and explore what you learned about yourself, how you acted and what you could have done differently.
The More Resilient and Adaptable You Are, the Better You Will Cope with an Uncertain Future
The more resilient you are, the more adaptable you will be to the emerging second wave of COVID-19 in Canada, the United States, Europe and elsewhere. Each of us must find and refine our coping mechanisms. The key is our mindset: a positive mindset better prepares us for whatever is next than a “this is awful and should not be happening mindset”.
Given none of us has control of the situation, we each need to make the most of the circumstances we find ourselves in. This is how resilient students think. It is also why they will be successful. You should join the band of resilient students. You can.