Life is a series of experiences which shape children into the adults they become; however, not all of these interactions can be construed as positive. Unfortunately, sometimes things happen which negatively impact a child beyond his ability to effectively cope.

It is during these times of adversity when a strong, supportive, and reliable adult caregiver is critical. Based on research from Harvard University’s Bari Walsh in his article, “The Science of Resilience,” he attests to the fact that there are a few key facets to a child’s ability to go forward after paramount adversity strikes.

They are as follows (www.gse.harvard.edu):

  • The availability of at least one stable, caring, and supportive relationship between a child and an adult caregiver.
  • A sense of mastery over life circumstances.
  • Strong executive function and self-regulation skills.
  • The supportive context of affirming faith or cultural traditions.

While it is understood in most cultures that anyone going through difficult times needs support, this need rises to a pinnacle when managing the needs of adolescents facing extreme adversity. In addition to family support, many times children find solace in one of their educators.

These adults often spend more waking hours with the students than their families. They also witness the children’s interactions and challenges within their social circles at school, something that families rarely see first hand. This alternative view point often serves as a critical second layer of insulation for children who are learning to cope with adversity.

Furthermore, while schools were conceived as educational entities, the roles that the adults play within the confines of these institutions many times involve much more than teaching the three R’s. The social emotional challenges that students embrace for the first time in their lives are often mitigated within a school setting.

It is the teachers, counselors, and administrators in these settings who find themselves trying to ensure that the children in their schools find balance, a setting with appropriate academic merit as well as sufficient emotional support. While this may appear to the casual observer as beyond the call of duty for such educators, the truth of the matter is that it is just this calling which beckoned many an educator into the field.

Former NFL player turned high school principal, Michael Lehan attests to the need for educators to use empathy to teach students while listening to their needs. In his commencement address to the University of Minnesota’s 2016 class, he shared the following, “It’s about asking, How can I help you be successful? not telling them Be successful! It’s about asking them what support they might need from me. By encouraging conversations from a point of inquiry, rather than saying “shame on you” or “you ought to do it this way,” one can instill a culture of trust and empathy which changes the conversation and goes on to change children’s lives forever.

Angela Farmer is an assistant professor of educational leadership for Mississippi State University, a certified Myers-Briggs trainer and a former P-12 educational leader. Readers can contact Farmer at asfarmer@colled.msstate.edu

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