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How school leaders can foster a culture of resilience in their school – By the Be You Team

Much has been said recently about the importance of developing resilience in young people, and the role of educators to teach these skills. What is less often discussed is the role that school leaders play in fostering a culture of resilience, for both their staff and students. As we work to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, it has never been more important to involve everyone at learning communities in supporting mental health including resilience, so they achieve the best possible outcomes. 

What is resilience?

• Resilience is the ability to manage life’s ups and downs and is key for developing positive mental health and wellbeing.
• A child or young person’s resilience is supported by a range of conditions including their social and emotional skills and positive relationships.
• When a child or young person feels supported, they are in a better position to draw on their social and emotional skills and be resilient.
• The ability to be resilient is developed over time. Resilience is often described as being like a muscle – the more we use and practice with it in a supportive environment, the stronger it becomes. This is true for both educators and the young people they teach.

Resilience in young people
Providing young people with opportunities to practise their resilience can take the form of taking ‘safe risks’ in a supportive environment – public speaking to groups, rock climbing on camp, learning a new skill in class and encouraging them to persist when it doesn’t come easily.

At the same time, it’s important to include wellbeing activities in the curriculum and provide students with an opportunity to try out strategies for self-care, such as mindfulness, and explore resources, websites and organisations that provide support, such as headspace, Kids Helpline, ReachOut and Beyond Blue.

We know that young people come to school from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Including families is vital in promoting a sense of community and belonging. School leaders may like to consider thinking more about ‘parent engagement’ rather than ‘parent involvement’ – reframing it so parents are included in how and what their child learns, especially in skills that support resilience. Parents and carers can extend opportunities for young people to practise these skills, including asking for help.

The last two years have highlighted the importance of connection. For many people this time has been incredibly challenging, and wellbeing, resilience and being kind to oneself have become more important than ever. The strategies young people learn at school are often the strategies they will draw on as adults, when faced with work stress, relationship issues and family changes. 

When school leaders and educators create a culture of connection – where it is safe to tell someone you need help and where young people are encouraged to persist when they find something challenging – they are teaching life-long skills. This can feel like a big task for schools, but if we break it down, it essentially means a young person would say, “I know my teacher cares, I know who I can talk to when I need help”.

Staff resilience
Positive school culture, collegial support and a sense of community are important factors in supporting resilience among educators. What creates a positive school culture is as varied as the schools across Australia, but can include a sense of optimism and belonging, and the freedom to express ideas and o!er opinions.

Committing to regular wellbeing sessions and social activities as a staff group and being deliberate to include genuine praise and recognition of staff are also important.

The Be You national mental health framework (https://beyou.edu.au/) is a good place for school leaders to start when exploring wellbeing topics and resources for their staff.

A positive school culture is the responsibility of everyone in the school, not simply the leaders. Those small actions educators take like a hello, a co!ee together, touching base during report writing or exam marking, can collectively help strengthen the sense of community that supports resilience.

Being part of a connected school community can assist us to feel safe to reach out for support and receive support from people who notice we are not travelling as well as we usually would.

The Be You team Be You is a national initiative that equips educators to support the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people from birth to 18 years. Be You is delivered by Beyond Blue, in collaboration with Early Childhood Australia and headspace. Go to beyou.edu.au to learn more.