How to Teach Resilience in the Classroom

Classrooms have and will continue to change. The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically altered how the classroom is defined. Expectations of students inside and outside the classroom look and are vastly different from the inception of public education. Children need to be resilient to endure these changes. 

Many parents, educators, and taxpayers may wonder why resilience needs to be taught. Resilience can be taught in the classroom in a number of ways. Read on to learn how to teach resilience in the classroom.

Teaching Resilience in the Classroom

Resilience is essential for creating a learning environment where students can thrive. The classroom needs to be a place where students can make mistakes and want to learn from them without losing confidence. 

Teaching resilience is possible by emphasizing specific practices in the classroom: 

  • Create a safe learning environment 
  • Improve the classroom culture
  • Teach social and emotional skills
  • Focus on curricular components
  • Implement specialized programs
  • Emphasize self-reflection
  • Evaluate teaching practices and expectations

By addressing each of these areas during the teaching process, you can instill resilience and confidence in students that struggle to stay motivated. 

Create a Safe Learning Environment

Resilience can and should be taught. People are not born with a skill set of being resilient. From birth, babies covet a sense of belonging. Being held and nurtured are the first steps in developing resilient children. A safe environment is essential for healthy physical and mental well-being.

But children must slowly emerge into the adult world. Transitioning from a culture in which everyone gets a trophy to everyone has the opportunity to earn a trophy will take resilience. Through steps of teaching resilience, students can learn to:

  • Cope with adversity
  • Thrive after disappointments

Frequently, people will say, kids are resilient; they will learn to cope. Surviving and thriving are immeasurably different ways to live. At a young age, children have not usually encountered traumatic events.

Early in a child’s education, while they are still in relatively safe environments guided by caring teachers, they should be immersed in developing the skills to live with and learn from challenges. As they develop these skills, they become more resilient.

What Are Elements of Teaching Resilience?

Resilience, or adapting to the stressors, helps calm the students. Each student has different instinctive ways of coping with stress, some of which are negative, such as becoming:

  • Withdrawn
  • Angry
  • Reactionary

The elements of teaching resilience involve helping students develop healthy strategies to deal with the challenges that they will face. You do this by allowing them to face challenges in a safe environment and nurturing them through those challenges.

Tools to teach resilience are as broad as the need to teach resilience. From calming breaths to structured and instructional sessions, the methods to teach resilience are plentiful. There is no one right path to follow. All methods selected or tried by a teacher, school, or district need to be ones in which there is support from all involved.

A shift from the focus of only being a grade-based culture will allow schools and teachers to add opportunities for students to explore. Through exploration of new subjects and ways to learn content, teachers can set expectations and guide their students through accepting and learning from failure.

What Is the Goal of Teaching Resilience?

Students who overcome failure are more optimistic and willing to persevere. Today’s students face the stressors of our modern society. Technology has solved many issues and created new concerns. Some mental health issues can be addressed if students learn how to deal with challenges and adversity that they face.

Without having a repertoire of coping skills, drugs and alcohol can be the salvation today’s youth turn to. Students and young people who have developed resilience have lower rates of alcohol and drug abuse than those who are not able to bounce back from struggles.

From a school and work perspective, students and employees who can adapt and adjust to life’s struggles have fewer stress-related absences. Students who have been taught strategies of resilience have an increased ability to cope with stress. They are able to utilize health-promoting stress management strategies and attend school and work.

Resilient students have fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. As students and adults, they are more optimistic with overall improved health. Teaching children they are important to their groups in school transfers to a feeling of belonging in society.

Improve the Classroom Culture

Classrooms are typically set up for students to succeed, which is good but teachers also need to encourage students to take risks. Changing the mindset that classrooms are set up for challenges is a start toward developing the culture to take risks. Classroom time spent developing climate and culture will reap benefits in productivity and learning.

The classroom is the students’ world for six to seven hours a day. A welcoming home away from home for students is an essential component in the success of teaching resilience. Teachers should consider including these elements:

  • Trust
  • Collaboration
  • Classroom norms

Greeting students at the classroom door starts building a trusting relationship between the teacher and their students. Calling all students by their names shows the teacher values them. Utilizing icebreakers so students can learn about each other adds depth to the positive classroom environment.

Learning Resilience Requires Trust

One of the ironies of learning resilience is that students need to trust their teachers and each other. Students grow into resilience, and this takes time and patience.

Building on trust, students can learn to work collaboratively toward common goals:

  • Putting students in small groups will give them a sense of belonging
  • Clearly defined expectations will add to the success of the groups
  • Having students practice roles in groups and working in different groups will add to a positive classroom climate

Having students develop classroom rules is another effective means to create a climate in which students become comfortable taking risks. Classroom norms can detail behaviors expected from each student. When students know that others will support them, students will be more willing to engage in classroom activities and take risks. 

Teach Social and Emotional Skills

Building on a positive climate, students’ self-awareness, and social consciousness can be cultivated as part of social and emotional learning. When children can recognize and understand their own emotions, they become stronger learners. Fostering empathy and perspective will enhance their ability to work effectively with others.

Three social and emotional components of teaching students to be resilient are:

  • Speaking skills
  • Listening skills
  • Positive feedback

Speaking skills help students discover their unique voice and properly communicate with others. Listening skills are necessary for developing healthy relationships with others where one side can listen to the other. Positive feedback helps reinforce good behaviors in students regarding their habits inside and outside the classroom. 

Speaking Skills

Speaking skills are a lifelong need and teachers have the opportunity five days a week to model these skills for their students by:

  • Demonstrating how to enunciate words
  • Speaking slowly

As teachers do this, they develop an expectation of how students should, in turn, speak to one another.

Then, as students practice this kind of speaking, one student at a time will help other students develop their voices. Students can strengthen their self-confidence by practicing speaking:

  • To the class
  • In groups
  • In partnerships

There are many ways to give students opportunities to speak during class. Whether a student is talking about how they solved a problem or is engaging in a group project discussion, giving students opportunities to speak up teaches them how to communicate their ideas to others.  

Listening Skills

Complementing speaking skills, listening skills are essential to developing positive relationships. Once again, teachers take the lead modeling on how to listen by listening carefully to their students.

As students understand the importance of listening, this will help create a classroom in which all students are comfortable. If students are to build emotional resilience, it is essential that they learn active listening skills, including:

  • Eye contact
  • Appropriate verbal responses
  • Body posture that shows the listener is engaged

Maintaining eye contact is one of the best indicators that someone is paying attention. Body language and posturing are equally important and should also be emphasized when teaching students how to listen. 

Positive Feedback

Lastly, teachers help their students learn emotional and social resilience by modeling the ability to accept mistakes and learn from them. Positive feedback from teacher to student has a ripple effect.

That positive feedback then flows from student to student and from groups of students to other groups of students. Students need to receive and nourish this positive feedback in order to face challenges in the future.

Focus on Curricular Components

Some teachers, administrators, and school district officials may be concerned that they will lose academic time because of teaching resilience. However, teachers can use academic settings and exercises to help teach students resilience, thereby instructing them in two skills at once, and they can do this through curricular components.

Resilient students take risks in learning, adapt to setbacks, and develop the ability to thrive when challenged. Some curricular components in which students can rise to challenges including:

  • Peer editing
  • Literature Circles

Each of these curricular components is pivotal to the development of a student’s knowledge inside the classroom, as they all teach students unique skills and ways of thinking. 

Peer Editing

Learning how to receive constructive criticism is a key step in developing resiliency. Pairing students with each other to provide feedback on each other’s writing will develop both students as writers and readers. Additionally, students will learn how to both give and receive constructive feedback.

Peer editing can accomplish the development of rigorous academic expectations if students have a rubric to use for providing feedback on a partner’s writing and responding to that feedback. This also builds on emotional and social resilience by encouraging students to use speaking, listening, and positive feedback skills.

When the teacher manages this setting with clear expectations, adding in the feedback of his or her own, then nothing is lost from the academic side of learning and much is gained in learning resilience.

Literature Circles 

Literature circles are a student-centered approach to reading and writing.

  • Teachers provide students with different roles to perform
  • Groups of students meet to discuss what they read
  • They share their ideas with their peers

Once again, this setting provides an excellent opportunity to practice effective listening and speaking skills.

Major elements of the literature circles are:

  • Discussing the ideas that are shared
  • Agreeing and disagreeing in a positive manner

Students rotate through the different roles in the groups to gain experience and perspective. Clear expectations from teachers will allow students to develop their critical thinking skills.


Both the terms STEM and STEAM are used interchangeably:

  • STEM: Science, technology, engineering, and math
  • STEAM: Science, technology, engineering, art, and math

Critical thinking, inquiry-based learning, and problem-solving are significant elements of STEM/STEAM.

Successful students in this approach to learning need to develop multiple ideas and approaches to problem-solving. Trial and error are built into this approach to learning elements of science. The ability to adjust to failures is a critical element of STEAM. The feeling of accomplishment when a problem is solved builds self-confidence.

Implement Specialized Programs

In addition to what a teacher can accomplish with students in the classroom, there are programs that can be implemented throughout a school. Perhaps due to a school-wide traumatic event or a desire to create a schoolwide culture, specialized programs are another means to teach students to be resilient. Some of these encompass:

  • Project Adventure 
  • Mindfulness
  • Second Step
  • Bounce Back/CBITS

These specialized programs act as supplementary learning opportunities that are fun and engaging for students. Specialized programs put less pressure on students and help them direct their attention to how fun learning can be while building their resilience and confidence. 

Project Adventure

Project Adventure is a structured program in which students have the opportunity to take risks in a fun environment. Climbing walls, rope courses, and other physical activities create situations in which students must rely on each other. Students leave their comfort zones and face new challenges.

Students in Project Adventure follow a philosophical approach to the class from sets of terms and expectations that are consistent from grade level to grade level. This creates continuity, giving students clear expectations.


Exploring how our minds work is another element for students to learn. Mindfulness has a set of core values, similar to Project Adventure, that set clear expectations and boundaries for students.

Creating an open and respectful environment, students learn to understand themselves and connect to others. From this safe and fun environment, students can begin to learn the skills of resilience.

Second Step

Developing compassion and an environment that allows students to feel safe, Second Step is a structured program for schools.

Students and staff learn a consistent set of terminology along with a consistent vocabulary. Then students are given the opportunities to practice social skills within these new terms.

Bounce Back/CBITS

Bounce Back and CBITS (Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools) is designed for students who have been exposed to traumatic events, depression, or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

The programs have a screening process to identify students in need. All the programs listed above complement each other and can be utilized in one school or district.

Emphasize Self-Reflection 

Once students are no longer in the classroom, or during the summer, there are strategies they can use to reinforce their learning. Journal writing can aid in developing lifelong resilient learners. 

Ideas to include in daily journaling are:

  • What went well
  • What can be improved
  • What did you learn about yourself
  • Rate your resilience 

Students can respond to similar questions during school. For practice out of school, students can adapt these questions to other activities in which they are involved. 

Another strategy is to explore literature, biographies, and real-life people. Journaling ideas about their successes, their challenges, and accomplishments enable students to become life-learners and continue to build upon what they learned in school.

Journaling as Coping

Part of developing resilience is learning to practice coping skills. Part of the journaling can be to list reminders of strategies that were effective, such as deep breathing or walking away for a minute, or yoga. Reflecting on which strategies are effective in each setting will take the classroom with the student. 

Problem-solvers have more self-confidence, which leads to resilience. They can tackle tough situations. This will continue to develop perseverance and keep the learner challenged. 

Evaluate Teaching Practices and Expectations

When teachers recognize and embrace mistakes as part of the learning process, they ensure that perfection is not the goal for all students. Analogous to the work that is displayed on the family refrigerator, the sloppy copy and the 50 on fractions since half were correct, should be recognized as well.

Teachers should not assign tasks that are too easy and create boredom, but neither should they assign tasks that are too hard and produce frustration. Either extreme of work for students causes shutdowns. The goal for teaching resilience should be:

  • Establishing expectations for students
  • Encouraging them to engage in higher-level thinking than what they are used to

When teachers create safe environments, they can set clear and rigorous expectations with the use of rubrics. This is even more effective when students have input in the development of those standards. Rubrics for student attributes can include:

  • Preparedness
  • Participation
  • Listening

Rubric for critical thinking skills can include intellectual perseverance, willingness to go back and reconsider ideas, and defends ideas. Students are measured on the process and not the end result.  

Defining Successful Resilience

Classrooms can change and adapt. The key is to measure how the changes have affected students. Elements of successful teaching resilience in the classroom are:

  • Seeking challenges
  • High expectations
  • Responsible decision-making
  • Reducing risky behaviors

Successful resilience increases well-being and general life satisfaction. Students in these environments will seek challenges. They can thrive if a project or product they create is unsuccessful. If learning occurs overall academic performance improves.

Successful resilience allows students to build self-confidence and self-esteem. Students recognize that they have been successful because of the high expectations set. This transfers to a successful life skill when students learn to achieve and deal with stress that can accompany challenges.

Students that are successfully resilient learn to make responsible decisions. A classroom teaching resilience has students with problem-solving skills. Knowing methods to address problems provides a balanced approach to making decisions. Students learn that there is more than one right approach.

Developing confidence and a network of collaborators, resilient students have safe environments to live and learn in. Reducing risky behaviours is another tangible and positive result of teaching resilience in the classroom. Students have more self-esteem because of their sense of accomplishment. 

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