Strengthening resiliency skills is one of the best things school administrators can do for their students. Over the past two decades, researchers who study K-12 students have linked both academic performance and engagement to student resiliency (Solberg, Davis, & McLemore, 2010). Kelly Hupfeld, in her whitepaper, “Resiliency Skills and Dropout Prevention,” writes, “Finally, students who exhibit signs of being disengaged from school are more likely to drop out. These students have poor attendance rates, are less likely to be involved in extracurricular activities, act out in the classroom, and have poor relationships with teachers and peers” (Hupfeld, 2010).
Close & Solberg (2007) define resiliency as “the ability to succeed in school despite adverse conditions such as poverty or abuse and includes components such as confidence, a sense of well-being, motivation, an ability to set goals, strong relationships/connections, and stress management” (Close & Solberg, 2007).
Solberg (2014) writes:
Based on studies of both academically unsuccessful and successful students (Solberg, Carlstom, & Kowalchuk 2001), it has been determined that disengaged students are likely to struggle with a range of interrelated social-emotional issues. Often, they do not believe education is important; they can lack academic confidence and intrinsic motivation to succeed in school; they probably cannot manage academic or personal stress and frequently struggle to maintain well-being; and they are often without positive relational supports (Solberg, Carlstom, & Kowalchuk 2001).
Successful students also struggle with some of these issues but they either struggle less acutely or they have developed strategies that help them prevent these issues from affecting their academic performance.
Student mentors can connect with and support students with a variety of interventions. Melissa Maras et al., (2015) discuss the importance of a tiered response model for social-emotional learning in order to address student needs, particularly in the face of the kinds of mental and emotional hardships students have experienced during the pandemic. Social-emotional learning (SEL) is described by Zins and Elias (2007) as “the capacity to recognize and manage emotions, solve problems effectively, and establish positive relationships with others.” Important features of SEL success align with mentoring strategies of fostering self-awareness and management, social awareness, relationship building, and responsible decision making (Maras et al., (2015).
Graduation Alliance uses student mentors to integrate the features of SEL success above (self-awareness and management, social awareness, relationship building, and responsible decision making) with five resiliency factors that have been found to differentiate successful students from unsuccessful students (Solberg, Davis, & McLemore 2010):
- academic stress,
- valuing education,
- and intrinsic motivation.
Student mentors help foster resiliency in students in the following ways:
Self-Awareness and Management
Students learn self-awareness by being responsible on a personal, consistent basis for communication and relationship development with their mentor. Students learn how to be aware of their own behaviors and actions through the feedback they receive from their mentor: The mentor should be a caring adult who is proactive in their intervention approach but not intimidating because they do not have an evaluative function in the student’s life. This allows the student the freedom to become self-aware without fear of repercussions for not being “perfect.”
One of the first things a mentor can do with their student is help create a tailored, personalized education plan. The personalized education plan has the dual function of both allowing the mentor to build a personalized relationship with the student through collaboration on a shared objective — the student’s success — and also to use the time to identify and then respond to barriers the student is facing. Since the COVID pandemic began, students have been facing a variety of challenges including lack of access to technology– and sometimes this is as simple as needing a power cord, or obtaining a password that will allow them to access their school’s online learning platform. A mentor can help students with these things.
Other barriers can be having sibling care responsibilities, having to work to assist their families financially, not having an adult who regularly checks on their progress, food insecurity, McKinney-Vento eligibility, or needing help communicating with their teacher.
The personalized education plan provides a starting place with pinpoints of data, including the student’s own identified barriers to engagement, which help the mentor provide holistic supports for the student, personalized to the student’s needs.
Mentors can also use the personalized education plan to help students learn to manage their time by reviewing assignment timelines with students and developing plans to prioritize and complete tasks, study for tests, and achieve both short- and long-term academic goals.
Resiliency Factor 1: Academic Stress — Teaching students healthy study habits such as breaking long-term assignments and projects into small, manageable chunks, giving tips on how to take notes effectively (write down anything the teacher writes on the chalkboard), and encouraging daily review of work and completion of homework
Students learn about social awareness by having two-way conversations with their mentors. Mentors can engage students in comprehensive ways to address barriers to engagement, which can include social anxiety. For example, through practicing different social scenarios with their mentors, students can build social confidence, which can in turn help them navigate the social pressures of the classroom that can sometimes inhibit students from seeking assistance or asking clarifying questions. Students who are confident contribute to fostering a positive and supportive school climate.
Resiliency Factor 2: Confidence — For younger students (K-2), instilling confidence with reading out loud in front of peers by having their students practice with the mentor, who provides unconditional positive regard.
In addition to learning about self-awareness and management, students learn about relationship building through partnering with their mentors to develop their personalized education plans. The relationship grows as students engage at least weekly with their mentors, by reciprocating communication, sharing information, and accepting (and implementing) advice. It is through this relationship building that mentors learn more about the social-emotional barriers to engagement and success that their students are facing. Through weekly interactions with their students, mentors establish trust with their students and their families and can assist with coordinating community referrals through the district, as appropriate. The relationship-building skills that mentors model and reinforce help prepare students not only for high school but also for what lies after they obtain their diplomas.
Resiliency Factor 3: Valuing Education — Using the relationship built and the trust that has been established to help students connect their dreams of the future to their schoolwork in the present
Resiliency Factor 4: Connectedness — Working with families to develop structures at home that reinforce student milestones and goals
This personalized learning plan helps the mentor teach the student about responsible decision-making because the student learns to prioritize their time, apply study strategies to their assignments, and connect meaning and relevance to their academic success. The mentor demonstrates to the student the importance of making decisions that will help them meet goals and that will teach students how to be intrinsically motivated by their own achievements, which in turn builds resilience. Resilient students are more likely to be successful students.
Resiliency Factor 5: Intrinsic Motivation — Providing simple tips such as setting phone alarms to alert students about online meetings with teachers and tutors
Providing accountability to help students transition from school to homework
Not all schools are in a position to provide mentors to their students, but given the post-pandemic climate, it’s worth considering a change in structure in order to include mentors in the support team.
Close, W. & Solberg, S. (2007). Predicting achievement, distress and retention among lower-income Latino youth. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 72.
Hupfeld, K. (2010). Resiliency Skills and Dropout Prevention. ScholarCentric.
Kamenetz, A., Turner, C., Hkurana, M. (2021). Where are the students? For a second straight year, school enrollment is dropping. Morning Edition. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2021/12/15/1062999168/school-enrollment-drops-for-second-straight-year
Maras, MA., Thompson, AM., Lewis, C., Thornburg, K., & Hawks, J. (2015). Developing a Tiered Response Model for Social-Emotional Learning Through Interdisciplinary Collaboration. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 25.
Solberg, SVH., Davis, A., & McLemore, C. (2010) Resiliency as an Indicator of Academic Success. Examining Success Highways Resiliency Assessments as an Indicator of Success. ScholarCentric.
Zins, JE., & Elias, M.J. (2007). Social and emotional learning: Promoting the development of all students. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 17.