The Superhero Classroom

What if there was a way to turn around a child at risk for delinquency, substance abuse, dropping out and teen pregnancy?  What if that child could overcome all of the strikes against him and change his life trajectory?  How does that happen?  Who could make it happen?

For over 20 years, we have known the answer to these questions.  A solid body of research, begun in the 1960s, examined at risk children and why, in spite of everything, some of them manage to thrive and overcome dire circumstances.  By 1990, both internal and external factors that build resiliency in kids were identified.  The external factors are community characteristics, well-circulated as the 40 Assets.

The resiliency research has put to rest some popular perceptions of years gone by.  There was a time when kindergarten teachers forecast which of their 5-year olds would drop out of high school and some educators suggested that a few kids were beyond help.  This "basket case" perception of human beings was also popular in the international development field.  In the 1970s, while experts were celebrating the Green  Revolution in India, they were also categorizing some very poor nations as beyond hope.  Today we realize that every nation, every culture and every individual has promise.

Many assume that students fail because of emotional or social deficits.  Resiliency research though tells us that what they need are INTELLECTUAL skills, ones we in education should be building and strengthening.  In a future blog, I'll suggest types of activities teachers can use to build these important intellectual skills while teaching their content.  But even a quick study of the list of resiliency skills will suggest to teachers ways they can incorporate them.

At risk students need to develop Social Competence.
  • Learn to communicate.
  • Learn to respond to others.
  • Learn and show empathy.
  • Laugh -- at themselves, at situations at the world in general.

They need to become adept at Solving Problems.
  • Learn to think abstractly.
  • Practice reflecting on experiences and learning.
  • Learn to brainstorm and identify alternatives.
  • Learn to reason.

They need to develop a Sense of Autonomy.
  • Display self esteem.
  • Practice self discipline.
  • Control impulses.
  • Develop a positive sense of independence.
  • Believe in the future (their own).
Every one of these is teachable.  Teachers can be the superheroes who save entire generations of children.  Every child can learn these skills, especially if they are explicitly incorporated into curriculum throughout their schooling.  We have 13 years to develop the skills.  Put on your cape and get it done.

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