A lot of recent focus in education has been on resiliency, the condition of being able to recover from setbacks, adversity, or challenges. Too many of our students face challenges that we, as educators, can only imagine. This past semester, I was reminded of this in my online course. I teach high school chemistry online. While chemistry is quite a challenging subject in itself, taking it online adds another dimension of challenge. Students who enroll in my online chemistry course do so for a variety of reasons. For some, it is a schedule challenge. But for others, it has to do with personal challenges. During the six years that I taught chemistry online, I have had students who are unable to attend their face to face high school for a variety of reasons that ultimately relate to some type of trauma or adversity. In doing so, their schools have determined that the students are best served by taking the course online. For these students, their challenges are far greater than just making conversions, balancing chemical equations, and calculating pH. I am very appreciative that I am able to help these students continue in their learning despite some of the challenges that they are personally experiencing. Sometimes, I know the reasons for their challenges but other times, I do not. Regardless, it does not really matter as long as I know that the students have some type of adversity that has negatively impacted their ability to attend their face to face school. This semester, I had several students who fell into this category. Two students in particular had a profound impact on me. I have been working with the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) over the past year in developing resiliency training for educators statewide. I have learned that many of our students often have adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that serve as obstacles to their success and ability to focus on obtaining a quality education. One possible example may involve parents who are addicted to pain relievers and unable to provide their full attention to their own children. While neither of these students had this kind of ACE, both had challenges that would have been insurmountable for other students. Both often fell behind in submitting work, another characteristic of students experiencing trauma. As I reflect on my experience with both of these students, I observed a couple of commonalities. Both had supportive parents with which I was able cultivate positive relationships to help the students. Both had someone at their school that I could reach out to as needed. But I think that the most important similarity involved my ability to build a positive, supportive, and non-judgemental relationship with these students. When these students fell behind, I continued to stress that they still had the ability to be successful and could do so if they would continue to put effort into the course. I provided encouragement when they were successful. It was authentic encouragement, not insincere encouragement that they would viewed as empty and hollow. I stressed their strengths and always referenced them in the feedback that I left for them on assignments. Instead of pointing out their deficiencies, I stressed their strengths. This is one of the keystones of building resiliency among students facing trauma. I also never stopped believing that they could do it. I am not staying this to "toot my own horn;" instead, I am staying that it was important to let the students know that I genuinely believed in them. As a result, both students were able to complete all required assignments for the course. Just a few weeks ago, this goal seemed highly unlikely given how far both students. Through regular contact and supportive messages, both students came through in the end. I let each student know that, often it is not about where we finish, but more important that we finish. I am so thankful to each of these students for helping to remind me of the important role that educators can play in helping trauma impacted students. Further, I am so appreciative that I was able to experience this kind of success virtually. It is amazing that if I saw these students in a mall or public place, I would not know them since we never see photos of them unless they share. But what is important is that we, as educators, have the ability to impact our students regardless of time and space when given the opportunity. It relates back to the importance of building relationships and taking the time to understand our students along with a dose of empathy. So to these two students, I am so proud of each of you finishing the course and persevering given the unique challenges that each of you experienced. Let me never forget the important lessons that you taught me.
(Here is an awesome resource that I found from the Virginia Department of Education if you are interested in learning more about this topic)
The ideas shared here are my own and do not necessarily represent my employers, associations, or organizations. These thoughts are entirely my own.