Fostering resilience

There is a fuss being made in education at present about resilience. Like strong verbal skills or good working memory, current research suggests that resilience can positively affect educational outcomes. For children with learning differences this becomes hugely important because unlike processing and memory, resilience is not a fixed construct; there is no inherent barrier to full and free expression.

The word resilience has been in steady usage since 1674. It stems from the Latin resilire  - to jump back, recoil, and from re- + salire to leap. Leap, recoil, jump back: all attest to the cycle of forward movement, meeting an edge, springing back and beginning again. That is what we want to cultivate, the springing back, the physics of renewed effort… and this takes practice.

The brain’s organization is affected by experience and practice; we call this neuroplasticity and it is the science of learning. Our brains are like forests of branches, each responsible for different ways of perceiving and processing information. With practice, the brain can ‘learn’ to compensate for a weakness by strengthening alternative pathways – it’s the science behind the effectiveness of early intervention for reading and maths difficulties.

If you’ve ever tried to learn a language or a musical instrument, you know how challenging practice can be. How much effort is required to keep trying.

The British have an interesting expression: to be ‘a trier’. The Oxford English Dictionary defines trier (noun) as ‘a person who always makes an effort, however unsuccessful they may be’. ‘Kelly was described by her teachers as a real trier.’

My heart goes out to Kelly.

Resilience has a shadow which we don’t explicitly acknowledge. To become resilient we always meet an edge, a barrier. If you are a child with a learning difference, you meet your edge every day in school. You meet your edge in reading, in spelling, in math. In social skills. In simple organisation. Every day, in a public forum, you are exposed. That’s a vulnerable place to go every day.

Even the dictionary thinks of Kelly as unsuccessful.

The success criteria for resilience is not about the barrier; it’s about the springing back. As adults we know that everyone faces challenges, meets edges, and that growth is the process of continuing on irrespective of all conditions: positive or negative, desired or undesirable. The understanding that all human beings share this experience is the basis of empathy and connection.

So how do we foster Kelly’s resilience?

·         We need to challenge the way neurodivergent children are being perceived in schools

·         We need to actively cultivate empathy in schools


I’m putting together an action plan.

Do you have a question or concern about children who learn differently that you’d like to know more about? Write to me at