Reflections on Resilience

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Author: Sam Borek-Coxen

It is our aim as educators at OBS to constantly review our processes, to collaborate and learn from other professionals, and to understand the impact that different approaches, recourses and environments have on students and their learning.

While it can often be refreshing and reassuring to validate how well we are implementing strategies by seeing how other institutions are not doing things or doing them with minimal success, this schadenfreude approach is counterproductive and will not help us grow and develop as educators. When we visit or speak to other schools, teachers and school leaders we do so with a growth-mind-set, knowing that it is our responsibility to live the values that we aim to instill in our students and embrace lifelong learning.

With this is in mind, I recently took the opportunity to spend some time in a state-run kindergarten in inner-city Zürich. I would like to share some of the key observations and differences I noticed between OBS and this particular kindergarten.

In contrast to OBS, the kindergarten, like many others, is not in, or next to a primary school.

The teacher and the kindergarten students are, quite literally, detached from the primary school that they will later attend. However, the kindergarten does come under the governance and leadership of the local primary school. Teachers, in this respect, have a lot of autonomy and freedom. However, one drawback of this setup could be limited teacher support and opportunities for joint collaboration. These areas are something we pride ourselves on at OBS, we are able to draw on each other’s experience and, skills and advise at the drop of a hat while immediately seeing the positive impact this has on teaching and learning as well as on team spirit.

The kindergarten class in Zurich has 20 students with 5 different home languages, excluding German. This variety of home languages is similar to our KG classes. The big difference though, is that many of these children do not speak German at home. At OBS we have maximum KG class sizes of 16 students and each teacher has an assistant. At this particular kindergarten I visited, there is no official assistant, but a volunteer who comes in a couple of times a week. What we may see as challenges are seen as the norm for some kindergarten teachers working in the state system and, when utilized, these challenges can provide valuable learning opportunities for the students.

It was impressive to see how independent a lot of the students are and how they have learnt to solve small challenges and conflicts (or attempt to) alone. I observed numerous incidents of students having small disputes and once or twice being quite unkind to each other. This, we know is not always pleasant, but a normal developmental behavioral phase. Some, not all, of the students in the state-run kindergarten seem to have adapted to the environment and developed problem-solving skills, the confidence to ask for peer support and the resilience to shake things off. They have become accustomed to the fact that their teacher is dealing with another 18 or 19 children and to just get on with things.

In contrast to our smaller classes and higher staff numbers, these incidents at OBS may often result in teacher intervention, or at least the students approaching a member of staff for comfort or assistance– this is of course very child dependent. Providing this comfort and guidance to students can be of huge value. There are students who are not yet able or who have not yet developed the resilience to simply shake-off or deal with challenging situations and social conflict without escalation or real emotional stress. With our approach, we are also able to monitor in which situations students face particular challenges, and address and support these by adapting our teaching, classroom management and collaborating with parents. It may well be that a student is unable to deal with a certain kind of stress because of anxiety, emotional needs or difficulties outside school such as moving home or grief. At OBS, we are well equipped to pick up on such issues and deal with them effectively.

Comparing the pros and cons of these two situations poses the question: how and when do we as parents and teachers intervene? If we over-support are, we in fact hindering the development of resilience? If we appear unavailable to children will bigger more serious problems be missed, and will children lack confidence or trust to approach us when they really do need our help? These are questions that we should always be asking ourselves and reassessing. There are no clear-cut answers, but asking the questions helps us reflect on how we deal with each individual child, situation and how we develop a safe, secure yet un-inhibiting learning environment.

On a more practical note, visiting other schools provides us with the opportunity to bring simple, yet creative teaching ideas back to our classrooms. I had never thought of creating hungry emojis out of tennis balls to create a fun, differentiated fine motor skills development activity.

Whatever we take away from our visits and discussions with other educators, both nationally and internationally, we know that by constantly broadening our mind, asking questions and viewing educational approaches from different perspectives, we are enabling ourselves to constantly develop and reflect on best practices for our students.

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