Martha Unobe, Master's Degree Candidate at the University of North Carolina - Greensboro
Key Statement: Faculty can provide encouragement and tools so students have the opportunity to strengthen their resilience and find success in challenging situations.
Keywords: Resilience, 7 C's, Growth, Success
Students are struggling. Personal conflicts, financial problems, loneliness, heavy workloads, and mental health issues have led many students to drop out of college or perform poorly. Some students find it possible to endure difficult circumstances and may even thrive. However, many others abandon their academic pursuits when faced by such hurdles.
Have you ever wondered why certain students seem better adjusted and more adept at handling everyday challenges, alongside the pressure that accompanies intellectual pursuits? Consider how higher education can define and encourage students’ academic resilience. Martin and Marsh (2006) define resilience as "the process of, capacity for, or outcome of successful adaptation despite challenging or threatening circumstances" (p. 3). Academic challenges have the potential to be viewed as negative events with grim outcomes at any time (e.g., dropping out of school) (Frisby & Vallade, 2021). Resilience is especially fundamental today due to the changes forced upon individuals and the collective society by the COVID-19 pandemic. Students also need to be resilient in the face of contemporary changes to the mode and methods of our social interactions, and when dealing with sudden physical or emotional change such as homelessness; the loss of a loved one; or, like in my case, pregnancy and the birth of my first child.
What Is Required for Resilience?
Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, a child pediatrician and human development expert, developed “the 7 C's” that make up resilience (Fostering Resilience, n.d.). Students can apply this model to their daily lives to help them develop a sense of resilience in the face of change or challenges. Consider sharing this list with your students so they can practice seeing where they are already resilient, and how they can strengthen their resolve.
Competence: Practice skills and the ability to handle stressful situations.
Confidence: Believe in your ability to effectively handle a wide range of situations.
Connection: Maintain close ties to friends, family, and community groups for a stronger sense of security and a sense of belonging.
Character: Stick to your own sense of morality
Contribution: Realize that your efforts can make the situation (group, classroom, environment, etc.) better. Apply your strength to any new challenge you face and gain new experiences that you would never have gained otherwise.
Coping: Strengthen a wide array of coping skills (social skills, stress reduction skills) to be better prepared for many possible situations.
Control: Manage the outcome of your decisions. Make the best of them!
The spring semester of 2021 was the most challenging period of my life. In retrospect, I can see how Ginsburg’s 7 C’s of resilience played out (in bold at the end of this section).
I was eight and a half months pregnant and worried about the proximity of my due date to the end of the semester. I requested a meeting with the first of my three professors. I expressed my worries and wondered if I could obtain some flexibility surrounding the deadline for the final class project. We were in the final month of the semester, and while I didn’t know what to expect, I certainly was not prepared for her response.
In her view, my best option was to defer the remaining work I had until spring semester of 2022 – which basically meant postponing my graduation for a year. There I was, with a stomach larger than normal due to uterine fibroids, contending with swollen feet and constant leg cramps; all I wanted was some empathy and assurance that if I went into labor and missed the scheduled submittal date, I would be given some extra days to turn in the final class paper. I was disappointed, of course, but I realized she was just one of three people that I needed to speak to.
By this time, I did not have a great deal to do to complete the prerequisites for my second class. I had worked ahead and managed to complete assignments and exam tasks ahead of schedule. Aided by a detailed syllabus and a flexible class plan, I chose to perform my class presentation early in the semester and had already decided on a topic for my final class project. I already had a folder created with all the reference materials I needed to complete this task and had been working on it during my free time. However, cognizant of complications that could arise with my pregnancy, I decided a face-to-face meeting with the professor in this class would go a long way to prepare her for any eventuality. This meeting was a little bit better than the first. Here, I did not get the impression that this challenge (pregnancy) was mine alone to bear, but something I could share with her and get a little relief. They were simple words that left a mark. All she said was "Take your time, we can always work around it."
The third lecturer was amazing! He said, "Martha, you are carrying a human being. You and that child should come first. When the time comes, tell me what works for you, and we can make it happen."
These three responses, while different, all contributed to building my resilience through the course of the semester (competence). The first taught me to believe in myself (confidence). As students, we will not always get the response we want when we ask for help, but what we do with the response we do get can mar or make us (control). The second and third responses taught me to never stop asking for help (connection). The fact that one person said ''no" doesn’t mean you cannot get a "yes" from a different person (coping). As it turns out, I didn’t go into labor until I was 41 weeks and gave birth to a perfect little man. I had completed the semester and earned distinctions in all three classes (contribution). It gives me cause to celebrate when I recall how I recognized my own strength, reached out to people around me that could help, and refused to quit (character).
My story has taught me that students who are academically resilient have the ability to deal well with setbacks, obstacles, difficulty, and pressure in the classroom (Alva, 1991). Despite the stressful events and conditions that may endanger their academic success, resilient students can maintain increased levels of achievement, motivation, and engagement. Encouraging students to be aware of their own resilience can only help them in today’s stressful situations.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to ensure resilience in every circumstance. However, students must consciously set goals and use resources that help develop the skills to deal with problems that will arise and become more resilient and capable. Recall that growth does not necessarily happen from a place of comfort. But with tools and awareness, instructors and learners have got this!
1. How can we encourage development of the 7 C’s to foster professionalism in students?
2. Which of the C’s can you encourage students to practice in the learning space?
3. If you could add a “C,” what would you add?
Alva, S. A. (1991). Academic invulnerability among Mexican-American students: The
importance of protective and resources and appraisals. Hispanic Journal of
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Fostering Resilience. (n. d.).
Frisby, B. N., & Vallade, J. I. (2021). “Minor setback, major comeback”: A multilevel
approach to the development of academic resilience. Journal of
Communication Pedagogy, 5, 115–134. https://doi.org/ 10.31446/JCP.2021.2.13
Martin, A. J., & Marsh, H. W. (2006). Academic resilience and its psychological and
educational correlates: A construct validity approach. Psychology in the
Schools, 43, 267–281. https://doi.org/10.1002/pits.20149