ERIC Identifier: ED372904
Publication Date: 1994-10-00
Author: Finley, Mary
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural
Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Cultivating Resilience: An Overview for Rural Educators and
Parents. ERIC Digest.
The positive concepts of resilience and protection are less familiar to rural
educators and to policymakers than the negative concept of risk (as in "at-risk
students"). Perhaps this state of affairs is the result of an appropriate and
longstanding research effort to understand the prevalent threats to children's
well-being. But when it comes to actually helping children, educators need to
understand more clearly what goes right even in risky circumstances, and why.
Recent research suggests things schools and communities can do to protect
children against the very real threats that confront families and individuals.
This Digest interprets these findings for application in rural communities.
The purpose here includes helping educators and policymakers to regard students
not as problems to be "fixed," but as personalities to be protected--and in
which to nurture internal resilience to the prevalent threats. Such a shift in
thinking constitutes a radically new way of looking at an old phenomenon.
Garmezy (1991, p. 428) puts it this way: "To think of the appropriate role [for
the school] is to think of oneself as a protective figure whose task is to do
everything possible to enhance students' competence." Competence includes the
capacity to deal with external threats, and all children need to develop such
AT RISK VS. RESILIENT--A DIFFERENCE IN OUTLOOK
"At risk," a
term borrowed from the field of medicine, is used educationally in a wide
variety of definitions--at risk of not graduating from high school, at risk of
developing alcohol and other drug abuse problems, at risk of failure in life.
Through overuse the term loses meaning. One can easily show, for instance, that
all children (indeed, all people) are at risk. Life inevitably entails threats,
after all, no matter how comfortable one's circumstances.
But many educators are understandably suspicious of the negative implications
of identifying and labeling children as being at risk for such conditions as
"failure in life." Fortunately, researchers began studying infants born to
at-risk families years ago. They have discovered, in fact, that many infants
born into risky circumstances actually become healthy adults (Garmezy, 1993;
Rutter, 1987; Werner & Smith, 1982, 1992). Some combination of circumstance
and temperament helped these individuals to withstand the threats that life
"Resiliency" is the construct used to
describe the quality in children who, though exposed to significant stress and
adversity in their lives, do not succumb to the school failure, substance abuse,
mental health problems, and juvenile delinquency predicted for them (Linquanti,
1992). The presence of protective factors in family, school, and community
environments appears to alter or reverse predicted negative outcomes and foster
the development, over time, of resiliency.
Key protective factors found in families, schools, and communities are
identified by Benard (1991):
caring and supportive relationship with at least one person;
clear, high expectations communicated to the child; and
opportunities to participate in and contribute meaningfully to one's social
Protective factors help develop resilient children, who exhibit the following
characteristics (Benard, 1991):
competence that allows the individual to sustain relationships;
of problem-solving skills in daily life; and
clear sense of personal autonomy, purpose, and future.
Garmezy (1991, p. 427) insists that the changed thinking of educators needs
to include "the proud awareness" that their work in classrooms and schools is
"the most worthy of societal enterprises--the enhancement of competence in their
children and their tailoring, in part, of a protective shield to help children
withstand the multiple vicissitudes that they can expect of a stressful world."
But where and how do rural schools begin to tailor a "protective shield"?
WHERE DO WE BEGIN?
Across the nation, rural communities and
schools differ dramatically from one another. No single set of prescriptions
could possibly cover rural communities of Mexican Americans, African Americans,
American Indians, Alaska Natives, or Appalachians. Though the rural poverty rate
is high and many areas suffer economically, writers have observed that rural
communities persist. Rural communities can be much more cohesive than urban or
suburban neighborhoods; for instance, strong kinship ties are common in rural
Sociologist James Coleman (1988) refers to the personal relationships in a
community--particularly those that span the generations--as "social capital."
Social capital represents connections among people in a given place that allow
them to care for one another--to look out for each other's well-being and for
the well-being of one another's children. Rural areas can develop their
comparatively greater social capital to help strengthen more children and
families against factors that might put them at risk.
Although comparatively little R&D effort has focused on rural
communities, Werner and Smith (1992) summarize several useful principles based
on their 40-year longitudinal study of disadvantaged children and families in
Hawaii. These principles are interpreted, next, in the light of rural
Set priorities. When resources are limited (as they are in many rural
communities), efforts should be guided by an assessment of priority, based on
the most potentially damaging local threats. The question of priorities is very
much a local one. Which local circumstances pose the greatest threats and to
whom? The diversity of rural communities means that priorities will vary.
Assess available capacity. As part of a community effort, schools need to be
aware of--and use--existing services. The key idea to remember is that
resiliency is best nurtured and ensured community-wide. A student who accesses
protective factors anywhere in the community benefits the whole community--and,
in fact, contributes to an increase in the community's social capital
(Linquanti, 1992). Schools' efforts, in both formal and informal activities,
must therefore protect existing support systems. In fact, they should be
designed to enhance existing support systems.
Support and celebrate. Resiliency can be cultivated, according to the
research, through a child's solid, meaningful connection with just one very
caring individual (Benard, 1991). A child may connect with the right important
individual in school, at church, at a youth or family center, at 4-H activities,
or at a local clinic or agency. These people--in whatever capacity the child
relates to them--become mentors (Cecil & Roberts, 1992; Flaxman, 1992). They
give the community's children a secure basis for the development of trust,
autonomy, and initiative; and the community should support their efforts
prominently. Some staff training may be necessary for mentors, but genuine
celebrations of the relationships between mentors and their proteges are also
Tear down turf boundaries. Obviously, jealously guarded institutional
boundaries are not consistent with the theory and practice of cultivating
resilience. Here is where rural communities have another advantage.
Interdisciplinary arrangements between schools and social services first became
operational in rural areas, where scarcity of resources necessitated
collaboration. The trend to work with other agencies continues to grow, as
reflected in the literature (see Lutfiyya, 1993, ERIC/CRESS Digest EDO-RC-92-9).
Research on specifically rural interventions is
scanty. The reference list below includes available resources that rural school
leaders can review for ideas that have at least worked in urban settings. Benard
(1991) and Linquanti (1992) provide particularly thorough introductions to the
resiliency paradigm, both with extensive bibliographies. Crockett and Smink's
(1991) guidebook on mentoring is excellent. Though few models for instituting a
resiliency paradigm exist, Winfield's (1991) framework for planning school and
community interventions can be adapted for any size school district. At the
classroom level, Hodges (1993) and Cecil and Roberts (1992) provide good
starting places for teachers.
A growing literature on service learning, which includes community-wide
efforts and mentorships of the sort considered above, is also relevant when
thinking about resilience, protection, and social capital. The aims of service
learning relate very clearly to the protective factors described in this Digest.
A three-volume resource series titled Combining Service and Learning (Kendall
& Luce, 1990) features an extensive annotated bibliography, descriptions of
many programs, consideration of implementation issues and dilemmas, and original
articles on a variety of topics related to the policy and practice of service
You can also contact the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse at
1/800-808-SERVE, via the Internet at serve"at sign"maroon.tc.umn.edu, and via
their gopher server address, gopher.nicsl.coled.umn.edu (note that "gopher" is
part of the address) for resources and "nuts and bolts" contact information
about service learning efforts (contacts for hundreds of service learning
programs are available).
REFERENCES AND RESOURCES
Benard, B. (1991). Fostering
resiliency in kids: Protective factors in the family, school, and community.
Portland, OR: Western Center for Drug-Free Schools and Communities. (ED 335 781)
Cecil, N. L., & Roberts, P. L. (1992). Developing resiliency through
children's literature: A guide for teachers and librarians, K-8. Jefferson, NC:
Coleman, J. (1988). Social capital in the creation of human capital. American
Journal of Sociology, 94, S95-S120.
Crockett, L., & Smink, J. (1991). The mentoring guidebook: A practical
manual for designing and managing a mentoring program. Clemson, SC: National
Dropout Prevention Center. (ED 341 924)
Flaxman, E. (1992). The mentoring relationship in action. New York: Columbia
University, Institute for Urban and Minority Education. (ED 356 287)
Garmezy, N. (1991). Resiliency and vulnerability to adverse developmental
outcomes associated with poverty. American Behavioral Scientist, 34(4), 416-430.
Garmezy, N. (1993). Children in poverty: Resiliency despite risk. Psychiatry,
Hodges, V. P. (1993). Teaching at-risk students: A quality program in a
small, rural high school. Paper presented at the 2nd National Conference on
Creating the Quality School, Oklahoma City, OK, March 25-27, 1993. (ED 360 131)
Kendall, J., & Luce, J. (Eds.) (1990). Combining service and learning: A
resource book for community and public service (Vols. I-III). Raleigh, NC:
National Society for Internships and Experiential Education.
Linquanti, R. (1992). Using community-wide collaboration to foster resiliency
in kids: A conceptual framework. Portland, OR: Western Regional Center for
Drug-Free Schools and Communities. (ED 353 666)
Lutfiyya, M. N. (1993). Integrated services: A summary for rural educators
(ERIC Digest EDO-RC-92-9). Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education
and Small Schools.
Rutter, M. (1987). Psychosocial resilience and protective mechanisms.
American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 57(3), 316-330.
Werner, E. S., & Smith, R. S. (1982). Vulnerable but invincible: A
longitudinal study of resilient children and youth. New York: Adams, Bannister,
Werner, E. S., & Smith, R. S. (1992). Overcoming the odds: High risk
children from birth to adulthood. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Winfield, L. F. (1991). Resilience, schooling, and development in
African-American youth: A conceptual framework. Education and Urban Society,
24(1), 5-14. (Theme issue devoted to the topic of resilience, schooling, and
development in African-American youth.)