Thahmina Begum, Executive Headteacher, Community Schools Trust

Our young people are more resilient than we give them credit for.

Despite the popular belief that negative life experiences predict negative outcomes, in her book, ‘Resiliency: What We Have Learned’, Bonnie Benard draws on decades of research to highlight the strong association between positive factors and positive outcomes.

Benard says the environment plays an important role in building resilience and can be utilised as a ‘positive factor’ in building resilience. She refers to the ‘protective factors’ of an environment that support young people’s responses to resilience. These are:

1. Caring relationships

2. High expectation messages

3. Opportunities for meaningful participation and contribution

I first came across Benard’s work in ‘Reconnect’ by Lemov et al and it made me reflect on just how applicable these ‘protective factors’ are to the classroom:

1. Caring relationships

‘…convey compassion, understanding, respect and interest, are grounded in listening, and establish safety and basic trust.’

Habits of attention

So much of our sense of self is built based on how others respond to us through a whole host of verbal and non verbal cues: glances, facial expressions, body language and so on. This effect is even more powerful, peer to peer, in the classroom. Lemov argues that while teacher relationships are important in instilling confidence in a student, more powerful is peer influence. A child who makes a contribution in class and is met with signs of validation and respect from their peers – for example, obviously listening, eye contact, body language to show interest – is much more likely to contribute again, feel confident and continue to learn, compared to a child whose effort to contribute is met with body language or comments that suggest their peers don’t care about what they’ve said, or worse, derision. That child is likely not to contribute again, their confidence is knocked and their learning impacted.

At Community Schools Trust, we don’t leave this to chance in our classrooms. This is why we use SLANT, adapted from Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion (TLAC), to deliberately teach habits of attention, in order to establish ‘caring relationships’ both peer to peer and teacher to student.

Culture of error

If we can create an environment where students are not afraid to take risks with their learning, we know we have achieved a level of the ‘safety and basic trust’ that Benard refers to. Another TLAC technique that helps establish this is ‘show call’ which you may recall from our most recent deliberate practice session. When a teacher shares the work of a student under the visualiser with the whole class, it is a moment we can use to not only explicitly highlight good work but errors too; I’ve heard phrases like I’m so glad you made this mistake; it means we can all learn from it and thank you for allowing us to learn from this common error – great indicators for that all important ‘culture of error’ where learning can take place through ‘respect, trust and understanding’.

2. High expectation messages

‘They communicate not only firm guidance, structure and challenge, but and most importantly, convey a belief in the youth’s innate resilience’.

At CST, we believe structure liberates. We have a lot of structures and our biggest challenge is to consistently follow those structures so that our students get a fair deal, which in turn will support the development of their resilience.

Instructional practice

For example, we have our explicit direct instruction (EDI) framework – an evidence informed pedagogical structure that we build our lessons around. We have set it up to guide and develop our teaching practice: we use it to develop our behavioural routines, like how we gauge the class’ attention, and instructional routines, like how we ask a question.

Questioning routines

If we take the simple example of cold calling, when done badly, the implications can negatively affect resilience: when a teacher only picks the loudest student or the most eager student, they ignore the rest. In doing this, they communicate expectations for only some students – the ones they always pick. Students who are not picked, whether they are pleased about it or not, will be acutely aware of their teacher’s tendency to do this. And worse still, they are likely to internalise a belief that they are not capable of or even worthy to answer questions in their classroom.

Alternatively, we know that the consistent and correct application of cold calling will mean, a (well worded) question will ‘challenge’ our students, the thinking time will let all students know we believe they are all capable of answering the question, we expect them to answer the question, and ‘most importantly, [it will] convey a belief in the youth’s innate resilience’.


Finally, a key feature of our students’ independent practice in the classroom is responding to our live marking: ‘fix it’. When this expectation has not been established and embedded into every lesson, ‘fixing it’ feels like a chore to students. Language surrounding it is often negative from the student: ugh I have to do it AGAIN, as opposed to, Miss, I upgraded this part of my response – can you have a look?

Where this practice is embedded and routine, we hear language from the teacher that is positive and warm: I can’t wait to mark your work, or, I have a feeling these responses are going to be even better today… In classrooms like these, we communicate the expectation of challenge, our belief that they can meet that challenge and by proxy, their ‘innate resilience’ in being able to do so.

3. Opportunities for meaningful participation and contribution

This particular ‘protective factor’ from Benard is one of my favourite things to see when I visit lessons.

Habits of discussion

TLAC techniques like Turn and Talk and Habits of Discussion deliberately shape the norms of how we talk to each other. Too often, students tend to talk ‘past’ one another or make a comment that does not acknowledge or link to what their peer might have just said – often they haven’t listened to each other. While techniques like Turn and Talk inject energy and pace into our lessons, Habits of Discussion connect our students to each other; they build ‘opportunities for meaningful participation and contribution’.

Here’s an example of Ms Hussain from Forest Gate Community School doing just that:

Final thoughts

Our students are built of sturdy stuff. We need to deliberately build environments to support their responses to resilience. Thankfully, we have a suite of strategies to do this well. Our challenge is to use these strategies consistently and well so that collectively, we create cohorts of resilient, happy and thriving young people.

Learn more about Author, Thahmina Begum