Fostering Resilience in Teenagers

A Marin Academy student uses a compass in the outdoor skills class

A Marin Academy student uses a compass in the outdoor skills class

As Spanish teacher Anayansi Aranda-Yee pointed out this morning, today is 12/12/12—the last repetitive date we will ever see. We’re also 9 days away from finishing the first semester, and 10 days from the end of the world (according to the Mayans).

If life does go on (and I sure hope it does), we’re just a few decades away from our students leading our schools, organizations, communities, and country. This is an exciting and sobering fact. Our students have a lot of lessons in front of them—from preparing for their upcoming exams, to graduating from college, to starting their careers and getting their feet wet in the workforce. Our future depends on their developing many skills, including creativity, innovation, tenacity, and confidence. But success does not come without setbacks, whether they are in or out of our control. In fact, some of the greatest lessons have come from failure—though it can be difficult to realize it at the time.

Our special guest, Kenneth Ginsburg

One of the most important lessons that we try to impart on our students is how to navigate changes and maintain perspective. In order to help our community with this goal, we invited Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg to campus to discuss resiliency, which he defines as “the capacity to rise above difficult circumstances, allowing ourselves to exist in this less-than-perfect world while moving forward with optimism and confidence.” Dr. Ginsburg is a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He also serves as Director of Health Services at Covenant House Pennsylvania, an agency that serves Philadelphia’s homeless and marginalized youth, and is a parent of 17-year-old twins.

Students relieve some stress by playing a friendly game of dodgeball at lunch—they sometimes challenge faculty and staff to play!

Students relieve some stress by playing a friendly game of dodgeball at lunch—they sometimes challenge faculty and staff to play!

Dr. Ginsburg’s visit consisted of three parts: he spoke with our students (and received a standing ovation!) about developing strategies for coping with stress; determining strengths and weaknesses; and understanding how the process of failure, retooling, and recovery is so important to growing up. Through MAPA Parent Ed, he presented to a full house of parents about supporting their teenagers. Dr. Ginsburg also met with faculty, staff, and administrators to discuss our role in teaching resilience and helping students find strategies for their weaknesses.

Visual arts teacher Katharine Boyd in class

Visual arts teacher Katharine Boyd in class

I’m proud to say that Dr. Ginsburg expressed how Marin Academy is already doing a fantastic job encouraging resiliency in our students. From phasing out advanced placement classes to creating a robust advising program to encouraging experiential education, we’ve worked to encourage collaboration and active problem solving. Our end-of-year projects, for example, take away the stigma of “only one right answer” and instead stretch our students in creative and individualized ways. Today’s wellness meetings, which covered topics such as depression, friend groups, and exercise, are another example of how we encourage students to live balanced and healthy lives.

English teacher and Outings  Director Peter Poutiatine teaching compass skills

English teacher and Outings Director Peter Poutiatine teaching compass skills

And we can continue to improve. This year, a group of teachers and administrators is conducting a lesson study in order to examine how our students learn in the classroom. They will look at different perspectives—multicultural, analytic, and others—in order to gain a larger appreciation of classroom dynamics. In many ways, this study is an extension of the work of our teachers who are trained as Critical Friends Groups (CFG) facilitators who have specialized training in order to establish student learning outcomes and increase student achievement. We’re also continuing to experiment with design thinking, a human-centered creative process that helps to encourage student confidence and to develop tools for solving real-life problems. We want our students to learn how to differentiate between perfection and excellence, giving them varied opportunities to grow and succeed.

Students in the Bolinas surfing outing

Students in the Bolinas surfing outing

As we begin the final exam process, I hope that we will all remind our students to try their best AND remember that final exams are paper tigers, not actual tigers. Dr. Ginsburg’s 10-step stress management plan is a great one to keep in mind:

  1. Identify and then address the problem.
  2. Avoid stress when possible.
  3. Let some things go.
  4. Remember the power of exercise.
  5. Remember to actively relax.
  6. Eat well.
  7. Sleep well.
  8. Take instant vacations. (And remember that your real vacation is coming soon!)
  9. Release emotional tension.
  10. Contribute to making the world a better place.

Good luck to everyone over the next week and a half—vacation is right around the corner!


About Travis

Head of School, Marin Academy.
This entry was posted in faculty, parenting and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Fostering Resilience in Teenagers

  1. Alan says:

    Incredible lecture that night! We loved it and would love to see it again. Was it taped so that we could watch it sometime? Thanks for putting it on

    • Travis says:

      I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed it, Alan. Unfortunately, we did not record the lecture, but I believe the MAPA Parent Ed chairs may have some additional resources from the event. I will post if there is more information.

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