Increasing needs for discussing strategies to address student resiliency

Friends, I read this great PBS article on student resilience - The authors state, "Coupled with an increase in diagnosable psychiatric disorders is a reported decline in average student resilience — the ability to manage and bounce back from the bumps of everyday life." We are seeing more students struggle on a daily basis. 

While the article is discussing higher education issues, I believe we are seeing the same concerns in adult education. Students are dealing with increasing debt, higher levels of unemployment, and are still reeling with family outcomes from the recession. 

What are you seeing in your classroom? How are you addressing the increasing student needs? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts. 



Kathy, thank you for sharing the article on resilience. I found myself saying, "Yes! Yes! Yes!" throughout the article and have experienced many students and youth today with crippling anxiety, depression and stresses. For many, economic strain is a major factor. In looking at our current times, there is much emphasis on education as the gateway out of economic strife, and although I do agree education is vital, I may differ a bit from the norm in what the educational focus should improve. What I hear from educators and others in communities is, "Get an education, get a college degree, and then your economic options open up." I think many might question if that is true. I personally have a masters degree in a field I am very passionately interested in and yet I have friends that never attended college that drive a cab from an airport to a hotel every day and they make twice as much income as I do and they have much more job security. Sure, there are some highly specialized needs in the workforce that have a major shortage of qualified people, but those specializations often require more than just an Associates or even BS or BA. For many going to college right now, the promise of a job is reduced to a better possibility of a job. To accumulate so much debt on an increased possibility is impractical for many of our adults today. 

Think back through our history to a time where there were just no jobs and no money. It may be hard because we were not alive during the great depression. How did they fix all the economic anxiety and depressions? One major factor was that family and community was much stronger and provided more of a sense of "We are all in this together, so lets help each other so that they may help us when they can." People invested sweat equity in themselves and those around them. Today, people seem much more concentrating on their immediate family and communities are more of a tax zone than a circle of connected families. Another element that helped pull people out of the great depression was the spirit of innovation and creativity. People had to make jobs, they had to make a living because there simply were no jobs to just show up for. I feel we are currently in a very similar situation. We need to be fostering the skills and thinking needed to innovate new jobs, new careers that are more inline with life today and not based on data from census that are 3-5 years old. Data may be valuable, but our data processing timelines are hardly keeping up with how much society changes on an annual basis.

I have been working with a 58 year old gentleman who has done hot top paving for his entire adult life and now feels he needs to learn how to read to have other economic options. He knows his body can't handle this job much longer, but it pay so well. As he continues to learn to read, we look through the local job bank every week to see trends that may match his interests and abilities. We have found the following:

  1. CNA dominates job openings. Consistently, for months of our tracking, CNA jobs are most available and the highest needs. It takes a special person to be a career CNA and their important work is very difficult as evidenced by the high turnovers in staffing. It is a "first step" on a career in healthcare and many do not see the position as a long term career. 
  2. Specialists:This is a large group with no one industry dominating much in which the employer wants X years experience with one specific type of machine or process or needs more than 4 years of college to fill
  3. Entry level jobs like retail clerks, fast food attendants or gas attendants. In all of these jobs, the pay is not enough for a single person to live on in this state. Although this work is relatively abundant, it is not work that economically supports individuals in  a way that increases resiliency. 

As my student gets a bit bummed every time we look through jobs to find the same results, I bring the conversation to his passions in life. He has worked so hard at one thing his whole life, he struggles still after months of reflection to nail down his passions. Still, I help him brainstorm ideas every time we meet and it is exciting to watch how he has gone from rejection, to curiosity, to questioning, to now proposing ideas. "What do you think about doing .... and I would make money this way .... ?" was our last conversation this last week. It was the first time he suggested a non-traditional economic option that was in line with things he likes to do and he felt could make him a sufficient income. The idea had a few critical missing elements in it, but that will develop more fully as he is encouraged to explore innovation more. Our beginning reading materials are all centered on innovators and the success stories of people who had to push through many challenges to design their own solutions out of those challenges. 

While I am not convinced we can "fix" the massive anxiety and depression present today due to economic stresses, I am firm in my believe that fostering innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship may be able to help more of our adult learners today get or make jobs than our more traditional push through college systems.

If you had to look through your open jobs in your area, what top three trends do you see? Try looking today to get a base glance then look weekly for a month or more and see how things average out. It would be great to see how trends are going around the country with data that is current. Perhaps seeing trends in the jobs being asked for might help us all discover ways we might better support our anxious and depressed adults struggling with an apparent lack of economic options. 


Thank you for your thoughtful response. I found myself in agreement with what you said. I'd like to continue the discussion by adding another layer of complexity to this issue. You were spot on with the competitive nature of seeking entry level employment and how stressful this process is for all of our students. As educators, we are extremely aware of our adult's stress. In the K-12 traditional public school world, there is a large push to develop trauma informed schools to address the ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and the toxic stress and its impact on the brain. I would expect that the continued struggle of poverty would clearly be considered an ACE. There are seven 'ingredients' for educating students in a care sensitive manner. I would say that you have achieved that with your demonstration of working with your student. 

To continue this conversation, what do you think about trauma informed schools? the ingredients of a teaching in a care sensitive manner? the connection between trauma informed education and the article about student resiliency? 

I look forward to continuing this dialogue. 


Kathy and others,

Those who want to learn more about how trauma has affected adult learners, how to help them, and how to prepare for addressing emerging trauma issues in the classroom might wish to read Jenny Horsman's Too Scared to Learn, and other writings, or some of the writings by adult educator and trauma social worker Kate Singleton. Both have participated as experts in LINCS discussions, and further information about them can be found with a LINCS search and a Google search. (Jenny Horsman + trauma, Kate Singleton + trauma)

David J. Rosen


I love the word Informed. I personally feel so ignorant of so many things in life and personal perspective and rational is so individual that we all can be learning from each other every day. I hear much language based on fear of judgement, "I'm sorry. I'm not very good at ...." from learners when I first meet them. The "Seven Ingredients" that you shared offered some nice information. 

I found #3 particularly relevant. The shift from "What's wrong with you?" to "What has happened to you?" is so vital for any learners we deal with. Our grading practices, our testing fetishes (k-12), and socially created artificial time frames for learning have all created a growing group of fearful learners that wish to avoid more judgement at all costs. The simple shift of looking beyond the immediate behavior we witness to get explore the "Why?" behind those behaviors can help us better choose learning options that lead to more success with the learners. I would love to read/view/explore other materials people have that support people shifting from a society of judgement to a society of understanding with empathy. Facebook, television, radio, newsprint and even discussions around the water cooler at work are all full of judgmental topics, tone and vocabulary. Is it any wonder that we find it difficult to locate strong communities in our societies today? 

I had some interesting thoughts on the Regulation (#4) item. I personally need a socially mandated construct to "fit in" walking, yoga, meditation and other activities proven to help regulate the often overwhelming stresses life throws at us. For some of our learners, there may be much ignorance as to how any of these actions might help the learner calm or center themselves to be able to be productive. In other cases, like mine, the person may fully understand the benefits and yet never makes a dedicated place or time for the activities to happen. Are there adult education programs that have been able to incorporate regulation activities in as a classroom norm for all classes? I know programs often have enrichment classes on each activity, but I am more interested in the idea of a learner showing up for math class and during the learner's time in that class they experience regular regulation activities. I love the idea, but it seems learners struggle with getting the time or means to get to us, it may be difficult to introduce regulation activities as necessary or productive time. Maybe my math class could meet at a track and as we are walking around the track we are collecting data for our lesson that class? Maybe charting heart rates during yoga or meditation over time will show us any correlations between heart rate and perceived stress levels? I don't know, it just seems there should be ways to incorporate regulation activities in as a regular part of academic study. Workplaces are making that shift, how about adult education?

Hello Ed and all, Thanks for telling us about your work with this student, Ed. The supportive conversations you are having with him are incredibly important. These kinds of conversations are what is required as we seek to guide individuals to reach for what is possible. What is possible, however-- as you note -- is not always clear, especially for people in their late 50s.

The economy has been shifting under our feet for some time. We are involved in a rather tectonic shift from an economy based on manufacturing to one based on providing services with lots of people left behind. The future seems uncertain to many people. It's likely that the depression some people are experiencing is fueling the drug addiction problem we are seeing in many areas.

From what you say, it sounds like middle skills jobs, i.e., those requiring training such as electricians and plumbers, are not in demand in your area. I've read that --at least in some areas-- as the baby boom generation is retiring that these jobs are growing in demand.

Losing a viable livelihood and being uncertain about the future is hard. Offering caring, understanding and hope, as you are doing, Ed, is essential.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

LINCS Moderator


There have been wonderful points made in this strand and I encourage you to read the article When Grit Isn't Enough. The author is discussing a student's environment and goes on to state, “We are asking students to change a belief system without changing the situation around them...The transformative potential in growth mindsets and social-emotional skills such as grit may be more applicable to students whose basic needs are already met."

As the article goes on, the author discusses the difference between why some children succeed in school and others don’t. Educators and administrators tend to overestimate the power of the person and underestimate the power of the situation. Linked in the article is a resource guiding educators toward an understanding of the impact of trauma on development and learning. 

I hope you find the articles and resources as meaningful as I did. 

Thank you for sharing that Kathy. As I work with teachers in many adult settings, I am often alarmed at how little individual environments are factored into how a teacher interacts with a student. One young lady came into class, fussed with students a bit and 15 minutes later was asleep on the desk. Some of the other students started to look to the teacher I was working with for a reaction and the teacher seemed to hesitate for a good amount of time. Eventually, the teacher went over to the student and began lecturing the student about "Just showing up to class is not enough ...", "You can't get ahead in life if you are always asleep ..." and a few other statements I am sure he meant to use to inspire positive responsibilities, but it was clear that this student was suffering because of her environment outside of class. After sitting and hearing her talk about her situation, it was apparent that class was the only safe place she felt she could sleep. It was the only time she was not fighting her environment and her child was taken care of in the day care next door so she could finally try to relax and get a little sleep. Of course, adult education is not a rest easy nor is it a boarding house. After the teacher was aware of the cause of the young woman's constant desire to sleep in class, the teacher and the school was able to connect the woman to a safer situation in which more sleep became possible. Suddenly, she was no longer sleeping in class. Nor was she feeling ashamed or attacked just because she needed a nap big time. 

Everyone, even teachers, face a wide variety of challenges outside of classes. As we interact with students in class, it is often helpful to remember that each of our environments is different and people act a particular way for very specific reasons. Although we often can do very little about the environments outside of class, when they are working with us, we can do wonders to expose students to options, ways of positively processing, and can help with goal setting.

Personally, it feels like more of my learners are coming in with environmental challenges than ten or twenty years ago. Perhaps I am just older and wiser and more aware now? Perhaps society's pressures are increasing for many who are trying their best every day to take a step forward but feel they continue to loose ground daily? Perhaps there is more learned helplessness from youth that has carried on into adulthood today? Are you seeing increases in environmental challenges in learners and if so do you suspect some causes? 

Hi Ed, 
I really appreciate your thoughtful responses. I agree that we are seeing more and more situations with learners and staff. Some of it, I think, is because we are more aware of situations that impact our peers.