Cha Ron Sattler-Lablanc--Confronting challenges in life is inevitable and, I believe, necessary for learning. When we hit the learning curves in life, we don't usually say, “Hooray! A Learning Opportunity!” When we fall, usually face first, a more typical response is, “Oh, poop” (or similar expletive).
One facet of the Division of Student Affairs strategic plan is to support students as they develop the ability to recognize, face, and manage the challenges of a changing world--in a word: Resilience. Resilience is a skill many of us develop over time. I grew up attending mass every Sunday. I’m convinced most Catholics could find meaning and a sermon out of stubbing their toe--and it is through sharing stories that we provide a foundation, or perhaps a framework, to handle the curves when it is our turn to take them.
Is there a framework for understanding resilience? As you consider some of the great learning moments in your experience, how do you share your lessons?
RECOGNIZE – Sitting in my graduate econ class, I remember feeling overwhelmed, having no grasp of the material: There was no hope. Like many students, trying to take control, I blamed myself. Clearly, I can’t do this. I’m not smart enough to get a graduate degree – what was I thinking? After class, I approached the professor for help, and perhaps in one of the great moments of serendipity, another student also stayed behind for assistance.
REFRAME – In trying to keep a sense of humor about things, and perhaps knowing humor can help confront fear, I argued that if the course were offered in Russian, I might have a better shot of understanding the material. I knew no Russian, it was all very “Greek” to me. I stayed after to ask the instructor for help, not sure at the time I thought anyone could help me, but it was a moment I knew whatever I had been doing just wasn’t enough.
REACH-OUT – Karen, the other struggling student, and I agreed to work together through the course. We went from being foreigners in a class, to natives able to articulate what was not covered in the final exam (in addition to scoring well on our finals). Working together, we built on and reinforced each other’s knowledge. Between the two of us, and a few meetings with our professor, we created a learning community and a friendship.
REFLECT – If you’ve ever done a ropes course, high in the trees, you know about “tree love.” Even while securely strapped into a harness, problem solving through fear is a challenging task. After completing a section of the course, it’s normal to hug that tree, soaking in a moment of additional safety. It’s also an important part of the process. In celebrating, we rejoice and reflect on what we’ve learned, reinforcing that knowledge, even as we take a moment to recover before the next challenge. It’s been a long time since that econ course, but I vaguely recall that Karen and I may have celebrated our success over a beverage (or two). The experience taught me that learning is a social construct. While we have access to all sorts of information in books and media, it is in the exchange between people that we create meaning from facts, experience, code, and data, to form knowledge. Learning with our peers is a powerful and effective strategy.
Even as I reflect on this experience, resilience doesn’t seem to have one set path. Sometimes, we can learn to reach out, perhaps as we recognize the problem. Perhaps it is reflection that allows us to recognize and reframe the way we think about a problem we encounter again and again. As you share knowledge about the learning process, how does resilience resonate in the stories you share? I’ve learned through my career the importance of sharing this framework and its application throughout life. Too many of us resist and suffer long before we recognize that we don’t have to figure this out for ourselves, whatever the challenge may be. Beyond resilience, we're learning how to learn. As much as we value becoming independent, our wisdom and strength lies in our interdependence, our ability to connect and learn with others.
Cha Ron Sattler-Leblanc is the senior director of the Academic Support Center.