Ordinary Magic-Resiliency Research - The Power of Connection


Resilience and Positive Psychology

The message from three decades of research on resilience underscores central themes of the positive psychology movement

(Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000; Snyder & Lopez, in press).

Psychology has neglected important phenomena in human adaptation and development during periods of focus on risk, problems, pathology, and treatment.

Attention to human capabilities and adaptive systems that promote healthy development and functioning have the potential to inform policy and programs that foster competence and human capital and aim to improve the health of communities and nations while also preventing problems.

 What began as a quest to understand the extraordinary has revealed the power of the ordinary.

Resilience does not come from rare and special qualities, but from the everyday magic of ordinary, normative human resources in the minds, brains, and bodies of children, in their families and relationships, and in their communities. This has profound implications for promoting competence and human capital  in individuals and society.

  Even the most basic of human adaptation systems are not invulnerable and require nurturance.

 All too often, children who contend with the greatest adversities do not have the protections afforded by basic resources nor the opportunities and experiences that nurture the development of adaptive systems.

If major threats to children are those adversities that undermine basic protective systems for development, it follows that efforts to promote competence and resilience in children at risk should focus on strategies that protect or restore the efficacy of these basic systems. Toxic levels of adversity impair the brain function of kids

Resilience models and findings also suggest that programs will be most effective when they tap into these basic but powerful systems.

The conclusion that resilience emerges from ordinary processes offers a far more optimistic outlook for action than the idea that rare and extraordinary processes are involved.

 The task before us now is to delineate how adaptive systems develop, how they operate under diverse conditions, how they work for or against success for a given child in his or her environmental and developmental context, and how they can be protected, restored, facilitated, and nurtured in the lives of children.

Fortunately, we know more than we realized about resilience processes because a substantial knowledge base already exists about adaptive processes in human development.

Our current knowledge justifies a more positive view of normative human capabilities, ordinary parents, and the self-righting power of development than either the gloom-and-doom or the rosy-resiliency perspectives could provide.

Resilience research clearly reveals the following key points:

  • All individuals have the power to transform and change
  • Teachers and schools have the power to transform lives
  • It’s how teachers do what they do that counts
  • Teachers’ beliefs in innate capacity start the change process

A common finding in resilience research is the power of a teacher–often unbeknown to him or her–to tip the scale from risk to resilience. Werner and Smith (1989) found that, “Among the most frequently encountered positive role models in the lives of the children . . . outside of the family circle, was a favorite teacher.” The approaches, or “strategies,” used by these turnaround teachers provide a set of best practices or benchmarks to guide our work in classrooms and schools. Repeatedly, these mentors are described as providing, in their own personal styles and ways, the protective factors.

  • Caring Relationships which includes loving support, respect, compassion.  The bottom line is that learners are provided with a sense of “You Matter”  
  • High Expectations which includes belief in the learners’ innate resilience and self-righting capacities; challenge-with-support messages (“I know your can do this”); guidance without coercion; and a strengths-focus
  • Opportunities for Participation and Contribution which is facilitated by giving learners opportunities for being responsible for self and others; for reflection and critical thinking, for mastery learning and creative expression

(From Risk to Resiliency from Bonnie Bernard)

Research by Werner, Bernard and others indicate that one  of the major contributing factors towards resiliency is a positive relationship with an adult.


“Teachers usually have no way of knowing that they have made a difference in a child’s life, even when they have made a dramatic one. But for children who are used to thinking of themselves as stupid or not worth talking to or deserving rape and beatings, a good teacher can provide an astonishing revelation. A good teacher can give a child at least a chance to feel, ‘She thinks I’m worth something. Maybe I am.’  Good teachers put snags in the river of children passing by, and over the years, they redirect hundreds of lives. Many people find it easy to imagine unseen webs of malevolent conspiracy in the world, and they are not always wrong. But there is also an innocence that conspires to hold humanity together, and it is made up of people who can never fully know the good that they have done.”

--Tracy Kidder, Among School Children (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989), 313.

 Our school systems are in need of this information!! Thanks for helping to spread the word!


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Thank you Michael for sharing your powerful post! Please know I cross-posted on our ACEs in Education group. Really appreciating the graphic from the Department of Education in Ohio, I'll be embedding into my curriculum development.

With your poignant quote from Tracy Kidder, my thoughts would be to expand to all of us our opportunity and responsibility of being the "teacher" in the lives of whom we serve, and who we love, on our healing journeys.  We are all students - we are all teachers.

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