As I reflect on the years that I have been at Whaley School, we are graduating more students each year, we are offering more elective classes that tie into what students want to do after graduation, and our teachers are working hard to create amazing lessons in and out of the classroom—all things which help build resiliency in our students.

Among the ways we teach resiliency:

A Positive Belief in Our Students’ Abilities

When staff talk to our students, they are helping build positive self-esteem within them. We process student behavior on a daily basis—reminding students of their strengths while discussing their successful reentry back into class is key to encouraging strong confidence and resilience for the future.

Helping to Build a Strong, Caring Network Around Our Students

By doing this, our students feel safe in times of crisis. Students are able to confide in us so, we are better able to help them each day.

Teaching That Change Is Inevitable

In order for resilience to occur, students must learn to be flexible. While routine is best for our students, we realize that routines may be interrupted, and we teach adaptability so students are better able to manage their emotions in times of crisis.

Finding Your Passion

Teachers try many different things in their own classrooms that they are passionate about in order to offer experiences students may continue with in the future. We also ask students to create something within their own passions—to teach us!

Staying Positive and Optimistic

Sometimes this is difficult, but if we keep the positive at the forefront, this only helps students. Teaching students that staying positive in negative or dark situations is important for resilience and the future. This doesn’t mean that we want to ignore the problem, but we want to find positive solutions. We understand that there are setbacks, but that doesn’t mean that students will stay in the ‘setback’ place. In this way, we teach students the ability to combat their challenges.

Team Building

Team-building activities are required at our school. Teachers work together for one purpose, the success of our students. In order to do this successfully, teachers need to build meaningful relationships with one another.

Offering Choices

Our teachers have the ability to add their own passions to their classrooms to present to students. Whether this is in their core classroom teaching through their content or teaching an elective class, teachers have the ability to make these choices at the beginning of each year.

Staying Positive

Each week positive notes, quotes, or sayings are sent out to staff through the Monday Memo—via email or put into their mailbox. I sometimes even deliver them to all staff personally!


Giving staff the ability to be flexible in their scheduling, student groupings, and more helps them feel like they are a part of the planning—which they are.

Celebrating Staff

We celebrate staff birthdays, awards, family events, new scores on tests, activities in the classroom—everything good!​

We can always stay positive and share our smiles with someone else. This is what we can and should do every day. Our students need to see, hear, and learn resilience. They deserve it.

Robyn Harris is principal of Whaley School in Anchorage, AK. She is the 2018 Alaska Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter (@WhaleySchool), Facebook (Whaley School), and her blog (


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