Resilience, New Canadians and Personalized Learning
The issue of resilience came up recently in a conversation about kids and learning. I was thinking about Michael Fullan’s handy definition: resilience = perseverance + flexibility. My comment was that any of us should be happy to “trade a few IQ points for a compensatory amount of increased resilience.” We don’t get to make those kinds of barters, but the value of resilience, and our recognition and validation of those who demonstrate it, should not be discounted. In saying that, I particularly think about our new Canadians, specifically those government-assisted and privately-sponsored refugee students who are arriving in our school district and others across the country in increasing numbers.
Let’s remember that many of these youngsters have not been involved in any formal education until now. Others’ experiences with a place called school – inside refugee camps – is a world away from our norms. We give them and their families good service when we honour and build on their assets as they come through our doors. Many speak two or more languages. That’s an asset! They come with unlimited hope and without a sense of entitlement. Another building block. Almost every Canadian experience is new, so their brains are firing with neural activity as they begin to define patterns and create synaptic pathways. They soak up learning – and part of our challenge is to make that learning as accessible and relevant as possible. Their entry point into our education system needs to be as personalized as we can make it.
Perhaps an early test of B.C.’s personalization mandate should be our ability to achieve that commitment for those who need it most: those for whom the currently organized system provides the greatest challenges and barriers. How do we meet them where they are and honour their life experiences to date? How do we scaffold their early engagement in our schools to support long term success? How does learning begin make sense and become authentic and relevant through their eyes?
Let’s think about what potential these young people bring to their new environment. Then let’s consider our needs in this province and country. We have an aging workforce; the birth rate is declining; forecasts of skilled worker shortages are part of our daily narrative. Our newcomers will be pivotal in defining this nation’s future. These kids’ success is as important to us as it is to them.
As we welcome new Canadians to our communities, we recognize their hope and optimism as they come to our land of plenty. But hope and opportunity aren’t enough. Our challenge is to support their journey – starting with where they are. The system’s efforts to meet their needs must at least match our expectation that these newcomers adapt to the new world they have just entered.
They bring resilience and a hunger to learn. They have assets and great capacity. They have demonstrated the requisite perseverance and flexibility to be successful. That’s a pretty good start. Let’s be sure to respond in kind.