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The art and science of resiliency

By Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President, National Education Officer

The art

“Artists, Gombrich reminds us, do not paint what they see, they see what they are able to paint. An empty mind sees nothing.” (Eisner, 2017)

Resiliency, grit, and growth mindset.

These three ideals are so ingrained in folklore and educational discourse that they seem almost commonplace. An overconfident hare and a humble tortoise remind us that slow and steady wins the race. A little blue engine called upon a growth mindset to deliver toys to children on the other side of the mountain (Piper, 1905). In Watch me rise: From the streets of despair to the halls of the ivy league (Luffborough, 2014), we learn that education holds the potential to overcome challenges related to homelessness, hunger, and a life outside of school that few of us can imagine. Indeed, there is plenty of available commentary related to resiliency.

Resiliency in the context of education is the heightened likelihood of success despite adversities related to environment and developed ways of thinking (Wang, Haertel, and Walberg, 1997). It can be nurtured through purposeful interactions between learner and teacher.

With that in mind, this blog post focuses on purposeful interaction to nurture resiliency in everyday classroom interactions.

We borrow this classroom interaction from the art community. If, as Eisner states, an empty mind sees nothing, then learning must begin with seeing something. Making learning targets explicit and visible to students is supported in the literature (Chappuis, 2014; Hattie, 2012; Stiggins, 2014; Wiliam, 2011). In doing so, teachers guide students to see the big picture—for example, writing to persuade—but then bring each lesson’s focus to a specific learning target such as understanding that evidence is based on fact. With this “evidence” target in mind, students review persuasive essays—both those that are well developed and those that miss the mark. They review, analyze, and separate the wheat from the chaff (distinguish persuasive arguments that are of high quality from those that are not). Students see the target and see what success—and failure—look like. Borrowing from Eisner, they are now equipped to “see” facts for what they are and “paint” their own persuasive argument. Without the visible learning targets and examples of success and missed opportunity, students approach the assignment with Eisner’s “empty mind.”

“If, as Eisner states, an empty mind sees nothing, then learning must begin with seeing something.”

The science

Prior to Hattie’s work on the 195 influences of learning, Wang et. al. (1997) identified 22 influences specifically related to building resiliency and to its positive impact on achievement. They found student and teacher interactions to be the third most potent of the 22 influences on student learning, having a stronger influence than either home life or peers. Further, Yeager and Dweck (2012) found a positive correlation between the belief that intellectual abilities and learning attributes can be taught. In other words, students make the connection between a response to adversity and meeting or exceeding their goals for learning.

“They found student and teacher interactions to be the third most potent of the 22 influences on student learning, having a stronger influence than either home life or peers.”

If the evidence suggests both the power of resiliency and the fact that it can be developed, the next logical step is to identify what has proven effective in guiding learners to look at mistakes as an opportunity to learn. For this, we look to the power of formative assessment. It may seem counterintuitive to connect assessment and resiliency; however, when students and teachers continually review evidence of ongoing progress, they develop tortoise-like approaches to learning. Slow and steady amplifies the learning to the degree that, in many cases, it effectively doubled the speed at which students learn (Wiliam, 2011).

Art and science

Making learning visible—as we did with the persuasive essay example—is a first step in building resiliency. The artistry of it is found in making the targets explicit and singularly focused. The science of it is found in the correlation between resiliency and achievement, furthered by ongoing formative assessment. Review students’ work on each target using self-reflection, peer review, or teacher/student conversations. Then, work on the next target. Slow and steady amplifies the learning.

An empty mind sees nothing. In the comments below, give us something to see. Please share your ideas about building resiliency. Are their specific quotes or practices you promote to build resiliency? Does formative assessment play a role in your classroom? If so, show us how. Let us see how you amplify learning.

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Chappuis, J. (2014). Seven strategies of assessment for learning. Pearson Higher Education.
Eisner, E. (2017). The enlightened eye: Qualitative inquiry and the enhancement of educational practice. Teachers College Press. New York, NY.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing the impact on learning. Routledge. New York, NY.
Luffborough, D. (2014). Watch me rise: Introduction by Doug Luffborough. Retrieved from:
Luffborough, D. (2014). Watch me rise: From the streets of despair to the halls of the ivy league. Writers of the Roundtable Press. Highland Park, IL.
Piper, W. (1905). The little engine that could. Platt and Monk. New York, NY.
Stiggins, R. (2014). Revolutionize assessment: Empower students, inspire learning. Corwin Press. Thousand Oaks, CA.
Wang, M., Haertel, G., & Walberg, H (1997). Fostering educational resilience in inner-city schools. Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ED). Washington, DC.
Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded formative assessment. Solution Tree Press. Bloomington, IN.
Yeager, D. & Dweck, C. (2012). Mindsets that promote resilience: When students believe that personal characteristics can be developed. Taylor and Francis Online. Retrieved from:

Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President, National Education Officer
Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President, National Education Officer
Jan Bryan has more than 20 years of classroom and university teaching experience. Her work at Renaissance focuses on formative assessment, exploring data in a growth mindset, and literacy development.


  1. Deana Sain says:

    Very informative

    • Jamye Jaco says:

      We always look at mistakes we make on our papers and correct them together. I think this is a very important part of reteaching.

  2. Rita Platt says:

    Helping students learn to set and meet goals can build grit.

  3. Alecia Walkuski says:

    When students are guided in using formative assessment to create growth, I think that it does promote resiliency. One effective practice is asking students to answer a series of three questions: Where am I now? Where do I need to be? and How will I get there? Students can then use the results of formative assessment as a way to see where they are headed, rather than a negative marker of where they are now.

  4. Charlene Cherota says:


  5. Lloyd goldberg says:

    Looking at mistakes as opportunities to learn is key in instruction. The kids in my class only want perfection and look at errors as a negative instead of a chance to see an area of potential improvement and focus on that.

  6. Donna Nichols says:

    So true!!

  7. Dvawn Maza says:

    Very informative

  8. P R says:

    Students need to be taught that making a mistake on an assignment or math problem is not an indication that they are not smart enough. They need to be shown how to turn that mistake into an AHA moment. They need to be shown how to rectify the mistake and realize that learning from error is a great way to learn.

  9. Andrea Wendt says:

    Mistakes create growth! Help children see their mistakes as opportunities for learning.

  10. Alana Weeks says:

    Love It

  11. Laura says:

    Teaching the students about their mindset has mad a lot of difference. The students are less likely to quit on me when we reach a difficult topic. They accept their mistakes. Great Article

  12. Dee Johnson says:

    Let’s fill our students minds with great literature! Resiliency is a noble trait….I think I can and I will!

  13. Renee Graham says:

    Wise words!

  14. carol roberts says:

    very interesting

  15. jan cornelison says:

    I agree that teachers need to be purposeful about interacting with their students.

  16. Mary Suppe says:

    Makes sense!!

  17. Jody Steinhaus says:

    This was a timely article. Building and nurturing relationships is crucial to the success of students. I find great value in formative assessments.

  18. Heidi says:

    I focus on the positive of what they’ve done even if something is mostly wrong so when I give feedback, they usually take it better and don’t just automatically give up.

  19. Elizabeth Quezada says:

    We read the book Growth Mindset last year as a staff. I found this book to be wonderful in terms of teaching resiliency, especially with “yet” comments such as turning “I can’t” into “i can’t, yet”.

    • Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President, National Education Officer Jan Bryan, Ed.D., Vice President, National Education Officer says:

      Thank you, Elizabeth. “Yet” is a critical part of being human. Every human language has a word that means “forthcoming,” or “soon to be,” or “in progress.” Basically, every human needs the concept of “yet.” The concept of “yet” appeared as a word in our language at about the same time the concept and word for “tomorrow” appeared. As a species, we moved from a day-by-day existence to a future-oriented existence. The impact was profound.

  20. Williams says:

    Good article. I try to focus on the positive of what students have done….try to build them up rather than break them down

  21. Pam says:

    Formative assessments are so useful when teachers are in the trenches.

  22. KOrr says:

    Affirming information

  23. Sandra Cunningham says:

    Mistakes in reading are now referred to miscues and are things which we use to grow from, not be afraid of feel bad about. No more red pen to mark wrong answers! Let’s learn from mistakes and not make students afraid to make them.

  24. carly says:

    One of the most important things I do before I pack up for the day is to review my students’ data. As the math teacher for two blocks, I need to be ensured that my students are progressing. Since our school has gone paperless, I heavily rely on the diagnostic report to monitor individual progress. In order to properly differentiate, I have numerous “banks” set up for both of my blocks. Besides leveling my students, I also have set up a bank for word problems, since students, especially my English Language Learners, find these especially challenging. Each of these banks help me determine the next day’s student work groups according to ability and skill needs. These daily formative assessments allow me to target specific skills with specific students while allowing others who’ve mastered the concept to move forward.

    • Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President, National Education Officer Jan Bryan, Ed.D., Vice President, National Education Officer says:

      Thank you for sharing your strategies. The “banks” seem like a great way to make learning more responsive.

  25. Cathy Kelley says:

    This was an informative article.

  26. David Keech says:

    Relationships between students and teachers have always been important, and in large part, have been underestimated. Students are very resilient, true, accomplish great things when we, as educators, support and challenge them. Rigor in the classroom helps students achieve, and every student can learn. Our jobs as teachers is to challenge students to work hard. The unfortunate thing, however, in my opinion, is teachers’ experiences and knowledge about how students best learn and how teachers best learn is undervalued. A university degree does not imply that those in the education field are best suited to describe what teachers need to grow. Teachers are, and always will be, the ones who are best suited to not only plan instruction for students, but for teachers as well. Humans are resilient and learn when challenged and supported.

  27. Dodie says:

    Going back to look at mistakes to correct together is one strategy I use. I also try to encourage students who make a bad grade and let them know that one grade does not define them.

  28. Sheila Shaffer says:

    I have grasped the importance of mindset in my classroom as an RtI teacher. However, I don’t think a lot of the teachers in my building understand the importance of the word “Yet!” I also don’t think all my students are sold on it either. Does it matter if I haven’t mastered it “yet” means I have to attend summer school? We need some philosophical changes in education!

    • Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President, National Education Officer Jan Bryan, Ed.D., Vice President, National Education Officer says:

      Shelia, you and Elizabeth are on the same page. (See my earlier reply to Elizabeth).

  29. Megan Tillery says:

    I try to remind students that learning is long-term. So often they want to achieve a much higher reading level but need constant reminders that it will take a lot of hard work which takes time. They can’t expect miraculous results overnight, but if they keep working, they absolutely can achieve the reading level they are striving for.

    • Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President, National Education Officer Jan Bryan, Ed.D., Vice President, National Education Officer says:

      Thank you, Megan. We all need that reminder. I think a sense of more space and more time ahead supports resiliency. I do not have to finish this project today; I need to make progress today.

  30. Ami Edwards says:


  31. My principal teaches Growth Mindset to our 3rd through 6th grade students. They have really ‘bought into it’ and use it in their daily activities.

  32. Lisa Capon says:

    Interesting Article