Linking people and communities to resilience

By Julien A. Rubin

There is often discussion about physical mitigation as a way to reduce risk such as seismic upgrading to school buildings, and this is clearly very important.  However, physical upgrades are not the only important aspect of the resilience process: engaging people in sustainable thinking and resilient processes can build capacities and strengthen communities in the long term.  Therefore, the purpose of this study was to better understand the link between resilience education and strengthened individual and community resilience. This link may prove pertinent as education attempts to ensure that this link is useful and relevant for learners in today’s complex and changing world.

This study examined how resilience education can be one approach that supports these objectives and contribute to processes and understanding that support community resilience.  Elementary school teachers were interviewed about their understanding and perceptions of resilience education in a school context and its potential connection to strengthening individual and community resilience.  This small sample interviewed 8 elementary school teachers in a flexible semi-structured format from four school districts located in or near the lower mainland of British Columbia.

Participants were asked if they felt there was a place for resilience education elements to be taught in elementary schools.  Seventy-five per cent of participants felt that there is a place for these ideas to be taught in schools.  Responses indicated that there is a need for creating an overall “umbrella” definition of “resilience education” that could assist users in establishing a clearer understanding of what resilience activities and processes are and what the potential benefits may be.  Participants raised some concerns and suggested that too many good ideas are already expected to be introduced through schools and that an already packed curriculum and often stressful environment may hinder resilience learning.  It was suggested that establishing a more shared responsibility from all community members about sustainability and resiliency would be beneficial.

Participants suggested that resilience learning should be broad and comprehensive to cover the diversity of risk, vulnerability, sustainability and resilience issues present in society.  When asked what teachers felt were the most important elements of resilience education, 38% felt that citizenship was most important, another 38% felt sustainability and resilience was important, followed by 13% for environment and 13% capacity building.  The majority of teachers interviewed recognized that many of these ideas were interconnected among people, communities and society.  Therefore, in order for resilience learning to be effective there are opportunities that need to be taken up as well as challenges and improvements that must be addressed.  The majority of teachers interviewed believed that schools were important places in communities to act as a starting point for resilience ideas to influence individual and community capacity.  However, it was further discussed that in addition to a shared responsibility for societal resilience, a more collective process and collaborative approach was viewed as important to avoid the perception that all of societal values solely come from curriculum, teachers or schools.  The study findings suggest that the endorsement of sustainable social processes between all members of the community were important to the resilience process.  As a result, the majority of teachers interviewed believed that resilience education and resiliency were important to society and that teachers and schools do play an important role.  However, there are often “linkages of understandings” within society that are required for resiliency to be effective.  According to the participants interviewed, one of these linkages that were viewed as often missing from the resilience process was mutual and shared support.  This support was considered important to individual capacity building and people’s ability to be effective in their roles, which in turn affected the systems they engaged.

The study recommendations include:

  • Develop resilience education curriculum in collaboration with all stakeholders for schools as a new field of study to engage people in processes that build individual and community resilience.  Engaging the public was viewed as an important step in the resilience process.  Empowering people to be part of the community may help build resilience and community capacity through connection making, solution building and understanding sustainable vision.  Learning resiliency in schools can be shared by family and community members and therefore developing resilience education as a new field of study may help to bring people within communities together.
  • Facilitate resilience education that is holistic, all-encompassing and broadly defined in consideration of sustainability, long term vision and the collective good.  From the data collected, resilience learning was viewed not only as learning about natural hazards, safety and risk reduction but also about social process and engagement, encouraging critical thinking and connection making among people and systems and supporting confidence and capacity building.
  • Ensure resilience learning is ongoing, inclusive, begins at an early age, is age appropriate and relevant to people, culture and community.  Resilience process emerges through continuous participation.  Therefore, learning should begin at an early age, be provided in an age-appropriate manner, continue throughout the K-12 years and occur in multiple settings.  These characteristics were viewed as important to ensuring understanding of sustainability and resiliency, and as a way for children to complete their educational years, with greater empathy.
  • Establish a resilience education coordinator to act as a teacher resource to work with schools, teachers and students focusing on building sustainable processes and resilience ideas.  Individual capacity building was viewed as an important connection to community strength.  Establishing a resilience education coordinator who understands the people and culture of communities can work with schools, teachers and students to share sustainability and resilience ideas and processes.

The study conclusions are that engaging in resilience education and its related processes can increase individual awareness and understanding of ideas that contribute to community resilience.  This includes building people’s understanding and awareness of human behaviour and interconnectedness, citizenship and empathy, risk and vulnerability, proactive versus reactive thinking, social processes and capacity building, and sustainable long term common vision.  It is suggested that there is a need for greater shared responsibility and understanding of the linkages within society that support community resilience.

Adapted from Julien Rubin’s study Resilience Education: An Exploration of BC Teacher Attitudes.  To download, please search “resilience education” at https://teachbc.bctf.ca/

Bio: Julien Rubin is a teacher and interested in how sustainability and resiliency can help strengthen individual capacity and community resilience.  Julien enjoys running, the outdoors, traveling and learning other cultures.  He is an avid supporter of children who live with developmental challenges, illness or other difficulty.