When the going gets tough, the tough get going, so the old cliche goes. But the question is, what constitutes toughness?
Recent research suggests that it’s adaptability, not strength that determines resilience. The study focused on 969 high school children from nine Australian schools. The results, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, indicated that the students with greater adaptability had higher self-esteem, more enthusiasm for life, and a greater sense of purpose.
Of course, Charles Darwin stressed the importance of adaptability a long time ago, when he stated that: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one most adaptable to change”.
But the question educators are pondering is whether adaptability can be taught. While it seems contradictory to suggest that one can prepare for the unexpected, perhaps students can be taught skills that enable them to better cope with change.
Prepare to be Unprepared
The study determined that there are three aspects to adaptability: behavioral, cognitive and emotional, and that strategies for improving adaptability can be made more effective by developing separate techniques for each of those areas.
For example, behavioral strategies would encourage students to react positively to sudden changes in the school environment, such as alterations to their course curriculum. Cognitive strategies focus on developing a more helpful attitude towards change. Emotional strategies constitute stress management techniques that serve to strip change of its negative connotations.
Tony Wagner – first Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, believes that technology – with its ever-shifting landscape, can be a powerful tool for teaching adaptability. New technologies are constantly being introduced, along with updates for those already on the market, and their influence on industry makes it essential to keep up-to-date with such changes.
Wagner suggests that the ability to use technology adaptively is what separates the “digital natives” from the technophobes. Growing up in the digital age has not granted younger generations an intuitive understanding of technology, it has simply made them more willing to adapt, while adults are more likely to insist that the computer they use in the office be the same as the one they use at home.
Educators can use the introduction of new technology into the classroom as an opportunity to teach adaptability. For example, by:
-Encouraging students to figure out the new technologies themselves.
-Providing access to online resources that can assist them in doing so, and an online forum where they can seek help from peers.
-Following the allotted period of time with a debriefing session, during which students can assess their own performance.
Of course, one of the most important steps to improving adaptability is for the teachers themselves to adopt a more flexible and open-minded approach, thereby making themselves models for the students to follow.
Employers want Adaptability
Staffing Company Manpower ranked adaptability and flexibility in their list of ‘Top 10 Skills Employers Want’, and a 2008 study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that the three most desirable leadership qualities of the future would be the ability to motivate staff, the ability to work well across cultures and the ability to facilitate change.
It’s clear that employers recognize the value of adaptability, especially in an age where industries are being constantly reshaped by new technologies. With the right approach, educators can better prepare their students for the world ahead by getting them used to change.