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Marco, Terry, and Taywana Teach Us about Resilience

ResilienceIf Marco drops out of high school to take care of his family after his father dies, how would we label this person – as a "high school drop-out" or a "family caretaker"?

How do we view 59-year-old, Terry, who has worked hard all his life but never learned to read – as an "illiterate" or as someone with creative problem-solving strategies and a powerful work ethic?

When a learner, Taywana James, discusses never having had the opportunity to read a book, and so became expert at reading the environment, do we have a way to value her experience?

Resilience, it turns out, is something that we all innately possess, but there are ways adult educators can encourage its development, and this is the topic of the current Change Agent.

One key method for supporting resilience in students is to use a strength-based perspective. Perhaps Marco did drop out of school, but does that really describe who he is? His dedication to his family, the fact that he became a breadwinner for his family, and his ability to delay his own ambitions in order to take care of his family – all these qualities tell us a great deal about Marco's strengths. These strengths could be recognized and harnessed as he sets out to get his GED.

Another key method for supporting resilience is to identify skills that may have been employed in other areas, and can now be employed in learning. Terry had a remarkable work ethic. By helping him put that skill toward learning to read, we remind him to draw off of what he already knows about himself and his abilities. There are many pathways towards learning, and learners have unique skill sets that they can mobilize – if we find ways to highlight those skills.

Finally, look at Taywana James. She couldn't read text, but, as she explains in her story in The Change Agent, she survived her abusive childhood by learning to read her environment. Her expertise as a "reader" saved her life numerous times and got her to where she is today. She is not just advancing as an adult education student, she is organizing in her community and connecting literacy with social justice issues. ABE classes could benefit by incorporating this dimension into their work – one that notices and celebrates people's survival under adverse circumstances. Furthermore, Taywana has employed her skills to help others, and her ability to "give back" has reinforced her desire to learn. Her interview, along with Marco's and Terry's story and many others in this issue of The Change Agent, tells a powerful story of how resilience works in learners (indeed, in all of us), and supplies teachers and learners with ideas about how they can reinforce this important human capacity.

Cynthia Peters is the editor of The Change Agent

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