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Resilience Begins with Beliefs: Building on Student Strengths for Success in School

reviewed by Chezare A. Warren & Lorri D. Jenkins - March 16, 2015

coverTitle: Resilience Begins with Beliefs: Building on Student Strengths for Success in School
Author(s): Sara Truebridge
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807754838, Pages: 160, Year: 2013
Search for book at Amazon.com

The importance of student resilience as a factor of educational success isn’t a new topic of discussion amongst scholars and education practitioners. Recently, Bonner’s (2014) Building on Resilience draws on the importance of student resilience to approach research design and pedagogical strategies aimed at improving Black boys’ schooling experiences. Similarly, Truebridge’s extensive review of existing research on the topic of resilience suggests that students come to school resilient, and this is a strength that education practitioners might use to help young people achieve academic success. Her chief argument maintains that tapping into student resilience begins with the beliefs teachers hold about the capacity of students to bounce back from—or expertly adapt to and negotiate—adverse circumstances. 

Resilience Begins with Beliefs delivers a strengths-based view of the utility of resilience for bolstering the school success of all students. Resilience centers on understanding, “the personal strengths of individuals, the developmental supports and opportunities, and the environmental conditions and characteristics of families, schools, communities, and peer groups that mitigate and buffer adversity and promote healthy development and successful learning” (p. xvi). It is a process shaped by internal and external social variables. The book provides an overview of resilience while at the same time offering the reader a holistic approach to examining the research, practice, and significance of resilience in today’s classroom. Truebridge—a former teacher, policy maker, and consultant with over twenty years of professional experience in the field of education—provides multiple entry points of learning and discussion on the topic of resilience for individuals across disciplines working with youth. She admits, like many other scholars, that a singular definition of resilience is insufficient for a nuanced view of various challenges faced by students and teachers in contemporary schools. She further spotlights the importance of believing that students are innately resilient. Believing students are resilient presupposes they are resourceful and capable of doing above and beyond what the risk factors in their sociocultural and socioeconomic background might suggest.

In just over 133 pages, the author details how knowledge on the concept of resilience has changed over the last four decades. She goes on to chronicle the centrality of teacher beliefs about student resilience for informing the teacher’s professional decision-making. Early studies attributed resilience to an inherent trait appearing selectively among individuals, but Truebridge demonstrates how knowledge of resilience over the years has been reorganized to focus on how individuals respond to high-risk environmental factors to achieve positive outcomes (pp. 22-23). Using evidence derived from multiple studies conducted by top resiliency scholars, the author argues that resilience is a process buffered by key protective factors in school, such as caring relationships, high expectations, and meaningful opportunities for students to participate and push back against distressing circumstances (p. 24). The contribution to the knowledge base Truebridge is attempting to make is her argument that teacher beliefs function as connective tissue for protective factors and students’ use of resilience to achieve academic success.

Another underlying premise of the book is the assertion that what a teacher believes informs how to provide the necessary instructional and social supports for youth. Truebridge categorizes beliefs as “socially constructed ... personal assumptions, judgments, generalizations, opinions, inferences, conceptions, conclusions, [and] evaluations” (p. 34). Chapters Three and Four offer a litany of research underscoring the tremendous impact of teacher beliefs on pedagogical processes. Truebridge clarifies the relationship between resilience and teacher beliefs for mitigating pending risks or threats to student academic success by insisting that building on students’ strengths (i.e., resilience) is not about what teachers do necessarily, but rather about how they do their work.

Unfortunately, this text reads like an extensive literature review; it synthesizes existing research on resilience broadly, as well as research relevant to the work of K-12 education practitioners. For the most part, the text offers very little new knowledge of the relationship amongst teacher beliefs and subsequent professional decision-making. On the contrary, the most important contribution is a conceptual framework—the result of Truebridge’s dissertation research—in Chapter Five that visually displays how to help practitioners to understand the associations among the broader social context, teacher beliefs, and efforts to account for student resilience in one’s professional practice (p. 48). Her aim in this research was not to ask explicitly about teacher beliefs relative to resilience, but to document how their beliefs emerge as a function of professional development on the topic. This model offers a nice overview of resilience sufficient for introducing the concept to preservice teachers, practicing teachers, or non-academics. Truebridge’s emphasis on the importance for practitioners to access multiple examples and definitions of resilience as a way to contextualize their comprehension of its development and impact on a young person’s academic outcomes is quite timely and important.

Alternatively, the author tends to be quite repetitive in her definition of key terms and ideas, which may or may not prove helpful for individuals unfamiliar with resilience studies. At various points, Truebridge incorporates findings from her own research and other pieces of anecdotal evidence to help clarify her epistemological points of view. In Chapter Six, she offers perspective on how resilience is sustained in school by introducing the silver lining of adversity. This helps to bridge discussions of resilience theory to practice, but leaves the reader wanting more relative to the very practical implications of recognizing and expounding upon student resilience. The author provides a number of resources in the appendices available for immediate use that we found to be very helpful. Resources include reflective prompts, workshops ideas, and learning tools that we imagine may help teachers and schools develop protective factors, and deal head on with teacher beliefs and teacher efficacy.

The text does a nice job of answering key questions related to how beliefs influence behavior and how those behaviors are reflected in the pedagogy, actions and attitudes of education professionals. “It is time to acknowledge that amongst the greatest barriers to student learning are educational policies and practices that ignore human cognitive, psychological, neurological, and biological functioning” (p. 76). Truebridge maintains that attention to the discrete, invisible factors influencing students’ motivation to learn is pivotal for bolstering their academic success, and resilience is one of those factors. Maximizing the benefits of resiliency in youth requires believing that they possess the tenacity and expert ability to respond, adapt, or circumnavigate multiple threats and risks. The organization of the book alongside the author’s discussion of her professional experiences helps to humanize the text and make it more accessible to a wide readership. Resilience Begins with Beliefs may also serve as a key resource for non-educators working with youth, or as a quick reference guide for seasoned professionals who want to promote continued growth and reflection on the implications of student resilience for improving school success.


Bonner, F. (Ed.) (2014). Building on resilience: Models and frameworks of Black male success

across the P-20 pipeline. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 16, 2015
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17899, Date Accessed: 5/19/2022 5:40:48 AM

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About the Author
  • Chezare A. Warren
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    CHEZARE A. WARREN is Assistant Professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University. Dr. Warren’s research interests include urban teacher education, culturally responsive teaching, and critical race theory in education. He studies teacher dispositions, such as the application of empathy for negotiating cross-cultural student-teacher interactions, for producing high academic outcomes for Black males in K-12 education contexts. His work has been published in several peer-reviewed journals including Urban Education, The Urban Review, and The Interdisciplinary Journal of Teaching and Learning.
  • Lorri Jenkins
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    LORRI D. JENKINS is a first year doctoral student in the Curriculum, Instruction, and Teacher Education program at Michigan State University in the Department of Teacher Education. Her current research interests are critical race theory and black student achievement.
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