A Reply to Professor Angie Hart, TES editorial, 25 March 2016


Dear Professor Hart,

First of all, I wish to thank you for taking the time to read my article Has the resilience ship sailed? and your reply, that has only recently been brought to my attention. Having re-read my original TES piece, earlier draft versions and your open letter, I believe I am able to clarify a few points and address at least some of your important concerns.

My TES piece represents a simplified version of an earlier article, From adversity to buoyancy, published in The Psychologist and available to read here.

Despite your concerns, there is also much common ground. We both agree that many of the resilience interventions available are methodologically unsound and that definitions are often weak. Of course, there are other programmes with much stronger foundations, but these appear to be in the minority.

It was never my intention to suggest that resilience interventions should be abandoned. This misconception, I believe, has arisen through the TES editorial process rather than my original draft or, indeed, my earlier piece in The Psychologist. For example, the final paragraph of the TES article begins:

‘So, should we abandon resilience and embrace academic buoyancy? The evidence suggests so.’

This is, in fact, an editorial addition and in my original copy this paragraph begins:

‘Reconceptualising resilience as academic buoyancy allows schools and researchers to better understand how students cope with the daily pressures and conflicts that arise each day’.

A subtle difference perhaps, but an important one, I think. In addition, the title of the article is perhaps also misleading and I think it’s worth emphasising that article titles are based on editorial decisions.

Furthermore, I am not aware of suggesting that your own article concluded that there was no point in resilience interventions, on the contrary, I have consistently agreed with you that interventions are necessary but need to be conceptually sound. Again, if my article implies otherwise, please accept my assertion that this was not my intention.

Nevertheless, I am the author of the article and, although it remains a collaboration between author and editor, the former bears responsibility for any errors or misconceptions.

The point at which our views perhaps do part company is with the conceptual differences between resilience and academic buoyancy. It’s perhaps similar to the distinctions we make between stress and daily hassles and the academic disagreements that also exist here.

Researchers have found that identifying the conceptual differences between resilience and academic buoyancy are useful when deciding on the target of any intervention. Should schools, for example, utilise interventions designed to improve mental health and wellbeing when their intention is to help students overcome the fear of failure, reduce self-handicapping tendencies or deal with test anxiety? I would tend to side with buoyancy researchers here, suggesting that this would be a little like taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Are resilience interventions necessary in schools? Absolutely, and now perhaps more than ever before. But they need to be conceptually sound, measurable and with clearly defined parameters. They should also, I believe, be embedded within the school culture rather than implemented as a stand-alone strategy or introduced within a framework of so-called character education (a concept I neither view as useful or teachable).

Your own work with Boingboing, as well as similar projects developed my Inner Drive and Resilience Doughnut, is testament to the good that can be achieved when methodology is seriously considered. That said, as the father of a teenager whose school report includes a seemingly arbitrary resilience grade, I am also fully aware that many initiatives are less concerned with methodologically sound processes and more with ticking boxes and often peddled by companies who are motivated by profit.

Certainly, resilience and grit are fundamentally different constructs (and I have serious issues with the existence of grit as anything other than the Big 5 trait conscientiousness). Resilience certainly displays trait-like characteristics, but the idea of an innately invulnerable child is no longer supported by studies and it is clear from the work of researchers including Werner, Garmezy and Rutter that many environmental factors combine to nurture resilience in children and young people. I believe I made this clear in the TES article.

Does academic buoyancy neglect inequalities of opportunity such as poverty or issues of social justice? Yes, it does, but only because it was never intended to address these concerns; these concerns are much more suited to a resilience paradigm rather than an academic buoyancy one. Indeed Martin and Marsh never considered the academic buoyancy construct as a replacement for resilience (even though the two appear reciprocal) and, as already mentioned, this was never my intention either.

I would certainly urge you to read my article in The Psychologist and a chapter I have written on resilience for the forthcoming Psychology in the Classroom. While I doubt you will find anything new, both pieces might go some way to clarifying my position more accurately than my TES article.

Yours sincerely,

Marc Smith

CPsychol AFBPsS