Have you ever been to a lecture, TED Talk, or conference where an amazing expert speaks so eloquently that every sentence seems like it could be its own soundbite or pinnable Pinterest quotation?
That’s how I felt when listening to Dr. Robert Brooks provide the keynote lecture at The Quaker School at Horsham’s 6th Annual Conference for Children with Complex Challenges.
A renowned speaker and author on the themes of resilience, motivation, and school climate, Dr. Brooks spoke at the event to an audience of teachers, parents, and practitioners from the Delaware Valley. He discussed using the power of positive emotions to create a motivating environment and described specific strategies that could help reinforce a student’s “islands of competence”; nurture motivation and resilience; and promote problem-solving, responsibility, learning, and caring.
While I wish everyone could have listened to his ideas and strategies in person, I’m happy to share the next best thing: my biggest takeaways and “aha!” moments from the lecture.
Here is what I learned about resilience, motivation, and supporting extraordinary students from Dr. Robert Brooks:
Resilience is the ability to cope effectively with adversity. Resilient people see problems as challenges to be solved, rather than obstacles that cause overwhelm.
Compassion, altruism, and intrinsic motivation are inherent in every human being and are essential for survival.
All children have an innate drive for effectiveness, as proven by psychologist Robert White. So why do so many children appear unmotivated? The truth: kids are always motivated. When they appear otherwise, they may be motivated to avoid something in order to protect themselves from situations and demands they believe will lead to failure, humiliation, and emotional exhaustion.
Failure isn't the issue; the environment is the issue. Schools have a responsibility to create environments where students with special needs will be motivated and feel safe.
There are specific environmental elements that help children with special needs succeed. These are: belonging and connection; self-determination (students will be more motivated if they feel their voices are heard and are more likely to follow rules they have a part in creating); feeling competent; and a sense of purpose.
The needs of all children are the same: to belong, to feel agency, and to feel competent.
We can never overestimate the importance of seemingly small gestures and their abilities to empower others. Psychologist Julius Segal said that the foundation for resilience in children is a “Charismatic Adult,” someone who believes in and supports them. This person can have a transformative impact on the lives of children. Most adults with special needs who have found success can recall who this charismatic adult was in their lives.
These are just a few of the many themes Dr. Brooks covered in his lecture, yet each provides actionable insights for anyone looking to better support the extraordinary children they know and love.
If you’re interested in learning more about these ideas, explore Dr. Brooks's books and articles.