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The Case for “Adversity Training” in Our Schools

As Rebecca and I continue to gather and share stories from school leaders, teachers, parents, and students across the nation about their struggles and victories, we are finding that there are incredible similarities with what we wrote about in Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank (which deals with the issue of “facing adversity” in our lives) and powerful life lessons, in general. Sure, adversity exists everywhere. We know that. It is a human emotional-response-mechanism that takes place not only in our schools and school districts everywhere, but within the business world, colleges and universities, and . . . well . . . you get the idea—ANY social situation.

While Rebecca and I reside in the field of education because that is where our hearts are, and, certainly, our understanding of human behavior is not rocket science or nuclear forensics (yes, there is such a thing). BUT, what we are finding is that time and time again, our analysis of adversity is that we need to talk about it now, more than ever, and train our students about what adversity is, how it is activated, what drives it, and how we can navigate through it, deal with it, solve it, or move away from it.

That’s why we are currently working on . . .

Escaping the Teacher’s Dunk Tank: How to Prevail When the Profession is Drowning You

Escaping the Teenager’s Dunk Tank: How to Make Good Choices When Others Make Bad Ones

. . . and so many other exciting projects that will flesh out the stories that we sit on, bury, or are just too embarrassed to share. Obviously, school leaders aren’t the only ones who face adversity. We just wanted to start there with our work.

If the concept of teaching adversity is going to take place, we need to know what it is, define it correctly, and solve it appropriately (if it even needs to be solved in some circumstances). As adversity awareness is part of the emotional intelligence package, let’s quickly analyze a few key concepts that are misunderstood when dealing with topics of adversity and adversity training for both students and adults.

First, we are not talking about GRIT. We are not talking about RESILIENCE (this is only one small slice of prevailing). We are not talking about MINDSET (this is a larger compartment that is not linear, either). We are not talking about DIVERSITY TRAINING (this is a small cross-section of awareness, cultural understanding, and identity). And, we are not talking only about MISTAKES and FAILURES (these are the by-products of adversity gone awry or adversity that has been mishandled or mismanaged and we need these to actively learn about adversity). We are talking about the crux of human emotions and barriers which activate and drive adversity in our world, such as:

  • Jealousy

  • Revenge

  • Connectivity & Association (guilty by association)

  • Skepticism & Validity (negative perceptions about expertise or capabilities)

  • Discrimination & Racism

  • Nepotism (this is both an emotional driving force and an adversarial tactic used to build an army against us)

  • Accountability

  • Entitlement

  • Ego & Power

  • Fear

Now, step back and really look at this list and apply it to the problems that our students face each day or the problems that we, as adults, find in our workplace, marriage, home life, or social gatherings that we enter into at any time. Can these tenets be taught? I mean actively and explicitly taught. Can they be shared, discussed, tackled, and confronted? We are not exclusively talking about activating the SAME character education programs in our schools. We are talking about activating adversity training—both formal (in class) and informal (when students run up to us with a problem and need our help).

See, character education sometimes ignores the emotional triggers above (why things happen) and only deals with the byproducts or the outcomes of adversity-in-action. Here are the adversarial tactics that you will find very familiar especially when students run up to you for advice on how to handle those who:

  • Spread rumors

  • Slow down the organization (or system) (throwing a cog in the wheel on purpose)

  • Use or abuse information

  • Create paranoia or fear within the system

  • Create silos (selective isolationism)

  • Intentionally omit (“Oh, I forgot to tell you . . .”)

  • Work from the inside (backstabbing and spies)

  • Extend and bend professional courtesy (give and receive special treatment or favors)

  • Use nepotism (to grow a familiar army)

Now, what if this list is viewed through the first list above and students are trained and taught to analyze the root causes of how others act and react? What if we trained students to create social networks of support (Chapter 7 in the Dunk Tank), learn about the laws of “aligned relatedness” (Chapter 4 in the Dunk Tank) and switched on their “proactive paranoia” sensors (Chapter 1 in the Dunk Tank) in order to become more socially advanced and in touch with their own feelings, emotions, and behaviors? What if we read literature about adversity, role-played actual scenarios, used our own stories (as adults who hold wisdom) to help students and listened more closely to theirs with a new lens of adversity training in mind?

Would we be offering our students a service? Would we be offering our new teachers and school leaders a tool for life within a career that can sometimes get pretty hairy? We think so.

“If we didn’t complain, what would we have to talk about?”


--Karen Salmansohn, Author of The Bounce Back Book

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