The Ultimate Lesson: Teaching Your Students to Be Resourceful

Post by Open Colleges on July 18th, 2015

When we think of resourceful people, we tend to look to the past, picturing our parents and grandparents building rich lives with what little they had at hand. But resourcefulness has become an important quality once again, something we need to instill in younger generations. With so many luxuries in today’s society, from good healthcare to Google, we need to be resourceful in a way that our ancestors would be proud of: we need to welcome inconvenience.

Only by challenging our own ideas and the ideas of others, by embracing obstacles and conflicts, and by recognizing the value of discomfort can we truly be resourceful in the Age of Convenience. Our students need the ability to think backwards, in a way, and choose creativity over comfort.

Some institutions have already caught on.

In 561 schools across Australia, over 60,000 students are enthusiastically getting their hands dirty and learning how to grow, harvest, prepare, and share fresh, seasonal food–something their great-grandparents would have done every day.

It all began in 2001, when renowned cook and food writer Stephanie Alexander joined forces with an inner-Melbourne school community to establish the Kitchen Garden Program at Collingwood College. Stephanie’s pioneering approach to food education is now flourishing in schools across Australia.

Kitchen Garden Schools deliver regular kitchen and garden classes, enabling skills-based learning that extends across the entire school curriculum. Teachers are provided with comprehensive training and resources to deliver the Kitchen Garden Program.

As participants in the Kitchen Garden Program, eight to twelve year-old children spend structured time in a productive veggie garden and home-style kitchen as part of their everyday school experience. They learn skills that will promise a lifetime of resourcefulness, including how to prepare for and bounce back from the worst.

At Stanford University, the Accel Innovation Scholars (AIS) program introduces engineering doctoral students to Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Many students end up taking the skills they learned in the program and going into other fields. Why? Because it’s about the attitude, not the subject.

Victor Miller, M.S., Ph.D., says he’s considering going into academia rather than the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“[Faculty jobs] are traditionally very far from entrepreneurship, but when you think about what professors do, it’s super entrepreneurial,” Miller said in a Stanford press release. “[They] have to be creative and resourceful.”

Miller says that AIS has not only given him practical entrepreneurship-related tools but also developed his ability to be resourceful. He explained that the program helped him become more comfortable working at the intersection of different disciplines.

“Those attitudes will permeate through whatever I end up doing,” he said.

The Benefits of Being Resourceful

Over the past several decades, there has been limited but conclusive research on the relationship between resourcefulness and academic performance. A handful of studies in Australia, North America, and Asia have all found that resourceful students are better able to handle academic stress and enjoy healthier mindsets than non-resourceful students. Both of these factors have been found to lead to higher academic performance.

Researchers at Trent University in Canada concluded that resourceful students are more likely to use self-control in order to overcome stressors in their life, and as a result are “more likely to be better adjusted, to receive higher grades, and to remain in university than their less resourceful counterparts.”

Of the 481 undergraduate students surveyed, those with high levels of self-reported resourcefulness turned out to be far more likely to stay in school and succeed academically.

Interestingly, the results also showed that students attending university for more internal reasons and less so to please others or delay responsibilities showed higher levels of academic resourcefulness.

In another study, the Faculty of Education of Kocaeli University in Turkey found that highly resourceful students had better coping skills, used more positive reappraisal techniques, were more likely to seek social support, and were less likely to use escape-avoidance strategies during exams.

In 2003, psychologists at the University of Wollongong found further evidence to support the fact that highly resourceful students are less prone to low academic performance stemming from academic stress. The study, which involved 141 first-year undergraduates, found that resourceful students don’t necessarily experience lower levels of stress than non-resourceful students; they just know how to handle it better.

Resourcefulness is the ability to make do with what you have, to see possibilities where no one else does, and to anticipate the challenges required of you. It’s the ultimate lesson in a day and age so saturated with quick fixes and easy solutions.

So how can you nurture resourcefulness in your students? Below are twenty sure-fire techniques.

1. “Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

Too often students stifle their own creative instincts because they focus first on constraints rather than possibilities. Remind them that this is counter-productive and in no way helps their progress. To be truly resourceful, we should make a habit of considering every possibility, however far-fetched it may sound at first.

2. Focus on purpose.

Teach your students what the learning goal is–not simply what their assignment or project is. When they know how their task fits into the bigger picture, it can free them to think more broadly as well as more deeply about possibilities. For example, when you announce a group project, don’t just assign a topic–discuss why the topic is important and how it adds to the unit you’re teaching.

3. Challenge students to think critically.

Posing tough questions and supplementing your lessons with unique problems will keep students thinking outside the box. A critical mind is more likely to gravitate towards resourcefulness than a mind that doesn’t ask questions. Use regular brainstorming sessions (aloud or on paper) to get students in the habit of thinking broadly.

4. Teach collaboration.

Teaching each student to be resourceful on an individual level is only half the equation. Resourcefulness works best when people can work together and combine their ideas. When you encourage students to work together, whether inside or outside of class, make sure you emphasize the power of multiple minds contributing to the same task.

5. Encourage interdisciplinary thinking.

How can an idea in one context apply to a problem in another context? This is a great habit of mind to cultivate, and can open up an entirely new world of potential resources. When students are coming up with hypotheses for a science experiment, ask them to think about their topic in terms of history or art–how can they learn from analogies in other disciplines?

6. Support rule-bending.

Rules exist for a reason, but when they hold back progress, a truly resourceful individual decides that progress should prevail. Help students cultivate an attitude that says they’re out to accomplish things, not just go along with how things have always been done. If you teach English, have students read e.e. cummings. If you teach science, mention Galileo. Part of being resourceful is daring to try things other people say won’t work.

7. Teach delayed gratification.

As the researchers at Trent University came to find, resourceful students appreciate the value of delayed gratification, and students who appreciate delayed gratification have the patience and drive to be resourceful. Offer incentives of varying value that students can earn with varying degrees of work. Teach them that, with more time and effort, the return can be more rewarding.

8. Practice Socratic questioning.

Nothing focuses the mind and pushes you to look for innovative solutions like criticizing your own “best” ideas. Just as Socrates questioned his own presumptions about the world around him, resourceful people discover more possibilities when their curiosity remains difficult to satisfy.

9. Apply personal experience.

If a student doesn’t know where to start looking for a solution, ask her to reflect on a comparable scenario from her past. Since resourceful people don’t always have external resources at hand, it’s critical that they’re able to draw inspiration from their own life experiences, or from memories of others’.

10. Play multiple hands at once.

Teach your students the importance of back-up plans. Truly resourceful individuals rarely put all their eggs in one basket. You can easily turn this into a game, say, in a history unit on World War II. Have different students represent different sides of the War and ask them to devise as many back-up plans as they can to anticipate surprises from the opposition. Then compare to actual strategies the two sides used.

11. You don’t get what you don’t ask for.

Simple, dirt-farmer wisdom, and yet so many of us fall short of success because we’re afraid to ask for what want or need. Resourceful people must be fearless. This can be an especially important quality once students enter the workforce, where promotions or special opportunities may come only at the request of the employee. If you teach history or political science, help students hone this skill by letting them play Settlers of Catan or setting up a mock-UN session during a unit on isolationsim vs free trade.

12. Something good always comes out of failure.

Resourceful people dare to make bold moves, and they know that even if the road doesn’t take you exactly where you plan, it can often lead to other great places. You might experiment with a grading trick where all students receive low scores on their first assignment, pushing them to try harder without being discouraged that they performed worse than their peers.

13. Begin with an open mind.

Being open minded about new possibilities is critical to putting resourcefulness into action. The student who steps up and says, “Yes, we can do this” is the one who can push peers to do things that some might consider impractical. Not every idea can be a good idea, but every idea is worth listening to.

14. Turn innovation inward.

Resourcefulness is about optimizing what you have to work with. And in some cases, being innovative means making old things work better, not making new things. Teach students to look at old problems with a fresh perspective, and they’ll be twice as resourceful as the averge person.

15. Dream big, start small.

Long-term dreams can be as wild as your imagination allows, but adopting a realistic attitude about what you can do in the short term is important. Good ways to start small include brainstorming, writing lists, drawing maps, conducting exploratory interviews, doing preliminary research, and talking to experts. While resourcefulness demands a good imagination, it also requires a bit of gruntwork here and there.

16. Celebrate the lessons.

To encourage the spread of resourcefulness, urge students to publicize and praise one another’s accomplishments. Those who are resourceful need to be recognized and rewarded, and in turn, teach their lessons to others. Showcase student accomplishments with monthly class newsletters or bulletins. And be sure to celebrate the idea(s), not just the person.

17. Practice internal and external resourcefulness.

Internal resourcefulness is coming up with creative ways to use the resources at hand; external resourcefulness is seeking resources that are outside your control. Make sure students understand the difference and appreciate the value of both. Discuss situations in which one might be more appropriate than the other, such as science papers (external) versus creative memoirs (internal).

18. Embrace discomfort and inconvenience.

If you are unwilling to endure rejection, embarrassment, uncertainty, fear, or failure, you can’t expect to become a resourceful individual. Tolerating–and responding to–inconvenience is perhaps the most important quality associated with resourcefulness. When we don’t immediately see a way out of an unpleasant situation, many of us give up and opt for the quickest fix. If we keep our wits about us and embrace the challenge, the solutions we find can put us in an ever better position than we were before.

19. Sharpen communication skills.

In the real world, students will find themselves in many situations where they need someone to believe in an idea before it materializes into a product. Communication will be essential at this time.

20. Develop grit and resilience.

Researchers at UPenn have found that grit (perseverance and passion for long-term goals) is a better predictor for success over IQ or conscientiousness. Students should be well aware that they will face setbacks during the journey, and be prepared to bounce back when they do.

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