5 Ways to Build Resilience, An Essential Tool for Sociocultural Competence

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Sociocultural Competence is one of the three pillars of Dual Language Education and encompasses the following four domains: identity formation, intercultural competence or diversity, the ability to identify injustice, and the ability to take action against injustice.  When our students are able and willing to take action against injustice, we know we have reached our third, most elusive goal, but what happens when students try to fight injustice whether by speaking out against it, organizing marches, or finding other ways to stand up against racism (or other -isms) and they are unable to experience success?  

The reality when trying to fix racist and/or biased behaviors is that we don’t always win every battle. For instance, recently, students at Killingly High School in Connecticut, after seeking council from local Native American elders, tried to change their school mascot from the racist caricature, Redmen, to a more appropriate image, Red Hawks; while initially succeeding, an uproar from the community led to the reversal of the original decision and a return to the racist mascot.  Another more common example of students not feeling successful in their fight against injustice may include students’ voices falling upon deaf ears when trying to speak out against racist comments made to them or to their friends by classmates or educators. As we try to build our Dual Language students’ sociocultural competence, how do we prepare students for when their efforts for action are not as fruitful as they would hope?

Here are five lessons in resilience for students who are trying to make change:  

  1. Remind students that it is not their responsibility to fix others or to solve racism (or other isms), and they certainly cannot expect themselves to be responsible for other people changing.  In fact, many scholars such as Ibram Kendi (2019) remind us that real change occurs at the policy level, not at individual levels where we, as humans, have a greater tendency to want to see change.  So if after speaking out against injustices, there is no response from the aggressor(s), it is important to not take the other person’s actions personally.  Furthermore, remind historically marginalized students that if the aggression is against them personally, it is never their obligation to address it in the first place.  For students from historically marginalized groups, addressing microaggressions that someone made towards them requires sacrifices on the part of the victim, especially in professional settings such as school or work.  They may be accused of lying or be labeled as too sensitive or as too angry.  Speaking out can result in loss of employment, scholarships, or grades.  Only the victim can make the decision whether such sacrifices are worthwhile.
  1. Emphasize to students that change occurs over time.  While injustice should theoretically and morally be righted immediately when brought to light, the reality is that any fight for social justice is a commitment fraught with setbacks.  For example, Brown v. Board of Education was a landmark decision made by the Supreme Court in 1954 that ruled against segregation in schools; however, the Houston Independent School District (HISD), the largest segregated school system in the country, took until 1984 to completely desegregate.  Desegregation occurred through numerous court battles during the 30-year time span following the Supreme Court ruling, launched by people unwilling to give up the fight (Kellar, 1999).  Therefore, students need to understand that they are playing the long game if they really want to see lasting change.  
  1. Ask students to focus on what they can control.  If students’ attempts to right injustices do not work, they may consider how else they can impact change.  For example, students at Killingly High School may want to blog the work that they did so that the next generation of students can use the lessons learned to try again, or they may choose to continue with the fight themselves by going to the state legislature to seek help.  In more day-to-day settings, if in the classroom, the teacher refuses to address racial tensions among students, perhaps a counselor or building administrator will.  If no one will help, students can focus on how they themselves treat those who are facing injustices.
  1. Teach students to commiserate about their experiences.   We need to help our students learn how not to let their own hurts build up inside.  Whether to a trusted Dual Language teacher, another adult, friends, a counselor, a therapist, an affinity group, or a support group, students need to be able to name and share their frustrations with someone.  This is especially important for students from historically marginalized groups who may be fighting for their own liberation. 
  1. Teach students to engage in self care.  When we teach sociocultural competence, we are teaching students to take action against injustices.  However, students, especially those from historically marginalized communities, need to take breaks from dealing with society’s ills.  These breaks may manifest themselves as anything enjoyable, but some commonly suggested self care practices include mindfulness practices, exercise, and relaxation activities.  

As we work towards the elusive goal of sociocultural competence in hopes of our students one day exacting change in this world, we need to help them build resilience as well.  Change doesn’t come easy, but with these five suggestions, hopefully we can help students cope with the inevitable difficulties they are bound to face on their way to success.

Do you have any other ideas to build resilience? Share them in the comments below or by contacting me!


  1. Great article Aradhana! These five lessons in resilience can also help those of us fighting for change along side our students. You reminded me that this a journey, that we are not alone, and that it is good and necessary to sometimes take a break. Thank you. 🙂


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