There is an oft-cited parable in children’s mental health about two individuals fishing on the banks of a river. In the midst of their outing, they notice a child in the middle of the river, struggling to stay afloat and in obvious danger. One of the anglers drops their fishing pole, swims out and brings the child to safety on the shore. No sooner does the angler resume fishing then another child comes floating down the river, struggling to keep their head above water. Again, the angler swims out and rescues the child. When the situation occurs a third time, the angler throws down their fishing rod and starts to walk away leading the second angler to ask, “Aren’t you going to save that child too?” The first angler responds, “No, I am going upstream to stop whatever is throwing these children into the river.”
This allegory may well represent the situation that many educators may find themselves in as students return to school this fall.
With limited resources–a big one being time–and so many students in need, teachers could be faced with the dilemma of either focusing on students who are in crisis or “going upstream” to provide supports to all of their students to forestall the development of mental health concerns. This is, of course, a false dichotomy; educators, student support personnel, and administrators do their best to support all children. Nevertheless, students in crisis can exhaust schools’ resources leading to a lack of focused attention on prevention, or promotion of positive mental health behaviors.
The promotion of student resilience, the ability to cope successfully with adversity, is a useful approach for addressing: 1) supporting students in crisis, 2) helping to prevent additional students from developing emotional and behavioral problems, and 3) promoting the well-being of all students.
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