Category Archives: CPD

Resilience in higher education: new tools for Student Services

Resilience ToolkitAMOSSHE / Unite Students recently launched their Resilience Toolkit in London on 18 May 2018, and it was a wonderful event showcasing a very useful and timely resource. The AMOSSHE / Unite Students Resilience Toolkit is a well conceptualised and easily navigated online repository of the latest evidence-based practice on building student resilience from academics, students and Student Services professionals in the UK higher education sector. If you haven’t already had a browse through the wealth of resources that it offers, I encourage you to do so and please do get in touch with AMOSSHE if you’d like to contribute your own resources.

The toolkit launch on 18 May was an especially memorable event for three reasons:

  • The passion and commitment of the attendees and presenters, all striving towards tangible increases in wellbeing in their university communities.
  • The quality and range of work that the presenters shared with us.
  • The important questions that were asked.

I’d like to try and capture part of the energy and dynamism of the day by relating some of what was shared and what was asked.

The positive case for resilience

It was wonderful to have Dr Emily McIntosh (Director of Student Life, University of Bolton) as our first presenter of the day. Emily is the co-author of Student Resilience: Exploring the Positive case for Resilience and her presentation did exactly that. Emily also made use of the ‘iceberg illusion’ as a visual in one of her slides, reminding us all of the important part that ‘failed attempts’ play on the road to success. I try to convey a similar message in my own practice by using WD-40™ (Water Displacement 40th attempt) as an example of success being a long winding road through obstacles, challenges and oftentimes disappointments.

Does resilience need a rebrand?

Izzy Lenga (Vice President Welfare, National Union of Students) then provided a thoughtful and informed challenge to the positive case for resilience, suggesting that resilience may need a rebrand first. Izzy portrayed the extent to which many of our low income students are under significant financial pressures, living in sub-standard accommodation and often lose large amounts of study time through the long hours of paid work they have to undertake. Izzy’s point was that we cannot simply tell these students to ‘resilience their way out of it’. Surely, as Izzy asked, the point is to work together to change the conditions that negatively impact on the student experience, instead of telling the individual that they need to have more ‘grit’. This is an important conversation to have and one that I will return to when sharing my own conceptualisation of resilience.

Resilience course by students for students

AMOSSHE Insight project work was then presented by Bradley Powell, Psychology student and SUVP Welfare Coordinator at Bournemouth University Students’ Union, who updated us on a successful CBT-based resilience pilot. This is an innovatively designed resilience course by students for students, and a collaboration with Mind (who brought us the Emoodji app). Bradley and Fiona Shaw (Mind Dorset) are now looking to upscale the pilot in order to be able to extend the course to other universities.

Videos on motivation and overcoming anxiety

Julie Waddell (Disability Adviser) and Annette Davidson (Inclusion Manager) from Robert Gordon University (RGU) then presented their resources from the Resilience Toolkit. RGU have made a series of short videos on building resilience for students, which have been informed by Seligman’s PERMA model, on themes such as motivation and anxiety. Brilliant resources to embed into online support.

Research into resilience in care leavers

Conrad Sackey (Head of Information and Advice, Anglia Ruskin University) then introduced Natasha Javed, who presented on the AMOSSHE Insight project: Supporting Care Leavers. Natasha delivered an engaging and heartfelt presentation that updated us on the preliminary findings of this important piece of research into the resilience of student care leavers in university. Natasha explained that the research project makes use of the Child and Youth Resilience Measure, as this is a pre-validated, internationally recognised scale, which also allows users to customise items for their own needs. The project’s aim is to then use these findings to develop a needs-based support package for care leavers with a view to increasing student retention.

Careers resilience

Our penultimate presentation of the day featured an Open University (OU) Open Learn Careers Resilience Resource, which forms part of the AMOSSHE / Unite Students Resilience Toolkit and was presented by Catrin Davies (Careers and Employability Consultant) from the OU. Catrin showed us the Badged Open Course (BOC) in action (wonderful video on ‘personal best: setbacks’ from OU sports academic Catherine Heaney) and also shared the strengths-based theoretical model underpinning the BOC: Worsley’s (2015) Resilience Doughnut.

It’s OK to make mistakes

My own presentation on making mistakes and getting things wrong involved the aforementioned can of WD-40™, but not literally. I shared resources and ideas from my workshop on building academic confidence and resilience that forms part of both the Resilience Toolkit and the Institute for Academic Development’s Academic Transitions Toolkit. The main aim of these resources is to change students’ perception of ‘failure’ through talking about the underside of the ‘iceberg of success’ instead of only focusing on the top.

Define your terms

In the wrap-up section of the day, we reflected upon what had been shared and what had been asked, and I offered my own personal conceptualisation and definition of resilience. In contested terrain, clear definitions are essential. In this way, one of the key recommendations of the McIntosh and Shaw (2017) report is that resilience must be clearly defined. So, what is my own definition of resilience?

First of all, it’s a positive term in my understanding and it’s agentic; the individual is not rendered passive and the instructions are not to simply ‘grin and bear it’. Quite the opposite in fact. My own definition of resilience has been informed by Reivich and Shatté’s (2002) The Resilience Factor, which is a seven element model with causal analysis and flexible thinking skills at its core. Reivich and Shatté (2002) claim that “the defining factor of resilience has been found to be, not any type of inherited genetic ability or inner strength, but the way you think about adversity” (Reivich and Shatté, 2002, p.2).

Importantly, this definition does not imply that adversity must simply be tolerated – it instead perhaps offers us a potential route to realising personal and societal wellbeing goals, through:

  • finding individual calmness and peace by reframing the adversity we are personally facing, and
  • using this new perspective to work collectively with others to bring about the changes we want to see.

Certainly, in my own life, accurate causal analysis and flexible thinking / reframing skills have enabled me to overcome periods of difficulty and bring about positive change. In this way, my idea of resilience is not about merely ‘endurance’, it’s not the simple message of ‘keep calm and carry on’, more ‘keep calm, think differently and let’s look to change things’.

I will be sharing more of my work on how educators can support wellbeing for students and staff in their learning and teaching on my wellbeinginHE blog. The blog is in the design stage at the moment; please see @WellbeinginHE for updates.

Thank you to everyone for such an inspiring day!

Let’s keep the conversation going…

Abby Shovlin
Academic Transitions Advisor at the University of Edinburgh and Research Supervisor at INTO Stirling, University of Stirling

How can Student Services better engage student and colleague communities?

AMOSSHE winter conferenceForging an engaging academic community, and building effective relationships with colleagues, students, and external stakeholders, are key aspects of the work of Student Services. To help Student Services leaders and practitioners engage with these communities, AMOSSHE is hosting a conference to explore how we can work with institutional colleagues and stakeholders to create effective relationships, and how we can create engaging communities for our students that enhance their learning experience and promote retention and success.

Engaging Communities, the AMOSSHE winter conference 2017, takes place on 17 February in Manchester, featuring a range of AMOSSHE member-led sessions showcasing innovative practice and strategy, as well as inspiring keynote presentations from key voices in the sector.


Sara Fernandez

Our first confirmed keynote is Sara Fernandez (Executive Director, Student Hubs). Student Hubs supports students to tackle social challenges, learn about issues and connect with each other. Their work includes supporting student leaders in UK universities to learn, connect and do something to tackle social issues, through volunteering, skilled placements, project incubation and critical engagement events.

AMOSSHE member-led sessions confirmed so far include:

  • How engaged is your student community? (Anglia Ruskin University) – this session explores the challenges and achievements of implementing a student engagement dashboard, designed to identify students at risk of under-performing or withdrawal and intervene in a timely manner to offer them interventions to improve their success.
  • King’s Community Ambassadors: building a sense of belonging and community through student support and engagement (King’s College London) – this session outlines the structure, objectives and outcomes of a peer-to-peer support scheme developed in collaboration with the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insights Team, which aims to support first year students in settling into university life through a series of telephone calls delivered at key times of year.
  • Living and learning: supporting extra-curricular learning in university accommodation (University of Sheffield) – this session explores the impact that community-building initiatives in university residences have on students, with a particular focus on genuinely extra-curricular learning opportunities either presented to, or generated by, students.
  • Supporting staff to support students: enabling our students to realise and reach their full potential (University of Southampton) – this session discusses the successes and barriers of introducing a training and communication programme designed to support the knowledge and awareness of staff across the university of the key issues for supporting the student experience.

Find out more and book your place here: Engaging communities.

Develop as a Student Services leader with AMOSSHE

Aim-higherAMOSSHE’s next development event for Student Services professionals aims to improve your understanding of the challenges and politics of Student Services leadership.

Being a Student Services leader can be rewarding and satisfying, but also challenging and stressful. Our event helps you develop your knowledge and strategy for managing change in a UK Student Services context, and for aspiring to the next level of your career supporting student success.

You should consider attending if you’re taking on a wider Student Services remit (such as new service areas, or a larger or different kind of institution), managing major changes and developments at your institution, or are interested in developing your Student Services career.

This one day event has a specific Student Services focus: working with established leaders in the sector and those who have recently moved to a higher level of seniority, you’ll learn about the challenges and expectations ahead as a head or director of Student Services.

‘Aim higher: developing as a Student Services leader’ takes place on 29 April 2016 in Leeds. Find out more and book your place here: Aim higher: developing as a Student Services leader.