Tip #22
Appraisal: Making Meaning

Have you ever heard the phrase, “when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade?” This oversimplified example explains the process of making the best of something. As a social worker, I always struggled with how this idea fits for those who have experienced abuse, witnessed violence, or lived in poverty. I struggled because that analogy doesn’t apply. However, considering the concept of appraisal in the context of trauma provided me with an explanation for why many individuals respond to the worst events with growth and resilience. Research tells us that individuals who are able to make meaning of their challenges are able to not only get through them but grow from them.

A beautiful example of this concept is highlighted in the famous book Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. Frankl tells his story of being a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. For years, he experienced unimaginable suffering. While there are many themes presented within his story, one powerful conclusion he lays out is that life always has meaning, even in suffering and tragedy. Furthermore, suffering is diminished by meaning when life challenges can turn into personal victories. Victor Frankl’s story is not an anomaly. In fact, if you take a moment you will find other stories like his. In fact, the life story for a few of these incredibly resilient humans have been made into movies (i.e. A Beautiful Mind, The Pursuit of Happyness, Coach Carter, Schindler's List).

How do you teach your students a concept like appraisal?

There is not a lesson plan or an activity that can teach your students this explicitly. However, there are ways you can help facilitate the process of making meaning for your students. You can build opportunities for students to reflect on what brings them personal meaning. In finding how their personal meaning connects with their actions, it makes it easier for them to apply meaning to all parts of their lives. Take opportunities with your students to point out their growth and their strengths. Always look for their strengths - even when they seem resistant to the simplest of instruction.

Lastly, spend time making meaning of your own struggles as a teacher. Rely on your own appraisal and find how you have made meaning as an educator facing scarce resources and immense pressure. As previously discussed in tips many times, practicing and identifying your own resilience is essential to the work you do.

Take Action

Take a moment to watch this video. A cancer survivor speaks about how pain and suffering are powerful teachers.