Cultivating resilience among staff in the educational setting: a personal development approach

Mairead Barry and I (Paula Carroll) have been asked to do a workshop at this years Health Promotion Conference in National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG). This years conference is focusing on building health and well being in education settings and we’re mindful that when the topic is discussed, the well being of students and clients of educational services dominate the discourse.

It is our belief, that staff cannot support others to be resilient, if they cannot support themselves to be resilient. So we have decided to turn the lens around and focus the spotlight on the staff.

As per the ethos in our own teachings on the MA in Advanced Facilitation Skills for Health and Well Being, we’re adopting a personal development approach and will encourage participants to engage their affective as well as their cognitive domains to reflect on their personal experience of resilience in their lives.

This workshop AIMS to give participants an opportunity to explore their resilience and to discover ways in which they can cultivate resilience for the benefit of both their personal lives and their professional practice.

Exploring Resilience

The term resilience has become a phrase that is commonly used in everyday language. In the literature, there are various definitions with many different points emphasised in them as well as catering for varying contexts. Some common terms and phrases associated with resilience are:

  • Resilience is “Beating the odds”.
  • Resilience involves positive adaptation to challenging circumstances.
  • Resilience is use of the protective factors that alleviate the adverse effects of multi-level risks in a persons life.
  • Resilience is dynamic and developmental.
  • Resilience is about the individual and their environment.
  • Resilience isn’t just about overcoming or surviving but sustaining growth and thriving.

“…teachers possess a capacity for resilience in the sense that they have the ability to draw upon resources available to them to help them through instances of adversity (Beltman, 2015). These resources might be available within the individual teacher or within the teachers environment.”

Ainsworth & Oldfield, 2019, p118

Factors that Influence Our Capacity to be Resilient

This workshop is taking a personal development approach to exploring resilience therefore the broader context i.e. factors we cannot control aren’t necessarily the focus. In saying this, it is important to recognise and understand the context to ones’ resilience, Interestingly, when reading Elena Aguilar’s book “Onward: Cultivating Emotional resilience in Educators” we could see an overlap between the Ottawa Charter and what she describes as three conversations needed to transform schools :

Burnout is a factor that can affect an educators resilience. In a recent database search for articles with the terms “burnout” and “teachers”, the number of articles has increased steadily between 2000 and 2017 (e.g. 2000-2005 = 5,969; 2006-2011 = 11,452; 2012-2017 = 22,649). It is beyond the scope of this workshop/blog to address all of the factors that influence burnout but one factor that does influence burnout is an educators capacity to be resilient. For those working in the education we recognise the complexity and diversity of the setting. Elena Aguilar presents a wonderful image (see below) that illustrates how the development of resilience is influenced by four factors:

1. Who we are: What we start with. Such as, our values, beliefs, personality, aptitudes, strengths, sociopolitical identities and our psyche.

2. Where we are: Context Matters. Firstly, circumstances and situation, which includes personal life circumstances aswell as professional. Secondly, a sociopolitical, cultural and economic context, such as funding, education policy, shifting demographics. Thirdly, stage of life and phase of career.

3. What we do: The Habits of Resilient Educators. This is where resilience can be intentionally, strategically, methodologically and systematically cultivated. Aguilar’ text focuses on 12 specific behaviours. Examples of such behaviours are “understanding emotions”; “building community”; “taking care of yourself”; “focusing on strengths, assets and skills”, “open to learning” etc. The key point to pay attention to is engaging in these behaviours with intention,

4. How we are: The Dispositions of Resilient Educators. Aguilar (2018, p9) defines dispositions as:

“A description of someones temperament, charterer, constitution, attitude, mind set or mood.

A way of being.

Demonstrated through behaviour or habit.

A reflection of a person beliefs and thinking.”

Examples of dispositions that she mentions in her book are, purposefulness, acceptance, optimism, empathy, humour, positive self-perception, empowerment, perspective, curiosity, courage, perseverance and trust. A number of these are addressed very well in the work of the the renowned “researcher story-teller” Brené Brown. In her famous Ted-Talks, (The power of vulnerability and Listening to shame) her multiple text books (“Dare to Lead”, “Rising Strong”, “Braving the Wilderness”) she addresses these dispositions in great depth. One such example is a short video she made about empathy and what it means (see below). More detail on this disposition is addressed very well in her text book “Dare to Lead” which is about integrating this type of personal work into the work environment.

Cultivating our habits and dispositions for resilience

In order to cultivate resilience in our lives, Aguilar has developed a valuable resource on “Habits and Dispositions” that is well worth a read.

“Habits pave the way for acquiring new dispositions………..Practicing the habits, ideally on a daily basis, helps us develop resilient dispositions”

Elena Aguilar (2018)

When one has identified their habits and dispositions it might be worth identifying a key area of strength and a key area for growth to further cultivate resilience in their own life. Viewing the image below choose one area that is most important to you in your work.

  1. Identify one habit/disposition that is a strength of yours that you could apply to your work context.
  2. Identify one habit/disposition that is an area of growth for you that could support you in your work context.

Personal Responsibility – A Challenge Worth Taking?

While acknowledging that there are many factors in our lives beyond our control, we do have a duty of care to ourselves to acknowledge what we do have control over and to take responsibility for those. And its not easy and very often it’s very challenging. And taking our power back has the potential to be liberating. Both Mairead and I have been inspired by great human beings and writers such as Victor Frankl and Edith Eger who somehow managed to hold on to their power in the face of unimaginable horror.

“the willingness to take absolute responsibility for your life; the willingness to risk; the willingness to release yourself from judgment and reclaim your innocence, accepting and loving yourself for who you really are—human, imperfect, and whole.” 

― Edith Eger, The Choice

Final Words

We’d like to leave you with a gentle reminder that there is tremendous value in understanding the concept of resilience at a cognitive level. And yet, as human beings, while not simple, it is in our nature to understand fully through the affective domain, if we allow ourselves to do so. And if we do, we may be more effective at supporting ourselves and those we serve within education settings and beyond.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” 

  – Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

“What are you going to do about it? I believe in the power of positive thinking—but change and freedom also require positive action. Anything we practice, we become better at.” 

― Edith Eger, The Choice

Recommended Reading & Resources

  • Aguilar, Elena. (2018). Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators, Jossey-Bass: San Francisco
  • Downloadable Resources from Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators.
  • Ainsworth, S., & Oldfield, J. (2019). Quantifying teacher resilience: Context matters. Teaching and Teacher Education82, 117–128.
  • Clarà, M. (2017). Teacher resilience and meaning transformation: How teachers reappraise situations of adversity. Teaching and Teacher Education63, 82–91. Mansfield, C. F., Beltman, S., Broadley, T., & Weatherby-Fell, N. (2016). Building resilience in teacher education: An evidenced informed framework. Teaching and Teacher Education54, 77–87.
  • Eger, Edith, (2017). The Choice: Even in hell hope can flower. Rider: Penguin House Publishing, UK.
  • Frankl, Viktor, (2004). mans Search for Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust. 6th Edition. Rider: Random House Publishing, UK.
  • Polat, D. D., & Iskender, M. (2018). Exploring Teachers’ Resilience in Relation to Job Satisfaction, Burnout, Organizational Commitment and Perception of Organizational Climate. International Journal of Psychology and Educational Studies5(3), 1–13.
  • Ainsworth, S., & Oldfield, J. (2019). Quantifying teacher resilience: Context matters. Teaching and Teacher Education82, 117–128.
  • Clarà, M. (2017). Teacher resilience and meaning transformation: How teachers reappraise situations of adversity. Teaching and Teacher Education63, 82–91. Mansfield, C. F., Beltman, S., Broadley, T., & Weatherby-Fell, N. (2016). Building resilience in teacher education: An evidenced informed framework. Teaching and Teacher Education54, 77–87.
  • Polat, D. D., & Iskender, M. (2018). Exploring Teachers’ Resilience in Relation to Job Satisfaction, Burnout, Organizational Commitment and Perception of Organizational Climate. International Journal of Psychology and Educational Studies5(3), 1–13. †

1 Comment

  1. The post meant a lot to me and awakened the link of developing resilience for addiction recovery as psycho educator. Thank you Paula and Mairead.

    Like

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