Education as a whole has started shifting its focus on educating the whole child as opposed to just focusing on the content assigned to the teacher. We are starting to recognize the need for emotional and social education as well as the academic part. We are starting to put into practice, on a systemic level, things we learned from Maslow and Erikson. We know that in order to learn, students must be emotionally and socially ready to learn. As an educational system we are making great strides in that area. But what about me? What about you? As teachers, administrators and staff we must be emotionally whole and balanced in order to focus on the whole child. We certainly would not have a Social Studies certified teacher teaching Calculus and Trigonometry. So why would be expect an emotionally drained teacher to fulfill the emotional needs of a student? We must be in tune with our own needs, but we also need our administrators and campus leaders to focus on boosting the resilience of our whole staff. Think about the last time you were on an airplane and remember the well-rehearsed speech that the flight attendant gave. They told you before taking off that in the case of emergency you should put your mask on first and then take care of the child next to you. You first! They made a point to say that you must take care of yourself first so that you are capable of taking care of someone else. In order for the school as a whole to function in such a way that truly meets the needs of a whole child, we need to have a strong support system for not only our students, but for the entire staff. We cannot give what we do not have.
As classroom teachers, we make hundreds of small decisions in the course of one class period. We are in a room with over twenty different personalities trying to make them smarter and better than when they walked in our rooms. We are working within teams and departments that may or may not run like a cohesive unit. We come from a wide range of schools. From schools that have been doing it the same way for 15 years and do not want to try new things, to a brand-new school with all the bumps, bruises, learning curves, and “failing forward” that come with that. All of this within school districts that at the end of the day are trying to juggle parents and taxpayers and budgets and personnel and oh yes to graduate students with a purpose and goals for their futures. Then there’s the whole state budget and testing and who to vote for and ‘who is pro-education’ and vouchers and teacher layoffs and strikes and the government’s shrinking contribution to our growing numbers and needs. It’s a lot of stress! Moreover, stress leads to discontent, anxiety, aggression and eventually burnout. No wonder we have such high rates of attrition and burnout in the educational field! If you just looked at this topic from a P&L standpoint, I could just end justification for meeting the needs of teachers here. We obviously need to do a better job not only for ourselves, but also for each other and our educational teams. Without a source or acknowledgement of the need for emotional resilience, we cannot even begin to address the macro picture. We need to start on the micro level.
Think of yourself as a cup. Most of the time, if you are like me; we are all running on empty. What we pour out into our students as educators is what we have overflowing from our own respective cups. Imagine this scenario that we have all faced at one point in our careers as educators. You are tired. That crazy and completely drained end of year tired. You wake up in the morning and have an argument with your spouse or one of your own children. You have to throw a hodge-podge of things into your lunch bag and as you are looking in the fridge, you realize things are running low and know you cannot buy too many groceries until the next paycheck comes in. You sit in traffic on your way to drop your kids off and they remind you that the project they forgot to tell you about is due tomorrow. You walk into your class and realize you forgot something at home and the first kid walks into your class with a major chip on their shoulder from the bad morning they had. We all know that you are more than likely going to pour out impatience, a lack of empathy and maybe even open hostility.
The good news is that we can do something about it. We need to make sure we are regularly filling up our cups so that we are able to pour out to our students love, compassion and understanding.
The term emotional resilience is “a way of being that allows us to bounce back from setback or adversity.” It refers not just to who and how we are, but where we are. The ‘where we are’ is our context and the confines of our surroundings also has a direct impact on our emotional resilience. It includes our why and how and what we do every day. Imagine it’s Monday you’re exhausted because you didn’t get enough sleep and it’s May-so you know how it is!! You ask a student to follow a simple direction-one that you ask almost daily and they look at you and are like “nah I’m not doing that to do it”. Now stop right there THIS is where emotional resilience comes into play. This is where knowing yourself better and practicing the habits of emotional resilience will make a tired teacher a better one and a good one a great one.
Emotional resilience is made up of parts. Who we are, where we are, how we are and what we do. Some of these we admittedly have little to no control over. Others we can train ourselves to have more and better control.
The Who we are is made up of many things we have no control over-our genetics, gender, ethnic make up, our life experiences and our personalities values and beliefs etc.
The where we are-is our school we teach in, the context of the culture we work within and on a larger scale our district and even the school system as a whole. But this also includes where we are in life. We may have little toddlers at home and on the verge of maternity leave, or be empty nesters or single. We may be in our first years of teaching or waiting out our last till retirement. This is all part of our context and it matters too. It plays a huge role in our emotional resilience.
Next is how we are. We all face tough stuff, some people do it with amazing tenacity and determination. This is how they are, their disposition, how someone would describe them-their mindset, their passions, and the pursuit of their goals. How you are is a huge reflection of who you are. How you got to where you’re at right now and your values and beliefs will determine how you are and how others see you. How we are is practiced everyday in our habits. Practicing better emotional habits is what will lead us to emotional resiliency. This final description is the what we do about it.
In the next post I will focus on how to cultivate self-awareness in order to increase our emotional resilience. And the following post will be a last follow-up with self-care tips for a healthier and better-balanced educator.