How to bounce forward from adversity: The importance of rebuilding resilience in educators

Teacher well being needs to be prioritised.
Educator well being essential in return to school.

As the return to school begins for students in Victoria and New South Wales’ locked down regions, the uncertainty for all students around classroom learning in Term 4 remains a concern. While many welcome the positive promise of a return to the classroom, there will undoubtedly be many students, teachers and families who will struggle with the upcoming phases of change. For those suffering from anxiety, stress or burnout either related to the pandemic or otherwise, this final term of 2021 will be difficult.

After months of remote learning, settling back into both classroom routines and the at-home routines that support school-based learning may take days or weeks for some families. Meanwhile, teachers who have battled through the challenges of the last 18 months may be at best fatigued, and at worst, experiencing high levels of stress and burnout.

For teachers to perform at their best and achieve positive outcomes for students, their well-being must be prioritised and well supported by the school leadership team. Introducing resilience practices or doubling down on an already established resilience routine is something that should be considered and openly discussed at the leadership level as a way to help support educators through Term 4 and into the future.

Resilience is defined as the ability to deal with and thrive during unexpected challenges and difficult situations. Resilience helps us lead under pressure, maintain an optimistic outlook during periods of turbulence, navigate change with agility, and bounce forward from setbacks. In other words, resilience enables leaders to move forward, not backwards, in the face of challenges.

To lead effectively, principals will need to be resilient
As in any organisation, resilience starts at the top. A school’s leadership team sets the tone and resilient leaders are more likely to successfully manage periods of adversity and build a resilient workforce. To lead effectively, principals must be self-aware, compassionate, optimistic and energised, all attributes that are supported through a well-rounded resilience practice. A well-being program that encourages teachers to incorporate resilience into their daily routine will help protect the mental health of educators. In addition, principals and school leaders will need to model this behaviour. Aiming for a routine of 7-8 hours of sleep, a nutritious diet, daily meditation and breathing exercises, and frequent exercise forms the backbone of a strong resilience practice.

Why is resilience important for teachers?
Teachers who invest in their own personal resilience are more likely to master stress and prevent the onset of frequent illness and absence, as well as more serious mental health problems. Teaching requires a tremendous amount of responsibility, time management and empathy. Whilst stress is a normal response to these high-pressure roles, excessive and sustained periods of stress may eventually result in a professional and personal decline. Common signs of burnout in educators include a lack of engagement and motivation at work, increased hours, overreacting to small setbacks, or a messy and disorderly learning environment. Resilience helps safeguard against these adverse outcomes and enables teachers to manage stress with positive outcomes.

How can principals build a resilient school community?
In addition to establishing a well-being program that incorporates resilience practices, there are several things that school leaders can do to build resilience in their teachers.  Encouraging colleagues to stay connected inside and outside of work will aid in building a school community based around empathy and compassion. Promote downtime and offer regular debriefs where leaders listen to the concerns of teachers and review the challenges they’re facing. Focus on the basics first such as living school values and setting realistic teaching deliverables. This period of uncertainty might require a reduced work pace so that teachers can adapt as the environment and the needs of their students change and evolve.

Teachers are the foundation of our schools which means safeguarding their mental health is paramount. For leaders, prioritising resilience-building practices and leading with compassion and empathy will aid in the creation of a resilient school community that can cope with adversity and bounce forward, into Term 4 and beyond to 2022.

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