The reality of public school education is that it is both exhilarating and stressful.
Education is a realm full of organizational and professional changes, expectations, and uncertainties that are often continuous, occurring at an ever-increasing pace, sometimes contradictory, and usually in response to economic, social, and political demands. In our efforts to build resilience in our students, we are charged with the examination of our capacity personally and professionally to model that which we strive to build. The extent to which our organizational culture and systems support these efforts needs to also be examined. An intentional focus on building teacher resilience is both an individual and organizational responsibility and opportunity. The content of the toolkit has been strongly informed by research and best practices related to resilience, positive psychology, compassion fatigue, organizational psychology, and mindfulness.
What is Compassion Resilience?
Teacher resilience is a relatively recent area of investigation which provides a way of understanding what enables teachers to persist in the face of challenges and offers a complementary perspective to studies of stress, burnout, and attrition (Beltman et al., 2011). Teacher resilience is defined as “using energy productively to achieve school goals and meet students’ needs in the face of adversity” (Patterson et al., 2004). Compassion is the combination of the consciousness of others’ distress and a desire to alleviate it. It is a basic quality needed to be able to meet students’ needs. Compassion resilience for those in the education field is:
- The ability to maintain our physical, emotional and mental well-being (using energy productively) while compassionately identifying and addressing the
stressors that are barriers to learning for students,
- Identifying and addressing the barriers to caregivers/ parents and colleagues being able to effectively partner on behalf of children, and
- Identifying, preventing, and minimizing compassion fatigue within ourselves.
Think of this resilience as a reservoir of well-being that we can draw upon on difficult days and in difficult situations. It is a dynamic process or outcome that is the result of interaction over time between a person and their environment (e.g., Bobek, 2002; Day, 2008; Sumsion, 2003; Tait, 2008). Resilient teachers tend to maintain job satisfaction and commitment to their profession (Brunetti, 2006). This toolkit will explore the protective factors that build and maintain compassion resilience.
Why Build Resilience?
A focus on compassion resilience will guide all staff back to the core set of values and the drive for a sense of purpose that drew them to work in schools in the first place. It will do so by surrounding these drivers with a strong set of skills to manage expectations, set professional and personal boundaries, build effective collegial relationships, and practice real-time and ongoing self-care. A focus on relational trust between teachers, students, families, colleagues, and administration will encourage the risk-taking and exploration of new ideas that promote good teaching and learning. Teachers aren’t the only ones who benefit from a focus on resilience. Principals, administrators, superintendents, student services staff, coaches, para-professionals, and others who form the school community contribute to the decisive elements that influence a school that is thriving.