Compassion Resilience

What is Compassion Resilience?

The reality of public school education is that it is both exhilarating and stressful.

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:

  1. 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,
  2. Identifying and addressing the barriers to caregivers/ parents and colleagues being able to effectively partner on behalf of children, and
  3. 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.

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. Our capacity to serve our students and communities are impacted by our personal histories, organizational supports, and the societal context we work in. The toolkit attempts to center trauma and equity informed perspectives that add value in understanding where each individual starts on their path to compassion resilience; this lens also deepens our understanding of what supports can be offered to fuel the energy of a diverse staff that is stretched thin. Simply stated, compassion fatigue and resilience will impact you differently depending on your history, identity, and social position in the school.  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, trauma, and equity.

Why Build Resilience?

A focus on compassion resilience will guide a diverse 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 supporting the development of 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 administrators will encourage the risk-taking and exploration of new ideas that promote good teaching and learning. An understanding of systems drivers of fatigue and the differential impact on teachers who work without the benefit of unearned privilege allows for a critical examination of power, resources, and who gets support, and who does not. Identification of these gaps encourages prioritization of resources and support for those who need it the most. 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.

The Trauma and Equity Informed Perspective and Educator Resilience 

Trauma informed values include a focus on safety, choice, collaboration, trustworthiness, empowerment, and cultural responsiveness. Educators are invited through individual and team activities to be honored, listened to, and supported in exploring the expression of these values and their impact on wellbeing at work. Awareness and self-reflection exercises with collegial support invite a collaborative space to examine how educators feel included and engaged at work.  The painful and real context of oppression (racism, sexism, classism, etc.) contributes to fatigue and, without being named openly, exacerbates stress and isolation which can take an extraordinary toll. Conversations where people walk alongside each other without judgment, recognize our unique strengths and challenges, and extend accountability to each other in the form of listening, learning, and transformation are the core methodology. The work of the toolkit is not to fix each other; the work is to simply acknowledge our shared humanity.