Teachers are known to be resilient. Every day they are faced with immense challenges - both mental and physical - which they overcome in order to teach their students - and school closures have made no difference.
Schools across the UK and the world have been demonstrating how resilient they are when faced with complete upheaval of normal school life. Not only are they managing to provide their students with an education from afar, but they’re also supporting fellow teachers, providing students with emotional support - and in some cases, parenting - whilst teaching from home.
Despite teacher resilience being a common trait amongst educators, it’s only recently that we’ve seen research conducted into this area of teachers’ characteristics. This article will explore what it means to be resilient, how teachers have come to be so resilient and the importance of resilience during this period of school closures.
What is resilience?
In order to better understand what we call ‘resilience’ we first need to define what it means to be resilient. There are various definitions depending on where you look, but all definitions refer to two common themes:
- The ability to overcome adversity
- The ability to return to one’s true form after being misshapen
Resilience is innate, meaning that everyone has the ability to be resilient, although it is learnt. This means that despite everyone having the capability to become resilient some may not demonstrate it as well as others.
As we have already stated, teachers are a group of individuals who successfully foster their resilience. However, despite them managing to overcome adversity in the classroom, the current adversity we find ourselves in is one that even the most resilient of teachers might struggle to tackle head on. It’s for that reason we must dig deep during this unprecedented time of adversity to continue building resilience.
The British Psychological Society have outlined three areas that are fundamental in nurturing teacher resilience and we are going to explore these in depth, in order to provide teachers, and others, with a greater understanding of what resilience is and how they can develop it. We will explore the three areas in relation to school and education:
At the core of resilience is relationships. Without relationships we would not be able to feel supported or provide support during periods of hardship. Also, generally speaking, the sense of belonging that a relationship provides can help us to feel stronger.
Humans, as social creatures, want to connect with others and feel a sense of belonging. It’s why we come together as neighbours, families, friends and for educators specifically, a school community. Solid relationships provide us with a pillar to lean on, during hard times such as these.
Nurturing relationships through connectivity is more important than ever right now, in order for us to help one another overcome the adversity facing us. But how can we connect during this period of isolation to maintain that sense of school community and maintain teacher resilience?
Within the school community there are a number of relationships that need to be maintained in order to create a sense of belonging. We’ll look at the different types of relationships, why they’re important and how we can maintain them.
- Teacher-school staff
As a Headteacher or member of SLT who manages others, it’s important that you maintain regular contact with your team. Not only is it important for you to guide them but it can help to give staff at school a sense of security. As a Headteacher, it’s especially important that you check in with all members of the school staff, this does not only apply to teaching staff.
Here are some ways you can encourage positive relationships between staff:
- Depending on school size, set up daily or weekly morning meetings for all staff/teams
- Set up a virtual staffroom where teachers and staff can chat and check-in with each other
- Organise for CPD session to be carried out online
- Continue with school initiatives virtually such as teacher of the week etc
- Encourage regular communication and as a member of SLT, lead by example
- Set time aside to check in with staff individually - book these appointments in so they aren’t forgotten about
- Set up a safe space where staff can share their thoughts and feelings and give the option for these thoughts to be shared anonymously
- Facilitate a way for everyone to remain in contact eg Facebook/Whatsapp group
- Set up a rota for staff going into school that promotes staff health and complies with Government guidelines
- Survey staff regularly to gauge their wellbeing, workload and any issues they may be facing
- Encourage work socials even during lockdown to help engage everyone in social interaction
Parental engagement is a common struggle for schools. Relying on students to relay important messages to parents at home is hard enough when they’re in your class, let alone when you have no physical contact with them.
Additionally, a teacher relies on providing students with support in the classroom and uses visual cues to give praise, encouragement and keep students on track.
These challenges mean it’s even more difficult for teachers to effectively support students and engage with parents.
Moreover, parents and students are going to be stressed during this time of uncertainty and adjusting to this new learning environment. However, as a teacher, you can provide students and parents with an immense amount of help. By adapting your communication methods, you can support them and provide their days with some much needed structure.
Here are some ways you can nurture your student and parent relationships and support families from a distance:
- Form tutors can replicate form time from home by setting up a virtual morning registration
- Send surveys to check in on parent and student wellbeing, workload and concerns
- Ask for feedback on current distance learning processes - ask if there are ways you can improve
- Email both students and parents the work you’re setting classes so parents are kept in the loop
- Continue with any in class initiatives you carried out before closures eg star of the week
- Pay special attention to vulnerable students, check-in with them more regularly and find out how they’re coping
- Conduct video lessons, if possible, and in line with your school’s online safety policy
- Teacher-loved ones
During these circumstances, as a teacher, you’re going to become even more of a rock for your students and maybe even for their parents, which is why it’s extra important you nurture yourself and connect with your loved ones and the people who give you strength.
You need to be fulfilled personally in order to provide support for others. During this period remember to be kind to yourself and prioritise your mental health, don’t put too much pressure on yourself and be there for your friends and family and allow them to be there for you too.
Here are some things to consider when nurturing your personal relationships:
- Regulating work hours so you aren’t available 24/7 whilst working from home
- When planning your week factor in set times to catch up with friends
- Make sure you take time for yourself
- Prioritise time for fresh air and exercise
- Make a clear distinction between work and home time - set up a separate ‘work space’ or clear it at the end of your work day
- Take regular breaks from your screen
- Speak to someone if you’re stressed
- Reach out to people you’re worried about
Asking for help from peers and the physical act of seeking help when we need it builds resilience. Seeking help does not only solve a core issue we may be facing, it also equips us with the tools we need to overcome the challenge, should we face it again in the future. In addition, when we seek help from others we build on the initial principle of resilience which is cementing relationships.
Some people shy away from help-seeking as they feel as though it shows weakness, when in fact, it does the opposite. Asking for help demonstrates bravery, willingness to learn and curiosity; it also invites others to ask you for help - further opening up relationships.
To nurture resilience through help-seeking during this time of school closures, there are certain actions and channels that teachers and school staff can put in place.
Here are some examples of ways you can encourage help-seeking during the lockdown for you and your school:
- Use weekly meetings to discuss any problems people may be encountering
- Set up an anonymous forum where people can ask for help
- Use an online notice board to publicise different support services available to school staff during this period
- Demonstrate help-seeking behaviour
- Ask explicitly if anyone needs extra support or is struggling
- Ensure that help-seeking actions are used both professionally and personally
- Share any tips or guidance you’ve found to be helpful
As mentioned above, resilience is something we learn and need to continue learning. When it comes to learning about ourselves, our skills or current situations, knowledge is power and that doesn’t change when it comes to fostering resilience.
It’s for these reasons that learning and development are key components of resilience. The ability to look back on actions we took, decisions taken and mistakes made, allows us to learn from those past experiences and apply them to new ones we encounter.
Teachers are curious people and our jobs require us to adapt. Take the current situation we find ourselves in - many teachers will never have participated in distance learning before, yet when given a challenge, they’ve adapted, learnt about a new process and overcome an obstacle.
The ever-changing education landscape means there will always be new tools to get to grips with, updated processes schools will need to adapt to and there will be new information, research and findings that mean we learn more about ourselves and our pedagogy.
Here are some ways teachers can continue learning during lockdown:
- Learn from previous mistakes
- Use the time to reflect on past actions or current processes, research alternatives and apply them
- Set time aside for research in something you’re passionate about, whether related to your job or not
- Encourage whole-school learning via CPD or online discussions
- Think about how what you’re learning can be applied to the classroom
- Use this new teaching experience to evaluate your original teaching practice - is there anything you’ve learned that can be applied to the physical classroom?