What Makes a Resilient Educator?

January 5, 2022
group of teachers laughing on their lunch break

The post-pandemic school years of 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 have almost certainly required resilient educators in schools around the world. Changes in routines to keep one another safe added a layer of challenge to already challenging classrooms. And even before that, converting our learning to the virtual world absolutely required quite a bit of resilience and fortitude!

Educators know that time has not caused these challenges to go away. Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) delivers some strategies that can help at a time where the CPI strategies may be more important than ever in their Developing Resilient Staff eBook.

Like many characteristics, “resilience” is a trait that many of us learn as young people before needing to re-learn it as educators!

I learned a great deal about resilience—as a young person—through competitive swimming. Physically, I had to endure tough practices, endless fatigue, and body aches. But perhaps a greater test of my resilience was maintaining my mental and emotional fitness; I had to keep myself motivated through weeks and months when my competition results didn’t seem to be improving. I had to remain confident that my hard work would pay off, even when some of my peers seemed to be catching and passing me. Thankfully, I persisted. I was resilient, and I learned a life skill that would influence my ability to welcome and overcome challenges as an adult.

And then I became a teacher.

Arguably, no activity in my childhood could have prepared me for the challenges in a classroom. It was my responsibility to prepare so many minds for their next educational challenges and it was my responsibility to manage their emotions while doing so. Similarly, I also had to manage my own mind and emotions.

Emotional self-regulation is critical to being a resilient educator.

Educators who are unable to emotionally self-regulate will be unable to confidently help students do the same. Most of us understand that we, as humans, can be emotional at some times more than others. Developing Resilient Staff helps us to realize the physiological response that is occurring in our brains and gives us tips to get ourselves back on track. I had to learn this the hard way.

A Resilient Educator Has Outlets for Stress

As a young teacher, I had so much energy; I smiled all the time! That lasted until about October of my first year in the classroom. Then my colleagues started to notice that I hardly came to lunch; instead, I worked through lunch, trying to keep up with grading or the next day’s lessons. I was very on top of my responsibilities, but I was losing sight of what made me a great teacher in the first place: my kind personality. So, just when I seemed to be drifting further and further away from being myself, a veteran colleague of mine—Lou—came into my classroom at lunch and encouraged me to eat with our department. It changed my career.

Aside from chatting about our families and weekends, television shows and tap rooms, we also talked about our jobs, our challenges, and our successes. This allowed me to find an outlet for my emotions and alleviated the mental load I carried with me daily. Some people don’t have a “Lou” in their lives to get them back on track; some of us even need to be someone else’s “Lou!” Developing Resilient Staff effectively reminds readers of strategies that somehow get forgotten amid the hustle and bustle of challenging classrooms and schools.

A Resilient Educator Leans on Colleagues

A resilient educator doesn’t try to do everything on their own; they value and rely on the other adults in their own classrooms. Early in my career I didn’t know how to do this. I would have paraprofessionals and special educators in my classroom with me, and I’d let them figure out how to help. Rarely did I ask for help or for advice. I think I thought that might indicate weakness on my end! However, it would not have. Leaning into these additional adults in our classrooms is okay!

Colleagues can “offer that fresh perspective that we sometimes need in order to break away from the habits we have unconsciously created.” (Developing Resilient Staff)

This differing perspective opens the door for you to become a more resilient educator. Becoming a resilient educator often starts with an avenue to an open and honest conversation regarding our emotional needs. A highlight of the eBook is its inclusion of an “Accountability Partner Worksheet” that helps educators to truly buy into the need to share emotional bandwidth. Using the conversational suggestions can help educators become more than congenial colleagues; it allows them to become truly collaborative instead.

A Resilient Educator Gives Themselves Gentle Reminders

If the advertising industry has taught us anything, it is that repetition of inviting words, jingles, or scenes can turn a fleeting thought into something we buy . . . or in this case, buy into! Placing posters with important mantras and critical words in well-traveled spaces (like teachers’ lounges) may help those words to be remembered when resilience is key. Mantras such as “If a student gets disruptive, I’ll take a deep breath before reacting or responding” can be beneficial. If school leaders take time at a staff meeting to role play these mantras in action, the words on the wall become a reminder of an activity, instead of simply being wise words.

The CPI Verbal Escalation ContinuumSM reminds educators of challenging moments that require resilience. When students use challenging questions, refusal, release, or even intimidation to disrupt learning for themselves or others, it’s human nature for teachers to want to respond emotionally themselves. However, if educators take time to role play these behaviors and to recognize the calming effect a deep breath can have when responding, we are bound to prevent further escalation more times than not.

Daily mantras are a perfect tool for educators; they can be shared, practiced, and remembered in times where resilience is key. It's important not to limit these tools to the classroom. Everyone involved in shaping a student’s outlook on their learning experience—custodians, cafeteria and office staff, bus drivers, and library/media specialists—will benefit from lessons in resilience.

Benefits of CPI Training for All School Staff

In some cases, schools reserve the CPI training content to classroom staff and school administration. However, one district I worked with made a point to train everyone, at least in the verbal de-escalation skills. On one specific occasion, I believe it saved a man’s job. Working as a high school custodian after hours, a gentleman was cleaning in our hallway when a group of students walked by and one student used a racial slur to incite this member of our team. Later, we watched on film as that gentleman took a big deep breath and got himself into a CPI Supportive StanceSM before directing that student to come back and speak with him. The student turned, laughed, and continued walking.

The next day, we addressed the behavior with that student. But what if the custodian had not had CPI training? Would he have let his emotional brain dictate his response? For most humans, it would have. Giving all our staff members some strategies to use—even if time or money prevents all staff from being part of a training—has immense benefits.

CPI training and resources empower educators with techniques that mitigate challenging behavior, help them feel safer in their roles, and even provide trauma-informed approaches for staff working with students and colleagues that have been impacted. Providing staff with concrete words and physical responses that will deescalate rather than escalate challenging individuals fosters a healthier learning environments and nurtures resilient educators.

I hope you and your staff are resilient in your efforts to find strategies like these in a time that requires not only more resilience, but also more fortitude, love, and compassion than we might have expected.

Kevin Mabie, Ed.D. is a Global Professional Instructor at Crisis Prevention Institute, and an educator with over 20 years of experience as a high school teacher and administrator. Dr. Mabie also facilitates trainings for the National School Reform Faculty.


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