We all have the capacity to grow and develop our resilience.
Bonnie Benard, the renowned resilience researcher, once defined certain circumstances in our environment that can help boost this growth organically. In particular, Benard highlighted several protective factors, including caring relationships, meaningful participation, and high expectations. Frequently, they’re cited as required elements for developing resilience in children and youth.
But the same protective factors apply to adults—to our teachers, our support professionals, and our school leaders. These factors, developed via our interactions with one another, establish conditions that will either support our growth or hinder our resilience. Stop for a minute and consider your current work environment. How many of the following do you currently experience at work?
- Caring Relationships, relationships that expand beyond the corporate or professional practice, where colleagues care about you as a person;
- Meaningful Participation, engagement in actions and projects that have meaning for you and also purpose towards a greater goal; and
- High Expectations, the understanding that your colleagues expect you to produce work of skilled and high quality.
Our hope is that you are currently experiencing all of these in your work life. But just as we seek to develop resilience in our children, we can—and must—develop and help grow resilience in ourselves and our colleagues. We do this by focusing on our environment, climate, and culture in order to develop the protective factors that support resilience.
What we should be seeking are external environments where support is commonplace, connectedness is the norm, and humanity is acknowledged. These spaces provide the ideal setting for resilience to develop.
At its core, resilience is simply a set of traits or mindset shifts. These traits include the internal asset clusters of social competence, autonomy, and sense of self, and sense of meaning and purpose.
Each of these internal clusters can be further delineated by:
- Social competence refers to things like cooperation and communication skills; empathy and respect; Problem-solving skills
- Autonomy and sense of self is personal conviction; self-efficacy; self-awareness
- Sense of meaning and purpose means optimism; goals and achievement motivation.
Together these traits help us become more resilient and help us navigate through complexity and uncertainty. These internal assets are developed when the external protective factors establish an environment conducive to our own learning and growth. We are striving for caring, supportive environments inside our schools based on relationships and connections, as well as the development of individual traits including collaboration, empathy, sense of self, and purpose.
Coincidentally—or perhaps obviously—these are also the environments and the traits of effective leadership.
And really are we surprised that the same environments and skills that boost resilience would also boost efficiency and practice? Because if resilience is the ability to “bounce back”—or as Australian researcher Andrew Fuller states, “The ability to bungee jump through the pitfalls of life,” rebounding from a setback, or buffering from distraction—isn’t that what we also want to see in our leaders?
Indeed, these skills can be taught and these traits developed. We can help make our school environments more connected and supportive, and we can help our educators and leaders become more resilient.
So how do you support school leaders to embrace new leadership mindsets? Our short answer to this may appear too glib, as this is complex work! Suffice to say that one-size-fits-all leadership programs won’t scratch the surface. Individuals need personalized support, from professional coaches experienced in helping to shift old mindsets and build new patterns of thinking.
A leader’s impact should never be underestimated. Once leaders build their own personal resilience as the result of a mindset shift, they will exhibit new behaviors that build the protective factors for the school or district. Others will take notice and eventually a cultural shift may take place. While individual mindsets are a natural starting point, keep in mind that organizations have mindsets too, and these mindsets run across cultures. The same coaching tools and strategies that work for individuals work for organizations as well.
Acknowledging the importance of mindsets as a critical component of professional development for education leaders is crucial for transforming our school communities in the way they need. If we are going to transform systems, we must first transform ourselves.