We stand at the threshold of a new school year. In the coming weeks, we will be getting acquainted and forming new relationships with our students. We will be starting a new journey of learning and teaching. We will watch our students grow and mature. They will build new skills, gain new knowledge, and build new confidence. These are the reasons we chose to be educators. Few other professions offer such rewards and opportunities to make a difference in the lives we touch.
We also know that the coming year will bring a good measure of stress, pressure, and frustration. These, too, are predictable elements in the lives of educators. However, the impact they have on us and our well-being is within our control. We can allow these experiences to drive our emotions and control our lives, or we can develop skills, habits, and strategies to counter them. Now—before we find ourselves facing the inevitable uncertainty, complexity, and conflicting emotions ahead—is a good time to commit ourselves to becoming a more resilient person and professional.
The good news is that we can learn the skills and develop the habits associated with managing difficult situations. Being resilient is not confined to those who “were born that way.” However, we need to avoid delaying this important work until we are already feeling overburdened with stress and exhaustion.
Starting now before we are fully experiencing the intensity of our day-to-day work can provide the space to develop new skills, try out some new perspectives, and focus on effective strategies that work for us. Ramping up this work now can help us to be better prepared and build our resilience before we begin to feel overwhelmed.
The American Psychological Association identifies four key factors that define resilience: capacity to make and carry out realistic plans, a positive view of ourselves and confidence in our strengths and abilities, communication and problem-solving skills, and capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses. Obviously, the greater our strengths in these areas, the better able we will be to protect our emotional well-being while attending to the needs of our students.
So, how can we develop the resilience necessary to confront and prevail with the challenges that may lie ahead? Here are five strategies to consider.
First, we can build and expand our network of trusting relationships inside and beyond our profession. The more people with whom we can confide and from whom we can receive advice and support, the more options and support we can tap. Often it’s enough just knowing we have someone who is willing to listen, understands us, and can provide us with reassurance and another perspective.
Second, we can identify and set realistic goals in areas of our personal and professional lives over which we have control. When we focus our attention and efforts in areas where we control the key variables, we can build confidence in our abilities and develop a positive view of ourselves, despite what may be happening elsewhere.
Third, we can develop routines to build and protect our emotional and physical health. Physical exercise can do much to counter the impact of stress and frustration. It can lead to better sleep. An exercise routine can also contribute to a sense of control and a positive view of who we are. Yoga, meditation, and even going for regular walks can also provide important benefits. The consistency of a routine can send a signal to our minds and bodies that it is time to relax, even when we are feeling pressure and stress.
Fourth, we can build the habit of focusing on the gap that exists between what happens in our lives and our response or reaction to it. Obviously, we cannot always control what happens around or to us. However, we can always choose what we will think and which actions we will take in response. This insight can provide a sense of control, give us time to manage our emotions, and avoid reactions that can add to our frustrations and feelings of regret.
Fifth, we can accept that we cannot control everything. Obviously, some things in our lives, personal and professional, are beyond our control and influence. Yet, our need to control can leave us frustrated and depressed. The energy we spend wishing things were different and the frustration we allow to build in us can deplete the mental and emotional resources we need to be healthy and happy. Sometimes, our best strategy is to let go and focus elsewhere.
Some of us are about to begin the new year in the next few weeks. Others may have more time before students return. Regardless, the best time to develop the skills, habits, and attitudes to carry us through the coming year is right now. Consider choosing one, two, or three of the strategies and get started.