More than ever, teachers are having to contend with a period of change and stress. Developing ways to boost your resilience will help you adapt and remain in control, says David Allan.
Resilience is a contested concept because it has often been weaponised by unscrupulous managers to browbeat individuals into accepting additional work pressures. However, it is also a critical characteristic in developing successful teachers in an ever-changing sector as it helps sharpen our ability to deal with adversity. In today’s further education culture of continual change, increasing workloads and seemingly unachievable deadlines, coping skills are essential.
Of course, resilience is more than merely accepting hard times and pushing ourselves to the limit. Rather, it requires resistance and acknowledgment of what we cannot do while addressing what we can. Resilient individuals are strategic and effective in managing their workloads, but they also challenge poor decision-making and unreasonable demands.
The following tips will help you develop and sustain your resilience for teaching.
Think about the times when you have been strong and coped well, and then draw out the essence of what made you excel in that situation, even if it was not related to teaching. For instance, if you got lost when driving and looked for strategies to resolve the situation – such as asking for directions – then it is likely that you didn’t deem yourself a failure.
Now apply this approach to your role. Complete a reflective journal for one month to identify instances of stress and how you dealt with them. This can provide an arsenal for building your resilience.
When dealing with change, distance yourself from the problem and approach it objectively. Imagine that it is someone else’s and you are merely providing advice; it is often easier to advise a colleague than to act yourself. What would you say to that colleague? This helps you to avoid procrastinating or seeking the seemingly easy route, particularly when that may not be your best option.
We are social animals and connections enable us to become more resilient. By working collaboratively, we learn to deal with changes in teaching. Collaboration allows us to gain strength as we fluctuate between being truly resilient and exhibiting moments of weakness. Seek advice or support from colleagues to avoid the destructive effects of operating in silos.
Leisure time is important. Create a balance between your job and your personal life. Teaching may be the drive that gets you out of bed in the morning, but it is essential that you learn to switch off. This helps you to strengthen your resolve, enabling you to tackle changes to your workload with a clear head.
Switching off is also a part of your working day, even if only for a short period. When you are not teaching, take regular breaks from your computer screen. Go for a short walk at least once a day to reflect on your role. This important time helps you to sharpen your focus and avoid burnout.
Form positive sleep patterns as these will help you to focus. Tiredness is not only a distraction that makes it difficult to concentrate; it is a sign that your body and mind are overdoing things. We make poor decisions when we are tired and our resilience is low, and often look for a quick fix. Complex problems require deep thinking, and we can only do this effectively when we are fresh.
Resilience is about having the strength to make a judgment on a new situation rather than merely tolerating it. While you accept some aspects that you cannot change, it doesn’t mean you have to suffer adverse consequences.
Focus on your power and not your helplessness. Ask yourself what contribution you have made to the situation (without arbitrarily blaming yourself) and address that. Decide whether what you are doing is helping the situation or not and identify any detrimental effects on your wellbeing.
Gain perspective of your problem and understand how it directly affects you. You may not be able to control a situation, but you can control how you react to it. If something appears unchangeable, don’t let it eat away at you; find another mechanism for dealing with it, such as asking a colleague for help.
However, some change is necessary and is a regular part of life, so this requires acceptance. Ask yourself what the new norm will look like and how long it will take you to adjust. Nevertheless, where necessary you should resist unreasonable demands, thereby demonstrating that you are a balanced professional who is both flexible yet strong.
David Allan is author of Developing Resilience in FE Teaching, available at Routledge.com.
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