The Resilient Educator

Michael E. Bernard, Ph.D.
Professor, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne
Founder, You Can Do It! Education

Working as a teacher, mental health practitioner or administrator, there are times when negative, adverse events at work (and at home) can lead you to experience a range of negative emotions such as anger, anxiety or feeling down. While these negative emotions are normal and understandable, when you become emotionally tense (especially when you are not aware of your emotional state), not only is your overall social-emotional wellbeing impaired, but your ability to think clearly, solve problems, and continue to perform at a high level of professional effectiveness is greatly reduced.

A key personal capability we all need to handle our emotions when the going gets tough is “resilience”. No matter how skilled you are in classroom management, in the design of behaviour intervention plans, in leading or working on teams, and, more generally, in managing the various aspects of your job, without resilience, the ability to deliver your abundant professional skills is challenged.

Resilience means…

When faced with challenging situations including change as well as when you are confronted with difficult situations and people, being resilient means:

  • being aware of your negative emotions (anxiety, anger, feeling down) including your degree of upset
  • being able to prevent yourself from getting extremely upset
  • when you get extremely upset, being able to control your behaviour so that you do not behave
  • aggressively or withdraw from others at inappropriate times
  • when you are very upset, knowing how to think and what to do to calm down within a reasonable period of time, and
  • bouncing back to work and being with others.

By helping you maintain control of your negative emotions, resilience helps you to think, feel and behave in positive ways in order to overcome difficulty and move on.

A resilient mindset consists of a variety of rational beliefs such as self-acceptance and high frustration tolerance, and coping skills, such as asserting yourself, managing your time, relaxing and finding someone to talk to. It can help you to stay calm as well as eliminate the adversity you are facing at the time. Resilience also involves using your personal capabilities of confidence, persistence, organisation and getting along to take positive actions when confronted with challenging and difficult situations and people.

Resilience is not about eliminating emotions totally. It is about empowering you so that you feel you have some control over your emotional response to adverse situations.

My own recent research into the personal capabilities of educators throughout Australia, England, and the United States, has yielded some interesting findings. While educators as a group tend to have strong getting along capabilities, are extremely persistent and are generally organised, they indicate that they need to develop their confidence and resilience.

Resilient, highly effective educational leaders are those who ¾ when faced with challenges, difficulties and constant change ¾ use their inner strengths to think, feel and behave in strong, positive and resilient ways rather than reacting negatively. Their actions and words make a large difference not only to the learning and well-being of students, but also to the morale, wellbeing and productivity of all those in their school community.