You are inundated with competing priorities, weekly crisis and daily urgencies, so reading through these first few sentences will be an accomplishment. Even without likely interruption, you may have limited bandwidth for any new information. The surge of positive Covid cases, the threat of school violence and the ongoing staffing shortages make it nearly impossible to plan for next year, much less for longevity in your career.
However, if we don’t consider burnout and the antidote of resilience, we may not endure the endless finger pointing, community pressure, and critical weight of decision making eroding our tolerance for distress. Through understanding the complex etiology of burnout, we can better engage our faculty and stimulate greater agency of our students.
District leaders are being thrust into an unfamiliar role with new responsibilities requiring unique skill sets. Balancing organization and individual health is one of the important tasks to prevent the systemic and personal fragmentation, a precursor to burnout.
Resilience is about integrating our different parts to form a more collective whole. For a district that may be our infrastructure, climate, and methods of adaptation. For an individual that may be our thinking, feeling, and behaving. The intersecting paths of academic, moral and psychosocial emotional learning becomes the measurable outcomes of this work, which requires continuous recalibration in the wake of our growing mental health emergency.
For school and district leaders to prevent their own emotional fatigue and grow the fortitude of their faculties, you will embrace the tenets of process leadership. Process leadership helps us with the questions of ‘how,’ which is often overshadowed by the ‘what’ in schools. How do we get our needs met? How do we navigate differences? How do we communicate with varying levels of the system? How do we create enduring ecosystems where each subsystem supports the other?
Process leadership helps our faculty recognize the impact of the chronic fear, sensory deprivation and loss from the pandemic. A leader who recognizes resistance as a nature byproduct of the forces for sameness and change, will help their organization move from existing to thriving, which is necessary to grow our resilience.
If we live in survival mode where avoiding pain is a stronger force than seeking pleasure, we will grow our potential for toxic stress that leads to burnout. As we grow our tolerance for distress by 1. Strengthening our support network by teaching people who we need and not suffice with what they offer; 2. Nurture ourselves with good food, rest, and fun to balance out the unpleasantness in our lives; 3. Let go of control with regard to situations or people that are outside our sphere of influence- we will appreciate that dis-ease is not something happening to us, but within us.
Resilient people learn from challenges, integrating new information into our existing understanding of the world as opposed to being resentful of the world for the damage ‘it’ has inflicted. This is of course easier to do when the world has seemed fairer, but the reality is, sometimes life just sucks. As an educator, you see more types of unfairnesses than most, with impoverished kids, abuse, and other forms of societal injustice.
There are personal traits/ characteristics that help a person be more resilient.
- Curiosity allows us to be flexible as opposed to rigid because we are exploring rather than resisting. For instance, our emphasis on testing is an overcorrection to a problem of accountability, that happens not just in systems, but with people.
- Flexibility as opposed to rigid thinking comes in part from being stuck in concrete operations, an early development state of children. Move away from clear right and wrongs to consider perspectives.
- Not personalizing but recognizing that life is unfair, and we don’t always deserve what we get. If we embrace pain and aren’t surprised by inequity, we can move on quicker.
- People who are more determined, hopeful, and tolerant tend to be more resilient because they keep pushing forward without getting easily discouraged.
- Ego strength or the psychological threshold by which we can endure failure, disappointment, criticisms.
- Self-awareness helps us recognize our limitations and our attributes, so we can better determine what internal and external resources to pull from when under duress.
Editor’s Note: NJASA Partner TeacherCoach offers a five-part, video-based series on burnout through our dedicated district portals as part of an entire Educator Assistance Program (EAP). Want information on the EAP or scheduling your administrative retreat, email Dr. Jared Scherz.