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Redefining Resilience for Educators in 2021

Developing positive strategies to overcome everyday challenges
Griffin Jaeger
February 10, 2021

It’s no secret that the past year has presented numerous challenges for you and your students. 

Change, fear, loss, anxiety, whatever it may be, we’ve all experienced emotional tolls and roadblocks throughout this unprecedented year.

The fact of the matter is, our students, peers, colleagues, loved ones, and especially ourselves may not be as mentally healthy as we appear.

Now more than ever, it is so important to prioritize focusing on your well-being, practical empathy, and compassion so that you can show up to your hybrid or remote learning space and create a positive community experience for both yourselves, and your students.

We are all experiencing this pandemic in different ways.

On January 28th, 2021, Dr. Rumeet Billan joined the SpacesEDU community to share how educators can develop proven strategies to build resilience, bounce back from challenges and thrive. By focusing on what you can control, you can become a happier and healthier educator in 2021.

When it first hit, there was this notion of - you are not stuck at home, you are safe at home.

“I completely 100% understand this sentiment, but I have a huge problem with it and I’ll tell you why.

Both you and I know students that are not safe at home, not everybody is safe at home.

So when we think about redefining resilience, this is critical. We need to focus on our well-being, practical empathy, compassion for others, and compassion for ourselves,”

- Dr. Rumeet Billan

Redefine Resilience

According to Oxford English Dictionary, resilience is the ability to bounce back from difficulties and obstacles. By definition, this means that we return to the same level of functionality as before we experienced a challenge. 

As Dr. Billan says, for some that is enough. 

But to take it one step further, we must ask ourselves “how do we learn, grow and find meaning through the challenges that we face?

So often, you likely find yourself thinking, “I will be happy when the lockdown is over” or “I will be happy when I get this thing,”.

Dr. Billan emphasizes that happiness comes before, rather than after success.

Showcased in a Shawn Acher study, it was found that happiness is 50% genetically determined, 10% life circumstances, and 40% actions, thoughts, and behaviors.

You may be wondering: when it comes to happiness...can we actually change our state of happiness or our well-being? How do we do that?

This stems from our thoughts, actions, and behaviors.

educator reads at the head of the classroom



Become the critic of your inner critic

It begins with our self-talk. As Dr. Billan describes, this is how we make our emotions real.

Dr. Fred Luskin states that we have about 60 000 thoughts each day, and 90% are repetitive.

Since the pandemic first hit, nearly every part of our lives has changed. Yet, there are people still blaming themselves for things they cannot control.

By comparing ourselves to our ideal definitions of productivity, happiness, and success that we set before the pandemic struck, it is going to have an impact on our self-talk and resilience.

Dr. Billan showcased this through the idea of feedback.

Think of a scenario where one of your students failed at something, and you had to give them feedback. What would you say?

Additionally, think of a scenario where you personally failed at something, what would you say to yourself?

It’s quite likely that you are going to be much more encouraging and respectful to your students and quite harsh on yourself, focusing on the negatives.

“If your friend spoke to you, the way that you speak to yourself, would you be friends with that person? My assumption is that 90% of us are saying no,” said Dr. Billan

This has to do with our inner critic: our negative thought processes, disapproving thoughts, and behaviors.

When we are high in self-criticism, it will take us longer to bounce back.

We need to become the critic of our inner critic, speaking to ourselves the way that we would speak to a friend.

As Dr. Billan highlights, ‘the most important relationship is the one you have with yourself.”



Focus on what you can control

Educators are high in empathy. Thinking of others is a part of who you are. 

Unfortunately in a time like today, there are things we can’t control, which may be frustrating. 

Putting up boundaries is extremely important.

Rather than focusing all of our attention on what is out of our control, we must shift our mindset to what it is that we can control. 

For instance, who can you reach out to let them know that you are there to help and offer support?

This practice starts from within, and there are multiple strategies one can work towards in order to combat these challenging circumstances.

Set Boundaries

Prioritize taking breaks. Through online teaching, feeding children, or cleaning the house, it can be easy to dismiss taking time to ourselves.

“I heard Dr. Greg Wells speak..and he shared that if you were to walk in nature for 15 minutes without technology, it bumps up problem-solving by a yield of 300 percent,’ Dr. Billan shared.  

For some, taking breaks can be extremely difficult with everything going on around them, but inserting a break wherever it works best, is absolutely critical.

If you don’t have 15 minutes, take five. If you don't have five, wake up 5 minutes earlier. 

Intentionally redefine

As Dr. Billan shared, we have all created definitions of success, productivity, and what learning should look and feel like, but these were created before the pandemic.

It is critical that we intentionally redefine these definitions.

Instead, ask:

  • What do success and productivity look like to me today?
  • What does happiness look like for me today?

By reframing these ideals, you will be more realistic and kind to yourself, positively impacting your well being.

Practice Compassion for ourselves and others

There will be good days and bad days for both ourselves and our students, and that’s okay.

We must listen to our bodies and minds and refrain from pushing ourselves, as this will only hinder our ability to bounce back from the challenges we face.

There is power in language.

People often operate in automaticity.

It can be easy to quickly respond to “how are you?” with “I’m fine thanks, how are you?” even if that may not be how we genuinely feel.

Instead, check-in by asking how is your day going? How are things at home?

Rather than asking : 

  • Are there any questions?
  • Is there anything going on? 
  • Is there anything else?
  • Is there anything I can do for you?

We can simply change the language to:

  • Are there some questions?
  • Is there something you want to talk about?
  • Is there something going on?
  • Tell me something I can do.



Showing up every single day

Social connectedness is the combination of experiences, moments, and feelings of belonging.

A study done by Waldinger in 2015 found that social connection is the #1 predictor of long-term health and happiness.

Dr. Billan emphasizes that you do not have to be close to feel close.

The question for educators becomes, how will you show up?

The notion of legacy often emphasizes what we want to leave.

Dr. Billan reframes this perfectly by saying “It is not about the legacy you want to leave it is about the legacy you want to live.”

Rather than thinking about what you want to be remembered for in the future, think about what you want to be remembered for when you leave the room (or perhaps the zoom room).

Whether you are teaching in a physical or virtual environment, showing up each and every day to create a classroom community, and make the community feel like a belonging will better the learning experience for both you and your students. 

Engage in Benefit Finding

Educators and students have faced a high level of challenges this year, but with a challenge comes posttraumatic growth, otherwise known as benefit finding.

Quite simply: look for the good.

On one hand, this year we have experienced social isolation, loss, grief, and anxiety.

But on the other, we have come out with a greater appreciation of life and a greater sense of personal strength.

Dr. Billan stresses that engaging in benefit finding is just as important as communicating our challenges.

This year has been incredibly taxing. We are all going through a lot, and it’s not over yet. 

By practicing compassion and respect for ourselves and others, setting boundaries, fostering connection, while listening to ourselves and those around us, we can become a happier and healthier educator in 2021.

Griffin Jaeger

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