Teacher Resiliency Isn’t What’s Needed in Education Today


This Twitter post by Dr. Tracy Edwards about teacher resiliency has gone viral for a reason. It resonates deeply with a generation of teachers that is tired of being told they need to be more resilient. It’s something that the pandemic has thrown into sharp relief. We’ve got to stop asking individuals to buck up, when it’s whole systems that need to change.

What’s the problem with resiliency?

Being resilient means you have the psychological strength to cope with stress when dealing with tragedy. It’s an important tool to build so you can cope with adversity. But resilience isn’t meant to be a long-term strategy. According to the American Psychological Association, “Chronic stress, which is constant and persists over an extended period of time, can be debilitating and overwhelming.” Lately, all we ever hear is that teachers (and their students) need to be more resilient, and it’s exhausting.

Teachers are looking for systemic change that doesn’t require daily resiliency

According to LaVerne Evans Srinivasan at Carnegie Corporation in her piece, What Changes to the U.S. Education System Are Needed to Support Long-Term Success for All Americans? “At no point in our nation’s history have we asked so much of our education system as we do today. We ask that our primary and secondary schools prepare all students, regardless of background, for a lifetime of learning. We ask that teachers guide every child toward deeper understanding while simultaneously attending to their social-emotional development.” We need to stop asking for teachers to do the job of teaching while covering for all the inadequacies of the current education system. Here are some of the changes we’d like to see:

1. Listen to teachers and invite feedback

We’re professionals who have our boots on the ground. Listen to us. What are we excited about? What strategies and new ideas are we trying in our classrooms? Be brave enough to ask us to share our negative feedback, and be open to making changes based on our recommendations. Let us vent in a safe space where there is no judgment. Follow through on our suggestions.

Create open office hours, and encourage us to stop by to talk with you. Conduct more regular, shorter professional staff interviews. Ask us questions like:

  • What is our school doing really well this year?
  • What are the top student challenges right now?
  • On a scale of 1 to 5, what is your joy level right now? What could help you move the needle higher?

2. Treat teachers like professional adults

We’re tired of being treated like we’re the students. Micromanagement stops us from trusting administration. Consider new ways of building a trusting community. Ask us if we want to try out Pineapple Charts that let us visit each others’ classrooms to learn new ways of doing things in the classroom. Bring us in to plan professional development. Don’t hold meetings that can be solved in an email. Consider making a video of what you want to tell us and email that to us instead. Don’t question our need to be out of the classroom for appointments, sick days, or family emergencies. It’s hard enough on us to make a plan for every minute we are gone. Believe us when we say we would rather be teaching, but absences (which are allowable in our contracts) are unavoidable.

3. Give teachers time to rest and recover

Show us that you truly respect our well-being by making a book like Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang be a staff read. Rest gives practical ways for understanding and taking advantage of the research around rest as a way to get more done. When schools go on holiday, don’t ask us to come in for a meeting or have grades due the day we return. When we’re out sick, tell us to take the time we need to heal. If there’s no need to have an early morning or late afternoon staff meeting, cancel it, and give us our time back. Please don’t email us over the weekend unless it’s an emergency, and stop watching the minutes on the clock. We put in far more hours than our contracts outline; please let us be, as long as we do our jobs.

4. Stop worrying so much about how teachers dress

Depending on the type of teaching job, the dress will be wildly different. Teachers of younger students have to kneel on the floor more. High school teachers might model a more professional look for their students, but there are lots of jobs where jeans are the norm. We’ve worked hard to move the learning in new ways. Some students gather to read on the floor; others work in small groups. Teachers move around them all day long, instead of standing in the front of the room to lecture. It’s a new world, and we need to be able to dress for it.

5. Start thinking about teachers as professional capital

For over 20 years, Fullan and Hargreaves have been researching education systems and the concept of professional capital. Treating teachers and teaching as capital means that you have to put in an investment in order to get a return. It can be hard for people to understand the use of the word capital when it comes to humans, but it’s worth investigating. “Systems that invest in professional capital recognize that education spending is an investment in developing human capital from early childhood to adulthood, leading to rewards of economic productivity and social cohesion in the next generation.” When schools begin to put structures in place that protect their investment in human, social, and professional capital, everyone benefits. Teachers who come to a school that invests in its teachers work harder to become a part of the productive community.

What teachers need now, more than ever, is the feeling that their work matters, that who they are matters. The way to do that is to invest in teachers emotionally, physically, and professionally. We want to feel as critically important to the system as the students we are charged with teaching.





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