Emotional resilience is the most important thing for coaches to focus on when supporting new teachers. It should be the goal for any coaching model that aspires to be transformational.
The purpose for cultivating resilience goes far beyond simply preventing burnout or retaining teachers; the goal is to help teachers become effective, reflective, empowered, and joyful in the classroom. Those are the conditions in which students learn in deep and lasting ways. Those are the conditions in which teachers find innovative ways to meet the needs of children. Those are the conditions in which teachers examine their unconscious bias and interrupt the inequities that are perpetuated in the classroom and school hallways.
If you are a coach or leader who is committed to creating equitable schools and to meeting the needs of every child, every day–you must prioritize cultivating the resilience of teachers. New teachers in particular are vulnerable to the stress and pressures of the profession, and by coaching their resilience, we have an opportunity to cultivate educators who might not only withstand the inevitable stressors of teaching and stay in the field for many years, but who might also thrive. Here are actionable ways to boost the resilience of new teachers:
- Recognize emotions. New teachers may not have the language to name their emotions, nor the ability to know when they are experiencing them. Use this tool, The Core Emotions, to help them find words to describe what they’re feeling. Start by placing it in front of them on the table, and say, “Point to what you’re feeling.”
- Normalize the experience of emotions. Whatever they are feeling, it’s normal and it’s okay. Say that. Don’t share your own experiences of emotions, but you can say, “Many new teachers feel the kind of anxiety you’re describing, it’s normal.”
- Ask about emotions. Make it okay for them to talk about emotions. Ask questions like, “Would you like to tell me more about how that felt?” or “That sounds really hard. What else were you feeling?”
- Increase awareness of interpretation. An emotion is the result of the way we interpret something that happens: A student rolls her eyes, which we interpret as disrespect, which makes us feel upset and angry. Ask questions like:
- How did you interpret _______?
- Where you think your interpretation comes from?
- Are there any other ways you could have interpreted that behavior?
- Explain the cycle of an emotion. Many of us don’t understand what emotions are or how we can influence them. The Cycle of an Emotion can help guide the discussion. Here’s an example, Cycle of an Emotion, that you can also use.
- Talk about triggers. Invite the teacher to record a list of their triggers. Be curious. Ask, “Where do you think that comes from? What’s that about? How was that behavior seen and interpreted in your family of origin and in the community in which you were raised?” The majority of our triggers have their origins in our childhood and young adult life, so heighten awareness of those connections.
- Talk about strategies to manage strong emotions. First, learn about how the teacher responds to strong emotions (by asking good questions and observing). Then offer them a few strategies for when they’re in the grip of a strong emotions. Give them a copy of this document, Three Power Strategies for Dealing with Strong Emotions, and suggest they post it in their room where they’ll see it. They could also translate these suggestions into symbols and post those as a more subtle reminder.
- Bring new teachers together. First year teachers experience isolation. It’s really useful to be able to talk to a coach and mentor (which are not the same thing) and it can be really cathartic to talk to other first year teachers. Bring new teachers together if you can, for informal lunches, or more formal coaching opportunities.
- Make it normal, acceptable and routine to seek advice. New teachers can be reticent about asking for help or admitting that they don’t know things as they are often concerned about being seen as unprepared for teaching. Don’t assume they know what commonly used terms mean (such as formative assessment or guided reading) and be very mindful about defining the endless stream of acronyms that we use in schools.
- Show up if a new teacher is retreating. Beginning teachers are often so overwhelmed they don’t even know what to ask for in seeking out help. Be proactive. If your coachee or mentee misses coaching sessions, show up in their classroom. Make it easy and okay to ask for help.
- Provide many opportunities to connect with core values. Use this tool, Core Values Directions, and this one, Core Values, to help teachers identify their core values. Then offer many opportunities to reflect on how they live these values and listen for instances when they are acting on their core values and also acting out of alignment with them. Name both when you’re seeing evidence of upholding a core value, and when you wonder about a gap between their actions and their core values. That can sound like, “I know that one of your core values is community. What are some other ways that you could have responded to your students’ behavior that might have fostered this value?”
- Offer opportunities to talk about big hopes, dreams and aspirations. One way to do this is to ask teachers how they want to be remembered, and more specifically, how they want one child (perhaps a challenging child) to remember them 10 or 15 years in the future. This question pulls us out of the challenges of the day to day and into what really matters-which is the impact we’ll have on kids.
All of these strategies are based in the research on resilience, and particularly on the research on resilience in educators. And they’re all tried and tested in my own experiences as an educator and coach. Stay tuned this school year for a lot more from me on how to cultivate resilience in educators.