Teacher Wellness

Debunking Myths About Resilience

It’s important to tackle these four myths because the social and emotional health of the adults who work in schools matters.

March 23, 2018
Teacher smiling at her desk
© 500px/Gable Denims

During the last few years, I’ve focused my learning, teaching, and writing on the subject of emotional resilience in educators. I’m convinced that it’s key in our attempt to provide students with the education they need and deserve.

We don’t have to do this at the expense of kids, nor do we have to put the brakes on looking at our practice as teachers, but we do need to expand our attention to include the social and emotional health of the adults who work in schools.

As I share what I’ve learned about emotional resilience and how to build it, I’ve encountered some common misconceptions about what resilience is and why we need it. I’d like to clear those up.

4 Myths About Resilience

Myth 1: Resilience will help you survive as a teacher. We have to go beyond survival as a goal. Resilience allows us to thrive, not just survive. Resilience enables us to rebound after challenges and become stronger than before.

We deserve our precious lives to be filled with beauty and joy and meaning—and that’s what’s on the other side of survival. Resilience helps us get there. Resilience is about not just about bouncing back but about bouncing back and farther along in our journeys as educators and human beings.

In other words, resilience doesn’t just help us get through a rough time—it helps us emerge stronger, better, and happier than before.

Myth 2: Resilient people have tough skins. The resilient don’t suppress tough emotions. In fact, resilient people experience a great array of emotions, including challenging ones.

When we try to avoid difficult emotions (anger, shame, fear), we actually decrease our resilience. When we experience and explore those difficult emotions, we discover that they won’t consume or destroy us, and we emerge stronger (and more resilient) than before.

Myth 3: Resilience is a personality trait. Resilience is not fixed in us; we can all increase it. In general, it’s built through flexible and precise thinking, having the belief that you can accomplish your goals, having a connection to meaning, increasing your experiences of positive emotions, being connected to other people, and self-care.

There are dozens of things that you can do every day to increase your resilience. To name a handful:

  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Eat a healthy breakfast
  • Have lunch with a colleague and don’t discuss work
  • Expand your interpretation of the big and little challenges at your school
  • Take a walk
  • Meditate
  • Focus on what’s within your sphere of influence
  • Practice gratitude
  • Expand your empathy for a challenging student

While many of these are classic stress management approaches, dealing with stress is one component of resilience, and an important element. However, cultivating resilience goes farther—it’s not just a reactive process.

Myth 4: Resilience increases when you learn to manage difficult emotions. It’s important to understand how challenging emotions (anger, shame, envy, or fear) exacerbate stress. But resilience is about far more than just learning how to manage, or engage with these emotions.

Resilient people recognize the importance of both managing uncomfortable emotions and cultivating positive emotions (joy, gratitude, contentment, and happiness). Resilient people use those positive emotions to rebound from, and find meaning in, stressful events and challenges.

There’s so much to learn about resilience to help us to manage the daily stressors of teaching and to allow us to fulfill our purpose as teachers. The deeper I get into this exploration, the more convinced I become that as educators, we must prioritize social and emotional learning for ourselves.