R is for Resilience

R is for Resilience

Leadership Cohort studies qualities that forge resilience in lives of teachers and students


Ward Roberts

Ward Roberts

The first lesson you learn about the quality of resiliency is that nobody does it perfectly. But it’s something that everybody can get better at when they put forth some effort.

WFISD’s Leadership Cohort, now in its 15th year, began afresh this fall with the mission of tackling the topic of “Resiliency.” The topic of “Resilience” is of particular importance because it shows up in WFISD’s new Call to Action in its new Strategic Design, which says: “All WFISD learners are resilient problem-solvers equipped and excited to create and contribute to a successful future.”

The 2018 Leadership Cohort also features new director Ward Roberts, WFISD’s director of innovation and advanced academics. Under his leadership, the group will study the topic of resiliency along with the “ins and outs” of District protocol.

The Resiliency study is based on a book titled, “Onward,” by Elena Aguilar, which helps leaders look “inward” to develop the 12 key characteristics of resilient people. The group will also look “outward” and “onward” by studying how the District works from the inside out.

“The themes are ‘Inward,’ ‘Outward’ and ‘Onward,’” said Ward Roberts, who couldn’t resist the perfection of the topics that, he pointed out, each bear his name.

Communications Specialist Ann Work Goodrich talked inward-outward-onward with Ward to find out how all of us can benefit from the new Leadership Cohort study on Resiliency.


Q: Will you define resiliency?

A: In general terms, resilience means you keep going. Elena Aguilar has 12 habits and dispositions that strengthen resiliency. For example:

  • Knowing Yourself leads to purposefulness
  • Understanding your emotions leads to acceptance
  • Telling empowering stories leads to optimism
  • Building community leads to empathy
  • Being here now leads to humor
  • Taking care of yourself leads to positive self-perception
  • Focusing on the bright spots leads to empowerment

There are five more. We won’t have time to do them all during the next nine months.


Q: Is this thinking “new”?

A: It’s been a hot topic in education for a long time from the standpoint of kids. Kids are successful when they are resilient. The first I heard about resilience in a public school setting was discussions of why some kids in negative situations still flourish and why others don’t. They have some quality about them -- grit, perseverance, resilience – that keeps them going.


But teachers and leaders have to be resilient, too. It’s not just kids. We also have to remember that resilience is not something you have or you don’t have. It’s something you can cultivate. You can work on it and get better at it.


We’ve only had two Cohort meetings so far, but we discussed what parts of this you can take back and share with kids and what parts you can take and use with staff members.


Q: Are there any preconceived notions to overcome as you teach about resiliency?

A: When I began, I set out a disclaimer. I told them I am not the perfect example of any of these characteristics. For example, we talked about the quality of empathy and that you can increase it by becoming a better listener. I told them I am not perfect in my empathy. These are things everybody has to work on from time to time. But when we do the things we’re talking about in the Cohort, when we practice these skills, we get better. Nobody is the perfect optimist. Nobody has perfect positive self-perception. But we can get better at these things.

My takeaway is that it’s really just awareness. So many times, we say, “Oh yeah, I do do that.” Or, “You’re talking about that, and, yes, that is a person I know.” So the biggest benefit is just naming it and being aware. When you think about it a little better, you can respond a little better.


Q: Are you hitting a need?

A: I think so. There are a lot of dimensions to resilience. It’s not like teaching multiplication facts where you have concrete end results, where you can say, “Got it. Check.” It’s more abstract and squishy.


There’s a need for kids and teachers to not give up, to keep on going, to be positive. We’re always worried every year about the teachers and the turnover rate. How long will new teachers stay in the profession? For kids, we want them to stay in school. We want them to overcome their obstacles and not be defined by their obstacles.


Q: Are there new and creative ways to do this?

A: It opens up a lot of options and opportunities for teachers and kids. To me, resilience is about dealing with people. Teachers are people-persons. You have to be. You’re dealing with all kinds of people. Even people you don’t choose. That people skill that our teachers have can enhance any profession. And we can get better at it.

One way that teachers stay resilient is they are adept at filtering information that comes at them all day long. There’s a barrage of information hitting them all day long from the kids and the adults in their world. Teachers receive input and say, “I’ll make this adjustment. This, I’ll ignore. This, I’ll ignore. I’ll deal with this later. I’ll take care of this right now….” It’s constant decision-making. Even in a kindergarten classroom. Every second, you’re watching, monitoring, responding, changing your plan a little bit – and being okay with that – monitoring and adjusting. You’re always on. To be resilient, teachers must keep at it…and be OK with that.


Q: If teachers build their resiliency, what improvements can you expect to see in the classroom?

A: Teachers will be happier. Kids will be happier. Teachers won’t quit. Teachers won’t quit on kids. Kids won’t quit on the curriculum. We’ll just be better people.

We first started by talking about how kids need instruction on their social emotional skills. They need help dealing with setbacks and things like that. But if you’re an adult who is not very good with social-emotional skills, you can try and teach that, but it’s not going to work very well. So it’s important that we build our own resiliency skills so that we can better teach others.

For example, if you correct a student after his angry outburst by shouting, “I TOLD YOU TO CONTROL YOUR ANGER!” that’s not going to work. Teachers are good at modeling the appropriate behaviors; most have a handle on that.

The big thing is just to name the issue so you can deal with it. It even helps to practice a script of how you talk about it. For example, you might say, “I noticed from your body language that you look a little tense. Am I reading that right? Is there something going on that you want to talk to me about before we start?” That would be a better way to frame the problem than to make a snide comment like, “Did you see how he’s looking at me? He doesn’t want to be in here for sure….”


Q: For those of us who are not in the cohort, how could we learn more about resiliency?

A: This book is available for purchase. It’s called “Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators,” by Elena Aguilar. There’s a website (Onwardthebook.com) and all kinds of online resources. Just Google “resilience training” or “resilience books.”


Q: I know you’re a big fan of Fred Rogers. What would Mr. Rogers say about this topic?

A: I have a great Mr. Rogers quote that applies to this. “If we can only make it clear that children’s feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.”

I love that quote. That’s from an appearance he made before Congress in 1969 to get funding for public television. He was talking about the importance of children’s television, which is now commonplace, but back in 1969, there’s wasn’t much of it. He got the funding.

What that quote means is that I may say, “I am so mad at you right now.” That’s okay to say. It’s “mentionable.” You don’t have to bury that. Get it out. But we’re not going to stop there. That’s not the end. How do we manage that? We want to talk about it and do something with it. That’s really all we’re doing here with our resiliency training. We’re recognizing and naming the issues – making them “mentionable.” Now, what steps do we take to turn that back around into a positive direction and deal with it?


Q: By the way, how can someone sign up for next year’s Leadership Cohort?

A: We will send out applications in the spring. Then we will start our next cohort in August.