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We Need to Talk about Resilience

We need to talk about resilience. The term has been around for a long time, well, at least for a couple of decades in education. Perhaps it has been around long enough to be taken for granted. The focus of the recent EdComm Conference was on Resilient Teaching. I asked some of the attendees how familiar they were with the term. Some said they had been thinking about it as an individual but it was not a topic that had received much attention at their school. Others said they were having lively debates with their fellow teachers about the relevance of resilience (and wellness) and had registered for the conference to find out what Dr Donald Guthrie had to say about it. In fact, three respondents from different schools said that their principals had sponsored up to a dozen staff to attend the conference with a view to promoting informed discourse and practical action with the rest of the staff on their return.

From my observations I sense there is a lot of ignorance about resilience. At one level, resilience is perceived as simply the art of bouncing back after a setback. Guthrie defines it as ‘struggling well with hopeful perseverance’. There are Christians who dismiss it out of hand because it seems to exclude God from the equation. There are other Christians within the teaching profession who wish to ‘Christianise’ the term to enable it to fit within their realm.

In my opinion, Dr Guthrie presented a very sophisticated, research and biblically-based approach to spiritual formation within which resilient teaching and resilient life practices are of significant importance. He gifted the attendees with an abundance of wise advice and engaged with the attendees on a practical implementation level.

But sadly a lot of the good seed scattered on May 5 will not take root within the whole school community because only one teacher from the school attended, or where there was more than one attendee, the school had not put in place a strategy to evaluate and implement the good ideas presented at the conference.

There are several lessons to be learned from this.

First, Christian professionals, especially those who work in learning communities, need to familiarise themselves with well-thought out contemporary ideas and evaluate them from a biblical perspective. Resilience in Christ is one such idea.

Second, ideas such as resilience, are best implemented within a community context. Whole groups of people need to be involved. Colleagues need to encourage one another.

Third, in any given week, scores of ‘good ideas’ are competing for teachers’ and principals’ attention. Schools need to scrutinise and prioritise them, and put in place sensible strategies to implement a small number of them well.

Fourth, I want to commend every school that professes to be shaped by the Bible, to dig into the Guthrie materials with a view to creating a vibrant resilient community among its staff, students and parents.  

As I have reflected on Dr Guthrie’s presentations a number of words and principles keep coming to the surface. Resilience cannot be addressed in isolation. Resilience needs to be modelled every day. Hope needs to disarm fear and anxiety. Trust needs to abound at every level of the school. We should listen to understand and speak to serve.

This is why we need to talk about resilience.

Dr Bryan Cowling is a former Executive Director of EdComm.

Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of EdComm or the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. The intent is to promote thinking and discussion.

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