Dr. Ashley Hall is an assistant professor in the department of Business Communication and Legal Studies
COVID-19 has changed the world as we know it. It seems that no part of life was left untouched by the pandemic. That is certainly true for the world of education. Educators have been asked to do more, remain flexible, have contingency plans for their contingency plans and juggle it all without sacrificing their dedication to their job and their students. How can an educator balance these overwhelming demands and seemingly never-ending struggles without losing hope or burning out? Sure, remembering the joys of teaching in non-pandemic times can help, but what practical steps can we take to help build resilience in the here and now?
What is the meaning of resilience?
Merriam-Webster defines resilience as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” Experts are warning about the mental health toll the pandemic is taking on educators. Rates of anxiety and depression are on the rise in response to a prolonged period of increased strain and stress. Many educators report operating in crisis mode since the pandemic began. As we cross the one-year mark, this level of stress is not sustainable. Between isolation, unpredictability and Zoom fatigue, educators are facing big challenges. In August 2020, USA Today reported that the National Education Association, a union of teachers, found that 28% of educators indicated that the pandemic is increasing the likelihood that they leave the field. This shows that the pandemic is having a large impact on both individual lives and systems as a whole.
How can instructors build resilience?
The Washington State Department of Health identified four ingredients of resilience – 1) adaptability and flexibility, 2) connection, 3) purpose and 4) hope. So, what can an instructor do to increase his or her personal level of resilience?
- Adaptability and flexibility – Consider reframing situations as an opportunity or a challenge, instead of just a threat. It is true that so much has changed for educators in the last year and sometimes the situations change rapidly. However, consider replacing the phrase “I have to…” with “I get to…” and see if your attitude and outlook changes. Amid this challenging situation, you may find that there are elements of your “new normal” that you actually prefer or that you are really good at.
- Connection – Focus on quality, healthy relationships. Combat feelings of isolation with a social outlet. During the pandemic this may require some creativity, but it can be done. Hosting a Zoom hangout with friends may be the last thing you want to do after a long day of teaching remotely. However, what about setting up a pen pal program with some friends and writing a letter or card to drop in the mail? Can you carve out a few minutes of quiet in your day to focus on yourself and clear your mind? Cultivating connection and sharing your sentiments can help build resilience.
- Purpose – It is no secret that education is often a purpose-driven field. Recall why you went into teaching in the first place. What motivated you? What did you hope to achieve? Are you still fulfilling those elements, even if in a different way? If so, celebrate that! If not, is there a way to incorporate purpose back into your life and job?
- Hope – Having hope or a positive outlook can have a profound impact on your mood and your level of resilience. Even though it may not feel like it, the pandemic is temporary. Hang on to hope for better days ahead while simultaneously working to be more resilient in the here and now.
As an educator, you have been asked to take on extraordinary challenges. Take some time today to implement one or more of these suggestions to build your resilience for your own mental health and wellness.