As we look back over the previous year and ahead to what is to come, for some it is a time of optimism for what the future holds; for others it is a time of anxiety about big events or sadness over anniversaries of the loss of someone close. Being reflective can spark a whole range of feelings and emotions which requires some resilience to work through.
We started this term with a staff training day focused on well being for students and staff. To launch the day, I talked to the staff about resilience. I was inspired by this TED talk from Dr Lucy Horne, Director of the New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing and Resilience. She talked about the 3 secrets of resilient people and it reminded me that almost 2 years ago, I wrote a blog about the “Importance of R” which referenced the emphasis we place on being a reflective and resilient learner as part of our STRIPE curriculum.
I get very frustrated when people talk about resilience being a way of “bouncing back” from adversity. As anyone who has any form of stress, challenge or difficulty in their life will know, bouncing back isn’t an option. It also isn’t helpful to tell people who are finding things difficult that they “will bounce back eventually”.
The 3 secrets Dr Horne shared really resonated with me. To summarise, resilient people:
1. Accept that “stuff” happens. Challenging situations, stress, difficulty, loss, bereavement and change happens to us all. Life does not discriminate when handing out the dirt! To develop our resilience, we can accept this and know that things happen to us all and with that comes a sense of acceptance.
2. Are really good at choosing carefully where they focus their attention. Resilient people accept the things they can’t change and focus their energy on the things they can. When we spend time and energy reflecting, this can be really helpful. We can learn from mistakes, consider what works for us and what doesn’t and improve choices/decisions moving forward. To become self critical or inward looking though is unhelpful. We don’t need to worry about things which are completely out of our control.
3. Resilient people regularly review and reflect on situations and ask themselves is this helping me? If we continue to do things which do not help us, it becomes even more difficult to be resilient. These situations bring us down, make it more challenging to be positive and think optimistically about the future.
Finally, resilient people can’t be resilient on their own: “Resilience is based on compassion for ourselves as well as compassion for others.” — Sharon Salzberg
We need the people around us to support, help and understand us when times are tough. Strong, resilient communities are dependent on the compassion and empathy of everyone.
I reminded the staff that as well as considering these messages for ourselves, we should also remember that we are the role models for the students. We can teach them to be resilient by allowing them to see our vulnerabilities from time to time and show them how we move on from challenge.
We had an interesting discussion about how that would be received – would students “use” this against us if we showed our more vulnerable side? I don’t believe this to be true. In my effort to lead the way, when I asked one student how their Christmas break was they replied and asked me about my holiday.
This was the exchange that followed: “My holiday was fine thank you. Christmas day was a bit tough as it was the first one without my mum. But I was with my family and that helped me”
“It was our first Christmas without my granny so we found it tough too. Being together really helps doesn’t it?”
A simple conversation showed the student that it was ok to not be ok and identify the strategies that made the situation easier. As a staff we have reflected on how we can support our students more effectively to develop resilience, to reflect on situations and try to find appropriate tools which will help to move forward.
So as we start the New Year, remember to do more of the things that help you, choose to focus your energy on what is within your gift and finally, accept that stuff happens. We are not a piece of elastic which will bounce back; instead learning and practicing to be reflective and resilient can make us better able to deal with the “stuff” of life.
I wish you and your families all the very best for 2023.