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Resilience can elevate educators and students to a higher plane--but it takes the right approach to navigate during a pandemic

Maintaining resilience through COVID-19

Resilience can elevate educators and students to a higher plane--but it takes the right approach to navigate during a pandemic

People fear the unknown more than they fear change–and teachers, students, and parents don’t necessarily want to rush back to “normal” education unless education leaders can tell them what “normal” will look like.

As he opened FETC (virtual for the first time in 41 years), Marcus Buckingham, head of the ADP Research Institute – People & Performance, noted that the unknown and ambiguity won’t help build resilience in teachers and students post-COVID.

Instead, education leaders need to clearly identify what will look different, how it will look different, and approach post-COVID schooling with a team mentality.

Citing data from an ADP Research Institute study that surveyed more than 25,000 people across the world to gauge how COVID-19 has impacted engagement and resilience in the workplace, Buckingham noted that only 15 percent of surveyed employees are considered highly resilient.

On a deeper dive, the research team–Buckingham, along with Mary Hayes, PhD, the team’s research director, and Frances Chumney, PhD, senior researcher for psychometric methods–found that of that 15 percent, 10 percent are fully engaged and highly resilient, while 5 percent are highly resilient but are “just coming to work.”

How do engagement and resilience differ? Engagement is a positive state of mind that enables a person to deliver his or her best work, while resilience (often called “grit” or persistence) is a reactive frame of mind referring to a person’s capacity to take on challenges and obstacles and not just bounce back, but emerge on a higher level.

When it comes to COVID’s impact on the workplace, the study shows that those who had some sort of personal connection to COVID–maybe they caught the virus or had a family member who did–were nearly 3 times more likely to be highly resilient.

The more people have been exposed to the reality of what COVID is, the more resilient they are, Buckingham noted, and the more COVID-related changes people have experienced in the workplace, the more resilient they become. In face, workers who experienced at least five COVID-related workplace changes (such as promotions put on hold, layoffs, furloughs, more work hours, fewer work hours, increased technology use, or moving to mostly virtual work) were 13.2 times more likely to be highly resilient.

“Parents, students, and teachers don’t necessarily want to rush back to ‘normal’ unless you’re going to tell us how ‘normal’ is going to be filled with things [they] can be certain of,” he said. “If rushing back to ‘normal’ means bringing in a whole heck of a lot of ambiguity, please don’t rush me back. Tell me what the changes are, and [I’ll be] OK with them. The more changes you make, as long as you’re specific about them, the more resilient people can be. Let’s not misdiagnose–humans don’t fear change; humans fear the unknown.”

Education lacks a true team mindset

There’s a good reason education is among the bottom three most resilient industries, according to the study.

“Probably the most powerful explanation is that when you run these data and you correlate resilience with whether or not you feel like you’re on a team, if you say you’re on a team you’re three times more likely to be highly resilient,” Buckingham said. “We haven’t built schools or districts around teams. Maybe in the administration [we have], but in schools, we might do a little bit of joint teaching, but we just haven’t organized schools around teams.”

What does a team setting mean in education? One example is found in structing learning around learning pods.

“Coming together in learning pods to support one another as teachers–I would hope that’s one of the innovations that persists beyond the pandemic,” Buckingham said. “Humans are team creatures–we suffer psychologically when we are alone. If we look very carefully at the way we’ve organized our schools, we haven’t used the team as the fundamental organizing principle.”

As schools look to what’s next after COVID, keeping that team mindset will be critical for resilience.

“Moving forward, one of the innovations around technology in education should be how do we understand what our best teams do, how do we build more teams like our best teams, and what kind of tech should we build to support the needs of teachers and administrators and others to be able to be a team solution, a team environment, for our students? That’s a bigger question, of course … I’ve got to believe some of those low scores in terms of levels of resilience are a function of no teams,” he added.

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Laura Ascione

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