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Book:  Onward

Author:  Elena Aguilar

Purchase:  Print | eBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Aguilar, E. (2018). Onward : cultivating emotional resilience in educators. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Brand.

Three Big Takeaways:
  1. Roughly half a million US teachers leave the profession each year – a turnover rate of over 20%.  School leaders must focus on boosting the resilience of Staff as a lever for school transformation. Teacher attrition among first year teacher's has increased about 40% in the past two decades. A range of factors, such as morale, accountability expectations, and salaries, certainly contribute to the attrition problem, but stress and core management of stressors are also rated as a top reason why teachers leave the profession. It is estimated that the cost of replacing a teacher in an urban District exceeds $20,000 per teacher. High turnover rates at schools make it hard to accumulate professional  capital, hinder the implementation of programs,  contribute to low levels of trust among stakeholders, and make staff and student culture fragile. It would make good sense, from a financial perspective, to focus on increasing staff resilience. (pg. 3)

  2. Interpersonal conflict manifests in many ways, and when it's not dealt with, it tends to grow and spread. Gossip can be a barometer for the overall interpersonal health of a community. It also seems to be a behavior that can quickly spread if not addressed. Left unmanaged, rampant gossip fuels toxic cultures, which are further characterized by individuals working independently all the time, warring camps, divisions across racial or ethnic lines, Perpetual negativity, hostile faculty meetings, and misdirected values focused on enforcing rules, teaching basic skills, and serving a small group of elite students. Toxic cultures are contagious. New teachers can become acculturated in only weeks because of the strong negative personalities of the informal leaders and a faculty. Positive staff members tend to leave or are driven out. (pg. 117)

  3. Instruct your mind to notice moments of joy, contentment, or happiness - whatever you want to call it. Say, “Hey mind! If one of these emotional states passes through me during the day, could you please let me know? Thanks.” When your mind calls out, “It’s here! One of those joy moments!” then pause and savor the moment. Use your senses to take in the experience. Let your awareness of the moment sink in. Say to yourself, “I’m saving this moment of well-being." And thank your mind for bringing it to your attention. (pg. 141)


Other Key Ideas​​:

By recognizing the cycle of emotional experiences, you'll learn one of the most empowering lessons about emotions, which is that they are temporary. We often fear motions because we incorrectly assumed that they are permanent;  after all, they feel so strong when we experience them. Resilient people rebound quickly after adversity and rebound stronger than before. In order to rebound when you're down and struggling, you need to know that the emotions you are experiencing are temporary. (pg. 49)

Human beings yearn for good relationships. When we struggle with classroom management, our relationships with students are often at the root of the struggle. When children don't feel that they've been listened to, understood, or respected, they act out. This doesn't mean that we don't create clear boundaries or hold them to behavioral expectations;  it means that we need to know them and not just lay down the law. (pg. 52)

We prevent burnout by strategically renewing ourselves, sleeping more, and taking time off more frequently. We also prevent burnout by boosting our resilience. Burnout is also more prevalent among teachers who don't feel supported by their administrators or who have dysfunctional relationships with supervisors, and also among teachers who don't have strong relationships with their students. (pg. 55)

Breathing is the fastest way to interrupt the havoc of intense emotions and shift the experience. Slowing your breathing slows your heartbeat,  normalizes hormone release, and relaxes tense muscles. Breathing is the switch that can turn off the signals of emotional distress, which sometimes feel as though they switch on by themselves. Here's the key to using your breath: exhale slowly. Breathe in through your nose, then out through your mouth, counting slowly to five on the Excel. That's it. Next time you catch yourself in the grips of a strong uncomfortable emotion, breathe. Taking five of these slow, deep breaths changes your physiology and begins to restore your ability to think clearly. (pg. 58)

In my research on resilience, the disposition that's discussed and referenced perhaps more than any other is optimism. The resilient are undeniably, unequivocally optimistic. Which doesn't mean that they don't have days when they feel sad or worried. Over and over, I read about how we can increase her optimism, which for me was a good reminder, as I have Tendencies toward being what experts call a “realistic pessimist.” I've definitely been intentional about cultivating my optimism for many years, the key to which is to be mindful of the stories I tell. This is the place of power – our interpretation, our story crafting - and it's the precise place where we can feed the seeds of our optimism. (pg. 92)

It is often assumed that people entering the helping professions already possess highly developed social skills, so neither teacher training programs nor new teacher professional development focuses on expanding these competencies. Emotional intelligence, social skills, and communication should be a central component of new teacher training. We might wish that all new teachers arrived with these fully refined skills and knowledge sets, but they don't. We can either keep wishing or design PD that responds to reality. Yes, we can refine hiring techniques so that we are more likely to attract, higher, and retain those with stronger social and emotional intelligence. But, more than likely, we’ll need to continue cultivating at – the stresses and pressures of teaching had their unique particular tease, and even someone with strong EQ and resilience will be tested during her first years in the classrooms. (pg. 99)

For trust to exist, each group of adults who work in a school need to understand their own obligations, and they need clarity on what others do. We depend on each other. Without each other, we can't achieve our goal of educating students. Role clarity is critical for trust to exist. It may be hard for me to trust my school's dean, for example, if I'm often wondering, “What does he do all day? He's either on the yard talking to kids or he's locked up in his office alone.” (pg. 102)

Healthy conflict leads to growth and connection in a social group. There may be moments that feel uncomfortable, or even rough, but as we navigate those, we feel closer to each other. Healthy conflict is marked by an exchange of ideas, a sincere asking of questions, and a genuine willingness on everyone's part to listen and learn. This takes a relatively high level of trust and vulnerability, and sometimes a courageous soul to initiate and engage in this kind of healthy conflict. (pg. 118)

Within milliseconds, we're going to find another person's apparent race, gender, and age, which activates a complex network of stereotypes, prejudices, and behavioral impulses. Our snap judgments are informed or perhaps even formed through our cultures' influence in shaping prejudice. Years of explicit and implicit cultural messages - transfer to us from family, the media, our experiences, and countless other sources - link particular physical characteristics with a host of traits. These messages of superiority and inferiority have become internalized in our consciousness and entrenched in our institutions. These messages are all around us. You could think of racism as a virus like a cold - it's easy to catch, so it's hard to blame someone for it, that that doesn't release us from the responsibility of containing it, not passing it on to others, and cleaning up any messes we might have unintentionally created. (pg. 135)

You have around 65,000 thoughts a day. How would you like to have greater say over which thoughts take up residence in your mind? Thoughts and emotions are visitors who knock on the door of our house. With meditation, we learned to greet them, acknowledge them, exercise choice about how to relate to them, and then watch them go. Those thoughts that make you anxious, insecure, irritated, or ashamed don't need to stay with you. And these thoughts are not you. Without mindfulness, we invite unwanted emotions into our minds, offering them free rein. When things are challenging, we assume that our current state will always be - that it's just how we are. This is how negative mindsets start feeling permanent. Life doesn't have to be this way. (pg. 144)

Perfectionism shouldn't be confused with a commitment to excellence and a strong work ethic. You can have tremendous energy, conscientiousness, and persistence and not be perfectionist. Perfectionism is about seeking external validation, whereas healthy striving is all about internal drive. A healthy striver has high expectations and commit to a task while also making mistakes and knowing that those mistakes don't indicate a personal flaw. A perfectionist’s sense of self-worth is overly tied to external praise and accomplishments. (pg. 167)

Venting rarely makes us feel good, and often leads to cynicism. In some organizations, cynics are placed on a pedestal. They are seen as wise, sophisticated, and knowing; they have seen initiatives and people come and go. they warn others: don't be fooled by this or that shiny thing. They shame the hopeful, dismissing them as unrealistic, naive dreamers, and stop at those who incline toward the positive. (pg. 180)

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