Cultivating Resilient Teachers and Leaders
By Diane James, SREB
Mary Leslie Anderson, principal, and Erin Rigot, instructional coach of League Academy in Greenville, South Carolina, say now more than ever, schools must play a role in building the confidence and resilience of teachers to become effective leaders. League Academy is a top performing public magnet middle school that serves nearly 800 students in grades six through eight.
Anderson notes that over the past few years, in addition to the stresses of trying to meet district, state and federal accountability requirements, teachers in her building are dealing with a host of issues that they have never faced.
They include heightened concerns about school safety and security, a lack of trust between educators and the community, increased student disciplinary problems and conflict resolution, a rise in the number of students living in poverty, student learning loss and a student mental health crisis.
She advocates that resilient school teachers and leaders need to be prepared to respond to all types of needs and crises and build resilience among teachers so that they can do their jobs effectively “without crumbling under the severe stress we have.” According to Anderson, resilient teachers bounce back from the struggles they face in education and understand that they are leaders in the school building, too.
To help build resilience Anderson and Rigot devised a Reflect, Connect and Lead model that promotes teacher self-care and empowerment.
Reflect and Connect
Self-reflection is the first step to becoming resilient, notes Rigot. She expresses that teachers aren’t often given time to reflect, and when they are, it’s related to their lessons in the classroom and not to themselves.
Everyone has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but schools have focused on the students, indicates Rigot. Teachers often internalize the anxieties and trauma of their students while coping with their own stresses. Rigot is adamant that “we have to take care of the teachers in order to take care of the kids.”
According to Rigot, reflection means allowing teachers to reflect on how they’re doing, and how they’re impacted by what’s going on in society, and then allowing time for them to connect or share with others.
For example, at League Academy, during weekly PLC (professional learning community) meetings, teachers are offered five minutes to stop and reflect. This might be in the form of answering a few questions on a sheet of paper or Google form or turning to a neighbor and discussing a reflective question. Oftentimes, the sharing is very emotional, notes Rigot. “It gives teachers permission to grieve everything that’s been going on in the world of education,” she notes.
Another activity involves a trust-building exercise in which a PLC team reflects on why they have a difficult time working together and devise solutions. The PLCs led to better understanding and trust among teachers.
The centerpiece of the Reflect, Connect and Lead model is building trust and comradery among adults in the building, indicates Anderson. If the adults in the building aren’t working together, then the students are not getting the best support, she insists.
At League Academy, 95% of teachers say they trust the administration, according to Anderson. Gaining that trust takes a lot of hard work. She offers these strategies:
- Put teachers’ needs at the forefront. It’s hard for teachers
to trust administrators if they view them as evaluators or
authority figures who get in the way of teaching.
- Show teachers that you are “walking the walk with them.” It
means being visible, approachable and having an open door policy.
“I’m in the trenches every day,” says Anderson, “not just on
lunch duty or hall duty, but doing the work with them,” she
- Help teachers solve problems, both personal and
- Support and empower teachers.
- Help teachers realize that they too are leaders. Teachers have the most contact with students every day and that makes them leaders, states Rigot.
School leaders who create safe spaces for teachers, staff, students and the community to work, learn and visit will produce an understanding, empathic and resilient learning environment.
This article was featured in the December 2022 issue of SREB School Improvement’s Promising Practices Newsletter.