In January 2019 I began a deep dive in Elena Aguilar’s Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators and the accompanying workbook. I hope to share some of my reflections as I build daily habits to strength my own resilience and support that growth in others. Aguilar outlines a habit and a disposition for each month of the year. Follow along as I reflect on each month’s key ideas.
September’s habit is Build Community and the disposition is Empathy.
Aguilar begins this chapter sharing research about why humans need connections, relationships, and community. From her personal stories to decades of research, she reminds me about the value of surrounding yourself with people you can trust. In every job I’ve had, I’ve made some close, personal friendships that I value. I’ve also made a lot of acquaintances, and I’ve worked with people where the only thing we had in common was our shared work. But I’m also driven to find a deeper connection, and to stay in contact with those who have similar values to me, and those who push my thinking farther.
Aguilar reminds us that as leaders, it is our job to ensure that our school systems have support structures in place to welcome new staff and to create opportunities for relationship and community-building to take place early on. I think this is also true when we hire veteran staff to new positions. How we “onboard” staff says a lot about our organization’s culture. Is there a clear process? Is the process about paperwork only or also about learning the people and the work? How do we offer mentoring for people in new roles?
“Student learning is impacted by the amount of relational trust among adults” (p. 101)
Trust is critical to building community. So often when I see significant conflicts arise, it seems that trust wasn’t present or was broken.
“Put the brakes on your interpretations of others. Refrain from drawing quick conclusions about someone else’s message or emotions. Create space between your observation and your assumptions.” (p. 110)
Aguilar says this in relation to body language and communication when forming community. I just wrote about assumptions in a recent blog post, challenging myself not to jump to assumptions without information. Assumptions can create misunderstandings and can delay forming trusting relationships.
Cultural competence and implicit bias are areas that we need to continue to talk more about in education (and in today’s society as a whole). By understanding and appreciating people from other cultures, we begin to form diverse communities. But we must also recognize that everyone has implicit bias. It’s up to each of us to do the hard, reflective, internal work to identify our own biases and how they might be leading us to false assumptions.
As Aguilar goes deeper into what can make or break a community she brings up the idea of fear. I often find that fear shows up in different ways in education, and it can negatively impact so much of our work. When a new initiative begins, people are often fearful that they will fail, fearful that the work will be too hard or too much, fearful that others will judge their first attempts, or fearful that their students will not be successful. This fear can show up as refusal to participate, lack of buy-in, unwillingness to attend or participate, or general apathy. As leaders, we need to recognize the signs of fear and find ways to support people through new learning.
The disposition of empathy can help us build community. By getting to know one another, to truly related to where we have been and what we are going through, we can support one another in good and bad times. I know I always feel better when someone shows me empathy and I feel just as good when I am able to show someone else empathy. In places where I feel less of a sense of community, like my own personal neighborhood, I’m going to work harder to demonstrate empathy with my neighbors.
Posts in the Building Resilience series: