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More Resilient
School Administrators

People who are resilient -- realistic optimists who adapt to changes and learn from mistakes -- often are more effective leaders. More administrators are learning what it means to be resilient. Included: Ways to develop resiliency.

Administrators today may be under more stress than ever before, with pressure from high-stakes testing, accountability benchmarks, parents, and the multitude of needs students bring to school.

Resiliency is increasingly seen as a desirable skill for administrators to cultivate as they try to meet all of their work demands and maintain their personal well being.

Resilient people tend to be realistic optimists, according to Dr. Diane Reed, a former school superintendent who now is co-director of the Graduate Educational Leadership program at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York. Dr. Reed has studied and lectured about resiliency in school leaders and in March 2007 gave a presentation called How Female School Leaders Successfully Lead in Tough Times, at the Association for School Curriculum Development conference.

Dr. Reed talked with Education World about how administrators can nurture their ability to be resilient and how resiliency can make them better leaders.

Dr. Diane Reed
Education World: We hear a lot of talk about nurturing resilience in children -- what does it mean for administrators to be resilient?

Dr. Diane Reed: Actually, it means much the same for administrators as it does for children. Administrators at all levels face constantly changing conditions, issues and challenges. Regularly, they are required to learn new approaches to deal with problems that they had not encountered before; and for which their initial responses may not have been all that successful. We teach children to be resourceful and to be adaptable by trying a lot of different strategies until they find one that works. Administrators can cultivate their resilience by being life-long learners and applying some of the very things they were taught in their first years of school.

Of course, the problems administrators face are of a much greater magnitude and consequence. This is not to lessen the significance of the importance of children being resilient in the early years of their schooling, but administrators face decisions that can have far-reaching consequences and the responses from administrators constituencies can be harsh and recriminating. Resilient administrators surround themselves with a support group that is knowledgeable and can be trusted to give honest and constructive feedback. More than that, the resilient administrator seeks and establishes close, trusted relationships with people who can relate to her or him and provide counsel on a deeply personal, social, emotional, and/or professional level whenever needed.

Administrators must have the courage to take actions that that are unpopular or against the advice of trusted others and sustain the effort through to its resolution. Actions of this sort must be taken by acting on core values that are clearly articulated and that support the administrators rationale for making difficult decisions in times of adversity. Hopefully the administrators quest for ever higher levels of resiliency started in the early grades.

"The resilient administrator seeks and establishes close, trusted relationships with people who can relate to her or him and provide counsel on a deeply personal, social, emotional, and/or professional level whenever needed.

EW: What are some of the key characteristics of a resilient person?

Dr. Reed: Staying the course is the feature most representative of resilient people. They are realistic optimists, believing that good things can come out of bad situations and believing that you can make a positive difference. They recognize that this just doesnt happen. They are hard workers aware that overcoming adversity requires time and sustained effort. The other feature of resilient people not often appreciated or recognized is their strength, a strength that comes from taking care of themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Resilient administrators immediately set in motion a plan that identifies and weighs the relevant key factors involved and they act directly to execute the next move that will serve to regain the initiative. Once the initial move has begun, a longer term plan is established as the next step to sustain the momentum.

Resilient administrators sort and select options in order to identify an opportunity to experience forward movement of personal significance. Once they attain that movement, they acknowledge it by giving themselves a small but meaningful reward to mark the win.

EW: How can administrators cultivate their resilience?

Dr. Reed: First and foremost the administrator visits regularly and frequently past experiences where the knowledge and skills employed brought about success. This maintains and reinforces a sustaining sense of capability that is rooted in all of the previous successes and accomplishments, and is reinforced with each new achievement.

This is about being a life-long learner around the question, How can I become more resilient when bad things happen? Resilience is a growth process. Growth occurs when administrators constantly reflect on how previous setbacks were handled. The focus on what can be learned from previous setbacks will help administrators be stronger in the face of future setbacks.

And again, the resilient administrator seeks feedback from close, trusted people who can provide counsel that can sustain and promote further growth.

EW: What can professional development programs do to help build the resiliency of administrators in training?

Dr. Reed: Administrators, and those who train and support them, must gain a deeper understanding of the meaning behind the term resiliency as it applies to leadership. They must also understand that to be resilient requires study and hard work. Often the most growth comes at the most difficult times in the life of the administrator. However, the administrator should not wait to embark on growth experiences when times are difficult. Much can be done to develop the leaders resilience in calm times.

"Resilience is a growth process. Growth occurs when administrators constantly reflect on how previous setbacks were handled.
Currently, Drs. Jerry and Janice Patterson of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and I are developing a valid, reliable instrument to measure key indicators of leaders resilience. This survey will provide feedback to participants that can help them chart a course for further professional development in the area of resilience.

For example, a safe environment can be created where fears and doubts can be shared with colleagues and trainers. Trust can be established among the administrators colleagues who can be called upon when difficult times come along. This is when some of the hard work that overcoming adversity requires can be addressed. This is the time to establish the emotional strength that comes from taking care of oneself physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Training programs can provide safe opportunities for administrators to take real-life problems and apply tested principles of resilience to increase competence and confidence that can get the administrator successfully through adversity when it comes.

EW: Why do you think resiliency has become such a popular professional development topic in education?

Dr. Reed: Well, perception is reality, and the perception by administrators in all types of organizations is that leadership is more complex, more challenging, and more stressful than ever before. And leaders dont see this changing in the future. Leadership also has become more open and transparent. Administrators recognize that no one hits every ball out of the park. And their constituency is watching their every at bat. Successful leadership is often represented by a series of small wins with some losses along the way. So, administrators are looking for ways they can strengthen their resilience.

This e-interview with Dr. Diane Reed is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.


Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2007 Education World

Published 09/12/2007