This expert interview is with Executive Coach, Resilience expert and Integrity Coaching Associate, Mary Evans.
1) How do you define Resilience – and how has this become a particular area of interest for you?
Resilience can be described as the ability to overcome setbacks and to absorb learning from those setbacks. It includes the capacity to remain adaptive under strain, to deal well with change and to sustain energy when under pressure.
My work in Local Authorities, particularly as a Deputy Director of Children’s Services, involved dealing with a variety of pressures. I started to reflect on how I had survived the cumulative effect of these alongside major life events, including bereavement and prolonged family illness.
When I did my initial training as a Coach with Integrity Coaching and later my Coaching Practitioner Diploma with The Academy of Executive Coaching, I was encouraged to reflect more on my default reactions and how I could better manage them. I became more aware of what depleted me or threw me off balance and what made me feel positive and energised.
Undertaking “The Resilience Accreditation Programme” from The Resilience Engine has given me models and insights, backed up by a decade of research with resilient leaders. I apply these regularly in my coaching with senior leaders in education and local government.
2) What are the challenges School Leaders face when trying to sustain their resilience?
The biggest challenge school leaders face is safeguarding their own resilience and preventing it from being eroded by the dysfunctions present in our school system. I know a number of the senior staff in schools who I coach can be pulled out of shape by the demands of the system, including meeting and sustaining standards expected by Ofsted, the expectations of parents and governors and the needs of staff and students.
If leaders don’t take active steps to sustain their resilience, these challenges can lead senior staff to feeling buffeted and overwhelmed if they don’t have the tactics to maintain a sense of perspective. They can also lose their ability to prioritise and to say “no” or “not now” – they get lost in a trap of being reactive and busier and busier, which is unlikely to make them very effective. As their focus becomes too close, they lose the ability to think creatively, to plan strategically and to stay connected to their core vision and values.
Also, if they fail to ensure that they regularly have time to refresh and to recharge their batteries in their role, school leaders can become stale, see the negative and are prone to depression. Problems with sleep, digestion and the immune system, as well as many aches and pains are all signs of low energy and insufficient time out to refresh.
3) How can Leaders safeguard their Resilience?
1) Having time each day just to “be” – the chance to experience silence and stillness, and to be in touch with nature in some way. Some people find Mindfulness practice or meditation useful.
2) Knowing what restores your energy battery and how to build up some spare capacity so you are not running on empty when the unforeseen demands hit!
3) Having a sense of internal purpose is crucial to give your life meaning – this strong commitment to an external goal, which is in line with their own values, is certainly important for school leaders to remain resilient.
4) Being open to learn about yourself is also very important. This includes developing self awareness, accepting who and how you are, having a sound belief in your own judgement and developing the ability to be objective and to step aside to reflect.
5) Able to work with others by asking for help and by delegating, whilst also having sufficient independence to hang onto their sense of OK when they meet personal challenges.
In addition to these five things, The Resilience Engine model refers to being both optimistic and pragmatic, moving on rather than dwelling on things, taking responsibility rather than blaming others and having a sense of humour. In summary it is important to check in regularly (probably daily) with your own energy level and how resilient you are feeling and what you can do to shift things in the right direction.
4) What would be your advice to a School leader who is not feeling very resilient at present?
Remind yourself regularly that time spent on regaining a sense of perspective, recharging your energy battery and pacing yourself with a clear sense of priorities, is an investment in your personal and your professional effectiveness. Also, try some coaching!
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