Educational Resilience

By Curriculum and Instruction Supervisor and Guest Blogger Barry Saide

Some people are wine connoisseurs. Others collect comics. Me? I appreciate educator stories of educational resilience.

Stories of educational resilience are narratives about colleagues who have faced some type of educational systemic failure on a personal level, survived it, learned from it, and are comfortable enough to wear these mistakes and their roles in them visibly. Resilient educators wear these missteps as badges of honor, as others might wear prestigious educational awards. Because these missteps are prestigious badges: the greatest award of all is choosing to live with acceptance for each personal mistake made, finding the good in the bad, the lesson in the mess, and the willingness to share these moments with others in the field to educate them as they form meaningful connections.

Resilient educators often become leaders in their classrooms, buildings, and districts. They lead from that place of vulnerability, displaying with strength what others might classify as weakness. It takes a special person to identify their own personal failures, name the players involved in these personal experiences, and weave these short-term failures into long-term positive personal narratives that can radiate from them to those around them.

Often, we choose not to share our negative experiences for fear of being typecast, misunderstood, or defined in negative light. It’s not fun to relive our greatest misses: being bullied, our popularity standing, the teacher who ruined our positive educational mindset, or the dysfunctional home we returned to each day. That’s why it’s human nature to either gloss over these memories, embed them in our subconsciousness, or lie about them. It’s why we share our proudest moments on Facebook, and why Facebook is realistic fiction. Facebook, unlike resilience, is two-dimensional.

What is ironic is that stories of resilience are more common than you might think. And, more accepted, appreciated, and endearing to others. We all have our narratives to share. At the ASCD Empower conference I recently attended, two well-known educational presenters shared their resiliency narratives with the audience. You may have heard of them:

  • Eric Jensen, author of thirty books on brain-based learning. His work revolutionized how we look at student learning, school-wide discipline, and curriculum and assessment. Eric shared his tumultuous childhood with an unstable family, often moving from place to place, and at times, living in his family’s garage to avoid being physically or emotionally abused.
  • Peter DeWitt, writer of a weekly Education Week blog that influences and informs countless colleagues, and author of books on educational leadership and visible learning. Dr. DeWitt is a former teacher and building principal who works extensively with John Hattie. (Yes, that John Hattie). Peter spoke openly about his struggles graduating high school and college, often looking for his own purpose within education, and coming up empty.

Eric and Peter are not alone. I think of two role models who’ve helped me grow as a teacher, learner, and leader:

  • Jimmy Casas, an educational leader for over 20 years. Jimmy’s social media imprint is evident. Go on Twitter. He may have mentored or befriended most of the digitally-connected influential educators on the medium. Jimmy has written best-selling books and shared his knowledge as a former award-winning secondary school principal. Jimmy presents nationally on educational leadership, and is a graduate school professor at Drake University as he completes his doctorate there. Yet, he felt so disenfranchised as a high school student that he almost didn’t graduate.
  • David Culberhouse has served as a teacher, principal, and assistant superintendent. He is such a high level, thoughtful presenter that his professional development sessions often go over time. Yet, no one leaves. As a high school student, education had such little meaning and purpose for David that he either left early or cut it entirely almost as many days as he attended.

Eric, Peter, Jimmy, and David are all unique, yet their common thread is living resiliently. Each navigated personal challenges fueled or exacerbated by the school system. Instead of running from education they dedicate their lives to improving the experience for all of us, rectifying their own personal experiences in the process. Imagine if all of us lived our educational lives inside out, realigning the system so all stakeholders benefit, as they do? What could we achieve if we began each faculty meeting sharing out a mistake we made, and how we learned from it? How connected would our relationships be within our various stakeholder communities if we owned our mistakes when we made them, apologized, and explained how we planned to grow from them? What if we thanked students or colleagues for the challenges they presented us, because they made us better people and educators? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I would love to work in a system that embedded these hypotheticals as cultural norms and expectations.

Living with resilience, and using it to empower our daily practice, seems like the precursor to creating a powerful educational environment. I don’t know what our next steps are to create this climate of accepted vulnerability, where trust and love of learning dominate the fear of failure or misconception. I do know we admire those who put themselves out there, who share their stories of resiliency, and model the way for us. Perhaps it’s time for us to follow suit and be more like Eric, Peter, Jimmy, and David. I know I’m up for it, as I have my educational resilience stories, too. But, that’s for another blog post.


Barry Saide has been in education for 16 years. He is the Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction for Frelinhuysen Township School District. Barry is an adjunct professor at The College of New Jersey. He serves NJASCD as a member of their state board, and is a 2014 ASCD Emerging Leader. Connect with him via Twitter @barrykid1 or on his website at www.barrysaide.com


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