Education Opinion

Are Happy Leaders Better at Developing Resilience?

By Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers — May 08, 2014 5 min read

How can we teach children to be resilient if we, ourselves, are lacking resilience skills? Kenneth Ginsberg, of CHOP (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) and Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, authors a webpage called Fostering Resilience. On it, he describes the 7 C’s as essential building blocks of resilience. They are Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character, Contribution, Coping and Control. We are thinking about how they relate to leaders.

With increasing challenges at work and life in general, accessing our capacity to be resilient is an essential skill. We have to be competent, have confidence, be connected to our families, colleagues and friends, live our personal and professional lives with integrity, do meaningful work, handle stressful situations and all sorts of losses, possess self-efficacy and demonstrate responsibility. And we need to guide young people as they develop their own resilience as well. These 7 C’s are researched and certainly make sense, don’t they?

But let’s not let all this demand for change and criticism of our work in schools turn us into being only serious, hard working, focused, and exhausted educators who carry loads of responsibilities on our shoulders with no respite from the damage done by its weight. Even developing resilience in ourselves and our students has become part of our work. But all things happen in a better way when we are happy. As serious, hard working adults, it has come to be a commonly held belief, that happiness is not a requirement. Happiness is relegated to our personal lives, our weekends, and times away from our work. Happiness is considered a luxury, an optional state of being. Happiness has become, in some places, a foreign entity, something that happens sometimes to us or others but is neither within our power to create nor a worthy part of our work. When was the last time anyone approved professional development funds for a program entitled " Creating Happier Leaders”?

Pharrell Williams’ song Happy has lifted the mood of millions. It did not win the Oscar for best original song, but it won hearts and is played and replayed on every vehicle for music available. Why? Because we want to be happy don’t we? And we want our children, our own and those who come to school every day, to be happy also. The chorus invites us to “Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof...Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth...Clap along if you know what happiness is to you...Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do.

It is too easy to allow ourselves to feel like the roof is closing in on us. We scurry to take care of the administrivia of our jobs, whether teachers or leaders we take pride in ourselves as multi-taskers. If we stop for a minute, would it cause us to wonder about the jobs we do and our true ability to focus on any one moment? It is too easy to forget the pure joy happiness brings as it reveals the truth. After all, when we are truly happy doesn’t everything feel more balanced, less extreme, and more like it truly is, without the shadows of darkness and worry? Pharrell Williams asks a question...do we know what happiness is for us? Is it a day that goes by without incident? A student who does a remarkable thing? A bus driver who knows all her students by name? A teacher who brings forward a new idea that works? A play or concert in which the faces of the students reveal their effort and focus and talent? A lesson that works perfectly? A teacher who takes risks with new ideas? A student’s pride in their newly found friend? Those are our fuel. Allowing that fuel to live as happiness is in the last line of the chorus...is happiness what you want to do?

It is hard to accept this, but we choose how we feel. It is part of resilience and those 7 C’s. Without those skills, it is much harder to consider the fact that we have control over how we feel. It is like an emotional muscle and, if not exercised, it does not become stronger.

The video of Happy takes place in many different environments. In the video at about 3:30 there is a shot of some school busses and at 3:46 a school hallway in which a student is following Williams on his bicycle. Of course, the artist is painting his own vision of happiness, but let’s consider why he chose not to include classrooms, or students learning, or teachers teaching, or leaders leading. Have we embraced the idea that learning is serious business for our learners and us? Have we perpetuated an environment in which students are learning that work and learning should not be fun? If so, how can we or they develop resilience in such an environment?

We are not suggesting that students should be dancing in the aisles as they learn to read or solve for “x” or mix chemicals for an experiment. Or, maybe we are. But shouldn’t the celebration be as much a part of their day as the work? We are not suggesting that teachers should not be serious as they plan and execute their lessons, but we are suggesting there be some happiness shared when they are successful. Learning does not need to be painful. Hard work can include joy.

We are the adults charged with the development and maintenance of the culture and climate of the schools we teach in and lead. The atmosphere we create serves as the the foundation for those 7 C’s to take hold for us and our teachers and students. Let’s not make the 7 C’s, the building blocks of resilience, be another list of things to accomplish. Consider the lift we get from bringing happiness to our work, even as we work to develop those 7 C’s. Let’s take a moment to consider what we believe about happiness and its role in our lives and our schools. Is it a luxury or necessity? How do my colleagues and students know when I am happy? Do my words and affect match? Can we bring happiness into our classrooms and schools? What is there about happiness that we still need to know? Do I even know how to be happy? Perhaps, begin to find your answer by watching Pharrell Williams’ video.


Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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