The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 95 Transcript

Jennifer Gonzalez, host

 


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When talking about a profession that loses 50 percent of its workforce in the first five years of their careers, it would be an understatement to say teaching is challenging. It traps us in small rooms with an unpredictable assortment of personalities, energies, and needs. It forces us to make hundreds of small, exhausting decisions every day. And over and over again, it puts us in predicaments that test our confidence, wear out our patience, and break our hearts. You can learn all the techniques, plan outstanding lessons, and set up a water-tight classroom management system, but to do this work and stick with it long enough to get good at it, you need a level of emotional resilience most other jobs will never require.

And at this particular moment in history, it may be harder than ever. Systems have been put in place that make the work seem almost impossible, and the powers that be seem to be rooting against our success. A lot can be done to change that, to make the challenges of teaching more satisfying and less…soul-sucking, but on most days it can seem like those changes are pretty far outside of our sphere of influence. Finding the courage and energy to push for change despite how hard it is? That requires resilience, too.

And our teacher training never prepares us, never teaches us exactly how to develop that resilience. In fact, in my own training, the topic of my emotional state as a teacher never came up once.

So today we’re going to talk about how to build that resilience, specific things you can do to make yourself a more emotionally resilient educator.

My guest is Elena Aguilar, who has nearly two decades of experience as a classroom teacher and instructional coach. She’s written two books on effectively coaching teachers—The Art of Coaching and The Art of Coaching Teams—and now she’s written a new book called Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Teachers. In the book, she walks us through twelve habits that teachers can develop to strengthen their emotional resilience. The book is thoughtfully written and insightful, using examples from the lives of real teachers—situations you’ll recognize as just like your own—to illustrate how our own state of mind can dramatically impact our work. In this episode, Elena is going to unpack those twelve habits for us. My hope is that in getting a better understanding of the factors that contribute to emotional resilience, you’ll see areas that you can improve for yourself, and this in turn will allow you to not only stick with this incredibly important work, but find new ways to effect change, inspire others, and thrive.


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Finally, I want to thank you for the reviews you’ve left for this podcast on iTunes. These reviews really help bring more people to the show, so if you think I’m doing good work here and you think other people would like it, take a few minutes today to go over to iTunes and leave a review. Thanks so much.

Okay, here’s my interview with Elena Aguilar.


GONZALEZ: I would like to welcome Elena Aguilar to the program, to the podcast. Hi.

AGUILAR: Hi Jenn. Thank you. I’m so excited to be here.

GONZALEZ: And we are doing this because you have a book that will have been out, by the time people hear this, it will have been published for just a couple of days, and the book is called “Onward.” So we’re going to basically be talking about sort of the main things you are covering in that book. So before we get into that, why don’t you just give us a quick introduction to who you are and the work that you do that led you to this book.

AGUILAR: Great. So I have been working in education for around 25 years. I was a teacher, a coach in the Oakland public schools for 19 years, and that was where I did the majority of my teaching and learning. In the last 10 years or so, I have been really focusing on teacher and administrator professional development, which I was really drawn into because I saw such high turnover rates in Oakland, in the district, and wanted to figure out what I could do to keep the amazing educators that I was working with, who were my friends and colleagues, how to keep them in our schools and feeling fulfilled and content in their work. So that led me into focusing on coaching as a primary vehicle for professional development, and all of the work I’ve done in coaching has led me over and over to the question of how do we cultivate emotional resilience. How do we boost our ability to deal with the challenges and the setbacks so that we can have more joy and fulfillment in our work and serve the kids that we are all here to serve.

GONZALEZ: Fantastic. And so the book is called “Onward” —

AGUILAR: — “Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators.”

GONZALEZ: Fantastic. And when you first told me about this, I was really excited, because I have always believed that the person who is the educator really is sort of the heart of whether or not things are going to go well in the classroom, and the things that go on in our minds and in our hearts really have such a huge impact. So I was so excited to see that you were writing this book. What we’re going to be doing is going through these 12, you’ve got the book built around these 12 habits that teachers need to work on to build resilience, but before we get into them, the one piece of pushback I imagine that you may get from this is this idea of the fact that teachers have so many external forces that create problems for them. We have, you know, oversized classes and shrinking budgets, and we have politicians trying to basically strip us of everything, so many things that happen to us as teachers that don’t align with what we know is best for kids. So I’m imagining if a teacher hears about this book, maybe their first reaction is going to be, “Why am I working on resilience when what needs to happen, what needs to change are all of these other things? If those things would change, I would be able to do my work better.” So you have such a great sort of response to that early in the book, and I wanted you to talk about that before we started to get into the how.

AGUILAR: Yeah, really glad you asked that. When people have that question, and I hope that they will, what I want them to know more than anything is that I am right there with them on that question about, “Hey, we need to talk about the bigger picture, the conditions in which we work and the systems and pay, and the way that teachers have been more and more dehumanized in recent, perhaps decades, and their autonomy has been stripped,” and I am right there in that conversation. I want to have that conversation. We absolutely need to. This book is not just about “change your attitude and find a way to feel grateful for what you have” at all. But I know for myself, when I was a teacher and a coach, I did a lot of additional work in trying to change systems, and I worked with our teachers union and I had many other roles and my fingers in other things, and I went through a really intense phase of burnout, where I was just exhausted and emotionally drained. The way I think about this is we have to fight those battles, but without resilience, we’re not going to be able to. We need to fight the battle for decent working conditions and a living wage and more autonomy in the classroom, but we can’t fight those if our resilience tank is on empty all the time. The book “Onward” focuses on our individual resilience, because that is what is most within our own sphere of influence and control, possibly. We can do something about how we feel every day, how we experience every day. In doing that, we’ll boost our resilience so that we can also have conversations about and take action to do something about the organizational conditions in which we work, what our schools are like. That’s also something particularly that leaders need to be paying attention to, because they are positioned to change and improve organizational conditions. And in “Onward” there are a lot of sections where I actually call out implications for leaders — “Here is something you can do” — because I actually know that many of them are really committed to and interested in making their organizations healthier places where educators will want to stay, where they can retain more teachers. And the third conversation that I say we need to have is that one about systemic conditions about salaries and how educators, teachers, and administrators are prepared for the job, professional development, performance pay and so on, we also need to be involved in those conversations and taking action to make changes there. But we need to boost our own emotional resilience so that we’ll have that energy, that surplus in our resilience tank to take on those big battles.

GONZALEZ: Yes, yes. Okay. Good, good. So in no way are you denying that those other problems are a reality, but this is an important piece of being able to fight those.

AGUILAR: Jenn, in the book I even said at one point, like, administrators, sorry to pick on you right now, but this is not just like, if you have a teacher who’s really struggling, don’t just hand them this book and say, “Here, deal with your attitude.” That’s not the answer. Like, I don’t want this book and these ideas to be used as a way to detract from those other conversations, because those are real. You can have all the resilience that I can coach you in building, but if you can’t pay your monthly electricity bill, and you’re working for Uber at night to just make ends meet, like, yeah, we’ve got to have those conversations.

GONZALEZ: But you need to be bolstered in order to have them in the first place, because that’s hard work.

AGUILAR: Right.

GONZALEZ: Okay. So the way that you have built this book, there is a book and there is a workbook that goes with it, and you’re releasing this in May for an important reason, because the book is, I mean the way that I read it, you could work through any of these habits at any time, but you do have them organized around a year’s calendar that starts in June, a different habit per month. So talk a little bit about how the book is organized, and then we’re going to start working our way through each of these 12 things.

AGUILAR: Yeah, well when I thought about the sort of emotional cycle of a teacher, and I thought about these habits of resilient people, and I read a ton of research from all different fields about resilience in people. But then I thought about the particularities of being a teacher, and what do you really need in August or September? And how the cycle, the calendar for a teacher, that year starts in August or September, and it’s a different cycle than I’d say for many other people and other professions. And so I started matching up the habits — and there’s 12 habits — to the months, because resilience is also something that — I’m not just suggesting read this book and you’ll build a lot of resilience. It’s a yearlong initial endeavor, and what I am suggesting to people is read the book over the course of a year, and use the workbook that goes along with it which guides you in the daily practices, the workbook has over 365 exercises, many of which you’ll probably want to repeat more than once, but it’s a place to start and figure out which ones really work for you, and go through it over the span of a year, and ideally go through it with others, form a book club or maybe your grade level or your department wants to do this, learning together, or join an online group, and I’ll tell you about some of those later. But ideally people will be engaging in this learning over the course of a year and with friends and colleagues so that they can have the kinds of conversations that will make this learning really sink in and stick.

GONZALEZ: Got it. So really this is more than just a book. It’s almost like a yearlong program that they’re putting themselves through.

AGUILAR: It is, and my vision/fantasy, if I’m going to be honest, my educator nerd fantasy is that groups of teachers, if not an entire staff — the fantasy is a whole district — will say, “Let’s use this as our professional development for the next school year, and when we meet on Wednesday afternoon, we are going to dig into ‘Onward’ and the workbook, and we are going to collectively, actively build our resilience together over the course of this year.” So that’s my ultimate fantasy.

GONZALEZ: Okay. So let’s start talking about these 12 habits and thinking about these over the course of a year. These are things that if teachers work on them, they will be cultivating more resilience.

AGUILAR: The 12 habits, first of all, when I did research into what makes people resilient, what resilient educators need, I came up with these sort of four categories, and that includes who you are in terms of your genetics, sort of the things that we don’t have necessarily a lot of control over, the context that we’re in, which can also include phase of life, the dispositions or sort of emotional states that we are often in and our habits. And what I found was that if we focus most on habits and dispositions, we’ll be able to make the greatest change, the greatest growth in this area, because those are within our sphere of influence.

Habit 1: Know Yourself

AGUILAR: The 12 habits that are all mapped onto the educator’s year, they begin with a chapter, a habit, called Know Yourself. That one, I am suggesting that people read and practice in June, because in June, as the school year is ending, we may have an opportunity to reflect on how that year went, we’re starting to think about the next school year, and it’s just an optimal time. In some ways, you may have a little bit of time toward the end of June to do the kind of deep reflection that can help you reflect on your social identities, your core values, your personality, your strengths and areas for growth, that can help you think about making choices for next year, and that can help you get clearer on your purpose. Purposefulness is the disposition that we explore in the first chapter, and how purpose, being really anchored in your purpose, being really clear about what you want to be doing in life, helps you deal with challenges and setbacks. So that’s the first habit.

GONZALEZ: Okay, so No. 1 is Know Yourself, and then the next habit we move on to is —

Habit 2: Understand Emotions

AGUILAR: Now the first four or so are definitely the ones that I sort of feel like “these are the most important.” The second habit is Understanding Emotions and this is one that I also thought, “We need some time away from work to be able to dig into this content,” so this one is slated for July, to be able to spend some time understanding what emotions are, learning some strategies for accepting them, responding to them, engaging with them. A lot of this is based on the work around emotional intelligence, but some of the work around emotional intelligence that people may already be familiar with talks about emotions in a very technical way as these things that we need to manage and learn how to deal with, and the way I think about emotions is that they can be tremendous resources and sources of energy, and that really we want to figure out just how to have healthier relationships with them, how to understand them, name them, accept them, and then work with them and work, for example, with anger, not necessarily let it become aggression but be able to recognize it, dig into anger, sadness, as well as capture more moments of joy and happiness and connection. And so this habit around understanding emotions also cultivates the disposition for the month, which is of acceptance and learning how, to think about how do we accept a situation, how can we learn to recognize what’s in our influence and what’s outside of our control. So that’s the second habit.

GONZALEZ: You know, what I notice when I was reading this chapter too is that, and I don’t know if you ever said it, but it reminded me a little bit of something I’m familiar with in Buddhism where you almost pull away a little from yourself, and you see your emotions objectively as opposed to being so in them and being controlled by them and sort of being able to pull away, recognize them, name them, and that gives you a bit more control over a situation.

AGUILAR: Exactly. And I would say a lot of my work is really influenced by mindfulness and Buddhism, and that concept of having some distance and cultivating practices that help us recognize that our emotions are like weather. They come and they go, and if we are a tree, then we can stay rooted and we can cultivate the flexibility to bend and then to straighten back up. But there’s another part of that that I haven’t always found in the mindfulness and Buddhism communities or descriptions, which is the actual sort of embracing of emotions and welcoming and using them as a resource and to figure out how do we — I’m really interested, for example, in anger and anger in schools and in educators. And again, I’m making a distinction between anger and aggression, but as an educator in Oakland, as a person of color, as a mother of an African American boy, I have gotten to know anger a lot. There have been times when I’ve acted from that anger, and it hasn’t been productive, it hasn’t helped me in my purpose, which is building equitable schools. And there are other times when I figured out how to use my anger as a fuel and as energy, how to act from a place of kindness and compassion, but not suppress my anger, because I tried that too, and that was really hard. So yeah, I’m really interested, more than anything, in just getting to know emotions and figuring out how we can expand our way of relating to them. I think we’ve been really narrow and constricted. And then in schools, of course, as like so many professional settings, the message that we get is, “there’s no place for emotions here, check them at the door,” and “it’s unprofessional to bring your emotions in.” And as a teacher, as a human being, that just hasn’t worked for me.

GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah.

AGUILAR: I was never able to do that as a teacher. In some ways that made me a strong teacher, because I brought in so much love for my kids. So I want us to just expand this conversation about emotions.

Habit 3: Tell Empowering Stories

AGUILAR: The third habit is Tell Empowering Stories, and this chapter might be the most important, because what I learned about emotions is that there is a space, we can pinpoint the exact space where we can have the greatest impact on our resilience, and that is a space between a thing that happens and how we interpret and make sense of that thing that happens. So for example, a student rolls her eyes at you. That’s the thing that happens. How you make sense of and interpret that event is precisely the point where either your resilience can be drained or filled, because you could interpret her eye rolling as, “This student doesn’t respect me, she is so rude to me all the time, every day I’m working as hard as I can, and this is what I get,” or you can interpret that event as, “This is very typical behavior from 12-year-olds, and she is exploring her own sense of power, and she’s actually self-regulating because she’s not cursing at me, and I’m going to move on to the next part of the lesson.”

GONZALEZ: Yeah.

AGUILAR: And so in that moment, if we can hone our ability to expand that space between what happens and how we respond and how we interpret, we have so much more power then to cultivate our resilience. The stories that we tell about our principal, our colleagues, about students, about our own ability and capacity, all of that contributes to our resilience. And so this chapter focuses on this concept of telling stories and that we are going to have more resilience if and when we can tell empowering stories, not necessarily putting on rose-colored glasses, but stories ultimately that empower us.

GONZALEZ: Oh, I love that. I love just the idea that even the words that you choose to describe something can really change the way you see things, and that you’re putting a focus on empowering the storyteller is, that is wonderful. So let’s move on to habit No. 4.

Habit 4: Build Community

AGUILAR: The fourth habit, which I am hoping people can take up in September, is to Build Community. I have so many memories of starting the school year and the many different stakeholders, groups of people with whom I was building community with, or not, so students, colleagues, parents, administrators, new colleagues, people in the larger community. And when I wrote this chapter, I was really thinking about what kinds of direction and support I needed as a new and novice teacher, or a teacher any time I’ve moved into a new community, and how to support other new teachers: some of the needs I had, other people don’t, and then there’s other needs that I’ve seen when I’ve worked with new teachers who are new to a community. And this chapter is in support of building the disposition of empathy, and so I also talk a lot about how empathy helps us build community and building empathy for each other, the connection between empathy and resilience as well as that first notion of purpose and who we are and what we’re doing in schools and our commitment to serving our students.

GONZALEZ: You know, we isolate ourselves a lot as teachers, and I do think that it can make you feel like you’re the only one who is dealing with any of the challenges of teaching. You can get the impression that no one else is really dealing with them, so just getting to know each other better, building a sense of community with each other and knowing that the other people are experiencing the same thing as you, I can see that being a resilience-builder.

AGUILAR: Absolutely. And there’s actually medical research saying that isolation is more dangerous to your physical health than smoking, and that’s kind of an extreme, but I think that resonates for so many people, because teaching can be such a lonely experience, and I think anything that we can do, especially in the beginning of the year, to begin cementing those connections, to help us build stronger bonds with colleagues and students and parents and other folk, will just help us so much when things get rough.

Habit 5: Be Here Now

AGUILAR: No. 5 is another one of the chapters that I often feel like, “No, this one is most important,” and this is the habit that I call Be Here Now, and it is about learning how to be in the present moment without judging it, and how that can help us to experience acceptance, it helps us to have clear headedness so that we can make choices in our responses. It’s connected with the disposition of humor, which is, based on all the research, I did very serious research into is humor really essential to resilience, and yes, the conclusion is that it does foster resilience. When we’re in the present moment, we’re more likely to be able to find the appropriate levity in moments of challenge and to actually relieve stress by finding humor in a situation. So this chapter is really about mindfulness and the different kinds of practices that we can engage in that just help us get out of the stories that we’re always telling and be grounded in the what is happening right now. That’s the theme for October when I think things start getting hard as a teacher. October for me was always a really hard month.

GONZALEZ: Mhmm. Definitely. I love the idea that you’re prioritizing humor as part of resilience. I have a feeling that’s something a lot of people wouldn’t think of and boy, do you need that to survive a school year.

AGUILAR: You do. I mean, you need it to survive being around a lot of little people as well as big people, and in life, just that ability to find the humor in difficult situations and to lighten up. I mean our work is so hard and it’s so serious, and when we can find, and again the appropriate humor to help us lighten up, it’s such a relief.

GONZALEZ: Oh definitely. Okay. How about No. 6?

Habit 6: Take Care of Yourself

AGUILAR: All right. Well, so No. 6 is Take Care of Yourself, and this chapter is located in November. Many, many, many years ago I saw this graph of the typical beginning teacher, novice teacher’s sort of experience over the school year and how we start off on this energized sort of high, and then by October, November, we’ve dipped into the lowest point of the year, the most challenging, and that was absolutely my experience, it’s what I’ve seen in so many teachers, because by October, November you are so worn out from the burst of the beginning year and for me, what I found really challenging was I hadn’t yet seen sort of the results of all the hard work I’d put in. I hadn’t seen the growth in my students’ learning, or I didn’t really feel the deep and healthy connected community that I intended to build with my students. And so in November, I’m really urging people to take care of themselves, physical self care and well-being are foundational for many of the other habits. It’s really hard to build community or to cultivate compassion or be a learner, some of the other habits, when you’re just sick, when you’re worn out. So in this chapter, I really get into why it is that so many of us have a really hard time taking care of ourselves, because I think people know what to do. We know we should be eating more leafy greens and exercising more and so on, but why is it so hard? And so in this chapter we explore the disposition of a positive self perception. Resilient people have a really robust sense of their own worth, and they are really committed to taking care of themselves, and they more or less accept themselves the way they are and they know that they can still make growth and change. And so connecting those habits and really getting into the what’s underneath the struggle that so many of us have in taking care of ourselves.

GONZALEZ: Boy, November really is an appropriate time for that too, because that’s when things really start to pile up and self care probably just goes out the window for those last two months of the year. Going through these, it really is starting to become clear why this should be a yearlong process, because you really can’t tackle all of these things at one time, and you can’t tackle them in just one day. To give each month its own focus where you’re really just concentrating on that, I can see getting more long-term success with that.

AGUILAR: And my hope is that, there’s a section in the book about how to build lasting change, how to build behaviors that result in lasting change, because I think so many of the times we read about things like, “Oh, gratitude journals, that’s great,” and maybe we keep one for a few nights or a week or something, and then the habit is gone, and so throughout the book, I’m really committed to coaching people. That’s what I’ve done more than anything is coach, and I love coaching, and really coaching people to build the habits around all of these behaviors, these habits, that will help them truly become resilient, not just know what resilient people do, but become resilient.

GONZALEZ: And so that takes several weeks of different types of exercises and practices to really build those as habits.

AGUILAR: Right, mhmm.

GONZALEZ: Got it, got it. So we’re done with one through six, and we are just ready to go on habit No. 7.

Habit 7: Focus on the Bright Spots

AGUILAR: Oh right. Habit No. 7, which is correlated to the month of December, is called Focus on the Bright Spots, and it’s about how we can expand our perspective or shift our perspective to see the positive or even the neutral in situations. Our brains have a negativity bias, so everything that is challenging, that is potentially a threat, appears really vividly and clearly to us, because of the way our brains are wired, and so one of the skills that we need to hone is the ability to see all the things that are going well or even just okay. So in the classroom, all the kids who are on task, engaged, learning, and all of that, and not only the one kid who’s challenging. We obviously want to pay attention to them as well and figure out how we can serve those kids, but rather than going home feeling like, “Ugh, none of the kids got anything out of today’s lesson,” being able to see the ones that did. So that’s what the next habit is about.

GONZALEZ: So that is a really difficult thing, I think, for teachers to remember to do. Is there any advice that you have in the book for actually, I think if we’re reminded to do it, we do it, but if we’re not reminded to focus on things that are going well, a lot of times a lot of people tend to not.

AGUILAR: Well I think you get to the heart of one of the challenges in general in building our resilience, which is so many of these things we know and we forget, and we forget to do them. And so integrated into the book and the workbook are a lot of suggestions around how to make behavioral changes that last, and a lot of it is just practice and repetition. These are like muscles that we have to strengthen and train, and then keep exercising, keep flexing, really every day and sometimes many times a day. So one strategy that I’d love to share that can be a simple thing to implement right away is set a timer on your phone to go off five times in one day, and maybe put it on silent, obviously, so it’s not intrusive. Every time that timer goes off, maybe you set it every 90 minutes or something, every time it goes off, it’s a trigger to notice something going well. And you could push that a little bit farther to notice something you are doing well, something you’re doing that is feeling good or you’re feeling fulfilled or it’s meaningful. And when that timer goes off, and when you look for that thing, it is also a prompt to take in that experience of something’s going well, to not just go, “Yeah, okay. So just about everybody right now is engaged in the free write.” But to actually really take it in and recognize your role in making that happen. And so these little practices, the more we do them, the more we will integrate them into our thinking and everyday habits.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. I love that idea of the timer. I can tell right now there are people listening that are going to get on their phones as soon as they’re done and they’re going to set their timers right away. Wonderful idea. Okay. So what is habit No. 8?

Habit 8: Cultivate Compassion

AGUILAR: So the next habit is to Cultivate Compassion, and that habit really explores compassion for others as well as for ourselves, which can really help us deal with interpersonal challenges that we deal with every day as well as with our own tendency toward self-criticism and just not feeling like we’re doing a good enough job and that we could be doing more and that internal self talk, which is counterproductive to our resilience. So cultivating compassion, broadening our perspective on how we see a situation, helps us to empathize with others, to see the long view, to take ourselves out of the drama of the moment. That ability to, when a student is demonstrating some kind of behavior that’s really starting to get on your nerves, the ability to both think about, “Okay, how can I respond to this?” and do so through a lens of deeper understanding, compassion, empathy, will ultimately just help us feel better.

GONZALEZ: It’s not even so much about the other person. It’s how we’re perceiving and how that impacts us, the way we’re perceiving it.

AGUILAR: Exactly. Yep.

GONZALEZ: So let’s move to No. 9.

Habit 9: Be a Learner

AGUILAR: So No. 9, the habit is called Be a Learner, and it’s coupled with the disposition of curiosity, and obviously you can see how those are deeply connected. Resilient people are curious. Resilient people experience a challenge and turn around and say, “What can I learn from that? Wow. That was really hard. That pushed me to my limits, and what can I learn?” And just that question alone, whether it’s a monumental challenge that someone faces in their life or it’s the daily something, you know, a parent comes in and says something that really is triggering or that feels really unfair, being able to ask yourself the question, “What can I learn from that?” immediately propels you into a place of being able to build your resilience. That’s really key. And in this chapter, I also help people think about some different ways to understand themselves as learners, to think about how we learn, what the different stages of learning are, and all of that is just more empowering.

GONZALEZ: And I’m assuming with pretty much all of these, every chapter, it’s because in the, I know that in the book you’re sort of asking a lot of questions, but then in the workbook there are daily exercises and reflection questions that are getting people into the habit of thinking about these things, and that’s how the habits get built, by these daily reflections?

AGUILAR: Right, exactly, daily reflections and practices and explorations and trying new things. And the workbook, I think, is really fun. There’s also suggestions for things to do out in the world, so not just reflection prompts and writing spaces, there’s invitations and practices around art and creativity and there’s other resources. There’s some things that I just couldn’t get into the main book that I offer people here, and yeah, it is about how do we hone these behaviors, these habits, every day? How do we build these muscles?

GONZALEZ: Got it.

AGUILAR: So I’m hoping people go back and forth between the two.

GONZALEZ: Okay. So we’ve got three months left — March, April, and May — and these are habits 10, 11, and 12.

Habit 10: Play and Create

AGUILAR: Yes, and so in March, I offer the habit called Play and Create, and my hope is that that might fall somewhere around people’s spring breaks where they can do some playing and be reenergized through those activities. And this is one of my favorite chapters. I think it’s a human right to be creative, to create, enjoy, appreciate art, and in this chapter I expand our thoughts, hopefully, about what that means and how playing and creating can unlock inner resources for dealing with stress, for solving problems, how it can help us see different things and find different approaches to tackle challenges. Because when we’re creative, we’re also resourceful, and then we start problem-solving in new and original ways. This chapter also explores the disposition of courage, which is a key disposition for being resilient and doing the kind of work that I think we all are committed to doing.

GONZALEZ: So what’s next after playing and creating? We’re almost at the end of the school year now.

Habit 11: Ride the Waves of Change

AGUILAR: Yeah, and the end of the school year can be a time of a lot of change, in addition to the school year ending, it is just a season of change and possibly a season of more anxiety as people find out if they will be teaching the same thing next year or will there be a change in administration, will some of their favorite colleagues leave? There’s just that season of sort of low level anxieties and excitement and change. And so Chapter 11 is called Ride the Waves of Change, and how we can harness all of our energies in that season to manage those changes and also direct our energy to the places that we can have the most influence in and where we can make the biggest difference. This chapter is, explores the disposition of perseverance, which is essential for helping us manage change. One of the things too, just name right here, is that there’s a common myth about resilience that it is exclusively about perseverance, that’s it’s sort of like you just kind of grit your teeth and keep going, and that’s not what resilience is, but resilient people do have perseverance. That’s one of the dispositions that they’re strong in. So that’s a chapter to support people in managing those spring changes.

GONZALEZ: Fantastic. Yeah. This is such a crazy time of year too, and I’m just sort of thinking right now about how, I’m not aware of anyone who has attempted to do what you’re doing here, to really attend to all these different emotional states that teachers go through throughout the year. And the thing is we’re really just skimming the surface, but this stuff is so important to taking care of the whole teacher and making us able to do everything that we’re capable of doing. I’m just, I don’t know, I think this is really ground-breaking work that you have going here.

AGUILAR: Thank you.

GONZALEZ: How about the last one, No. 12?

Habit 12: Celebrate and Appreciate

AGUILAR: All right. The last chapter that roughly comes in May or the end of the year is about Celebrating and Appreciating. As we all know, the end of the year brings lots of celebrations or opportunities for celebrations, lots of opportunity to reflect on the year, and to direct our awareness and our energy to appreciating ourselves, what we’ve done, what we’ve learned, to appreciating others and how they’ve grown. And this is, you know, many people have heard about practice of gratitude and a gratitude journal. I am hoping that I’m kind of pushing the conversation around appreciation and celebration a little bit farther, but including suggestions for daily practices. This habit is the capstone to the habits in this book, and it is a suggestion that even in the hardest moments, if during some of those moments we can shift into a stance of appreciation, we can build our resilience. And appreciation also is connected to the disposition of trust, and when our appreciation is strong, we cultivate trust in ourselves, in a process, and even perhaps in something greater. So trust and possibly some correlate feelings that some people call faith, and so we explore that in that last habit.

GONZALEZ: Great. So there is a lot here, and we’ve already talked about how this really should be taken as a yearlong process. Apart from the book itself, and then the workbook also, you have some other resources that can support people as they work their way through the book. So tell us about that.

AGUILAR: I do have other resources, because I think that people will need a lot of different kinds of support to go deep into this. And actually, I imagine it would take even more than one year, and that hopefully people will keep practicing these habits. So I have built a whole new website just for the content of this book. It’s called onwardthebook.com, and on there, people will find many of the resources referenced in the book such as downloadable meditations and tools as well as just a ton of additional resources and blogs and videos. It’s the kind of site that I want to see in the world, that I would go to on a daily or weekly basis, where there will be other articles and suggestions for videos to watch and stuff. So that’s going to be a very lively, engaging place. We also have a Facebook page just for this book, and probably the easiest way to find it is to go to the Onward website and then follow the link. And on that Facebook page we will have groups that will be private groups that will come together monthly to study the habit of the month. And on the website people can sign up for our Onward newsletter so that they can be alerted of new offerings. I’m also working on developing an app for this content. I always create things in response to, what do I want? What do I need? What did I need as a beginning teacher? What did I need as a teacher in my 10th year? And I do want and would have needed that sort of daily prompt, push notification that says, “Stop, and find something to appreciate in yourself right now.”

GONZALEZ: Hmm. That is great. Okay. And then one last question is how can people just find you online?

AGUILAR: I am not too hard to find. I am locatable on my websites, which are brightmorningteam.com and onwardthebook.com. People can also email me at [email protected] I am on social media, so I’m not that hard to find if people get the spelling of my name correctly, which is sometimes a challenge, but people can also Google “The Art of Coaching” or “Onward” the book.

GONZALEZ: Fantastic. Thank you so much for giving me all this time and giving us such a nice, in-depth peek into the book. I’m so excited about the changes that this book can have in teachers’ lives.

AGUILAR: Thank you, Jenn. And I’m so excited too, and I really hope to hear from people and hear how this book is landing with them and what else they need and what else I can do to support teachers to become strong and resilient so that we can take up the big fights that we need to take up, and so that we can serve our kids.


For links to all the resources mentioned in this episode, visit cultofpedagogy.com, click podcast, and choose episode 95. To get a weekly email from me about my newest blog posts, podcast episodes, and products, sign up for my mailing list at cultofpedagogy.com/subscribe. Thanks so much for listening, and have a great day.

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