Staff Matters: Social Resilience in Schools

ShankerIn a recent article in the Shanker Blog, Esther Quintero discusses how teachers are coping with the increased uncertainty in the education world that is a result of the lack of “coherent education infrastructure” in the U.S.  In response to this uncertainty, teachers are becoming more reliant on collaboration and close-knit social networks from which to draw strength and resources.

These reflections made Quintero draw connections between national security and teaching:  in recent years, security has become less about heightened protection and more about resilience.  New computer simulations and training modules have been implemented in the armed forces to stimulate an awareness of and appreciation for the “nine key resources that can foster social resilience” (i.e., the ability of a group of people to turn adversity to advantage).  The training modules for soldiers emphasize how differences among group members can be assets and make the group more adaptable, and how team chemistry can be more important than the talents of individuals.

So, Quintero asks, can this framework help design training for nurturing social resilience among teachers?  She thinks so, and in fact believes that this is exactly the type of training teachers are demanding.  Not only do teachers want to collaborate, but the data shows that everyone, especially students, benefits when they do.

The problem with this scenario is that current policy debate is going in the opposite direction of social resilience-building.  The dominant view is that schools can be improved by attracting and retaining excellent individual teachers, rather than fostering and nurturing the development of an excellent group of teachers with good team chemistry.  Some districts, heeding advice from the US Department of Education that instructional time should be expanded, have reduced the amount of time available to teachers for collaboration.

As diverse fields of research, from social capital theory to organization studies, begin to coalesce around the education debate, it is becoming clear that the problems in America’s schools cannot be addressed without paying attention to the social relationships in which individuals function.  “We may aspire to be self-sufficient and celebrate our individual achievements, but our remarkable accomplishments as a species are attributable to our collective action, not our individual might.”

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