Monday, 31 March 2014

Resilience in Education: New Book

"Teacher Appreciation" featured phot...
The Teaching Profession (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Academy of Social Sciences:

Professor Christopher Day AcSS, Emeritus Professor in Education at the University of Nottingham, has recently published a book on the very topical theme of resilience.

Day, C. and Gu, Q. (2014) “Resilient Teachers, Resilient Schools:building and sustaining quality in testing times’ Routledge

This book unpicks the complex, dynamic blend of individuals’ psychological and professional assets, workplace conditions and leadership support which enable teachers who stay in teaching to continue to make a difference in their careers, regardless of shifts in policy, workplace, professional and personal circumstances.

Whilst much has been written over the years about teacher stress and burnout, there is very little research which reports on the conditions which are essential for teachers to sustain their commitment and effectiveness over their professional lives, in contexts of challenge and change.

Drawing upon a range of educational, psychological, socio-cultural and neuro-scientific research, together with vivid accounts from teachers in a variety of primary and secondary schools internationally, and from their own research on teachers’ work and identities, the authors discuss the dynamic nature, forms and practices of teacher resilience.

They argue that resilience in teachers is not only their ability to bounce back in extremely adverse circumstances but that it is the capacity of teachers for everyday resilience which enables them to sustain their commitment and effectiveness in responding positively to the unavoidable uncertainties inherent in their professional lives.

The authors conclude that resilience in teachers can be nurtured by the intellectual, social and organisational environments in which teachers work and live, rather than being simply a personal attribute or trait, determined by nature.

Resilient Teachers, Resilient Schools will be of key interest to policy makers, head teachers, teachers and training and development organisations who wish to improve quality and standards in schools.
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Friday, 28 March 2014

Resilience is Not a Neoliberal Construct

False Sunflower Heliopsis helianthoides 'Summe...
False Sunflower (Photo: Wikipedia)
by Dr Robert Muller

In recent times, the concept of resilience has become widely used in a wide range of industries in the areas of climate change, economic upheaval, education and personal development. 

It has been suggested that resilience is the latest buzzword for community engagement and in the corporate workplace, taking over from the concept of ‘sustainability’ which has been in common currency since the 1980s. 

It has also been suggested that resilience is a neoliberal construction and that it serves the purpose of maintaining the status quo; that individuals, communities, students, and workers should just accept that life is tough, unable to be changed, but should learn to bounce back and ‘just get on with it’. 

Further, it is argued that this passive acceptance is in response to the immovable ideological monolith of neoliberalism and its attendant constructions (self-regulation, managerialism, the ‘audit culture’, and so on).

As a thinker who believes that the neoliberal ideology is very damaging to community life, and to collaboration and the sharing of ideas, this critique has caught my attention. 

However, rather than providing a critique of this position, I would prefer instead to reframe the concept of resilience, and to argue that resilience is a neutral concept which has been hijacked and co-opted by neoliberalism. 

This is in the same vein as many potentially positive ideas/ concepts/ programs that have been co-opted by the overarching dominant ideology of the contemporary era.

The basic underlying notion of resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ from adversity (but it is also so much more than this as this article shows) and, as such, is a neutral concept without ideological backing. 

The fact that we live in a global neoliberal environment, and that when we ‘bounce back’, we do so within that environment, does not mean that we ‘bounce back’ in order to reclaim our place in enhancing neoliberal capitalism. 

Instead, we have no choice but to bounce back in this situation because that is the environment in which we live. However, perhaps we should see resilience as a site of resistance instead.

One of the key points in building resilience is to create social and community networks. As Emile Durkheim, the famous sociologist argued, when the bonds that attach people to society are weak, then people are at their most vulnerable. 

It is widely argued that neoliberalism destroys social and community networks by individualising people. After all, it was Margaret Thatcher who argued that there is no such thing as society, intimating that we are all just atomised individuals. 

If the active construction of social and community networks, and thus the strengthening of social bonds, is one of the keys to the building of resilience, then this surely can be seen as a site of resistance against the individualising tendencies of neoliberalism.

The next point is that resilience is not simply a ‘bouncing back’ to the way life was prior to the upheaval. After all, humans learn from their experiences. There is no reason that I can think of to suggest that people cannot ‘bounce back’ to surpass their previous quality of life under many circumstances. 

Again, if neoliberalism tends to make people passive and encourages resilience merely to restore the status quo of corporate power so that everyone can be a passive consumer in the corporate-led marketplace, surely the surpassing of the previous qualities of the individual or the community after bouncing back may also include the surpassing of previous knowhow, skills, and wisdom. 

This then appears, to me, to be a very active process of the individual reshaping themselves through the building of stronger social and community networks than previously, rather than a passive acceptance of the neoliberal corporate status quo.

There are many reasons such as the above for taking a positive view of the notion of resilience, which I will write more about in future articles, and which will feature in the resources I am putting together over the next couple of years in conjunction with a great team that I am collaborating with. 

Overall, the main point of the argument here is that resilience is a neutral concept and is not part of neoliberal ideology. The fact that it has been co-opted by the neoliberal corporate and government agenda does not negate the fact that it is, in fact, a neutral concept. 

Any idea can be co-opted by such a powerful all-pervasive ideology, however, if seen from a different perspective, and through an evidence-base, resilience can also be seen as a powerful site of resistance against neoliberalism. 

As it is a neutral concept, all of these notions of resilience are open to debate, but we should not be blinded by either side of the argument. 

Let’s treat the concept as a neutral one and work with it to strengthen those aspects of society that we want to see improved, rather than just applying more ideology to the concept.

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The Vision of Teleological Resilience

My name is Dr Robert Muller (PhD in Sociology) and I have a vision for a better world and am currently working on how this can be achieved. 

Basically, for 40 years (since the oil shock and the emergence of overwhelming corporate power), we in the west have been influenced by the neoliberal ideology in which we are expected to be perfect consumers who conduct their lives as if they are a business.

Those who cannot do this, fall through the cracks as the government withdraws from social services in line with the ideology.

My academic research on resilience and well-being, including the development of a robust model of how resilience can be developed, has resulted in our team putting together a community building program to achieve the following aims:

1) To bring together people around arts, performance, food, co-creation, hospitality (xenia), communication, conversation, and resilience, to create sustainable communities as the basis of daily life

2) To create alternatives to the constant measurement of daily life and work through KPIs, performance measures, performance evaluations, and so on, that tend to destroy motivation and the enjoyment of daily living

3) To inspire a gentler society based on the principles of cooperation and community instead of competition and individualism where everyone can play a part and nobody is left behind

4) To create an online ‘home’ for a diverse range of dispersed social movements such as the Slow Food movement, Co-Create, the Transition movement, and others, so that an ongoing dialogue can be established to create a better world

This will be achieved, over time, through the development of activist groups, an online portal, education resources, courses, and community events and presentations.

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