What’s Resilience Got To Do With It? The Equity-Resilience Connection

The Need for Equitable Schools

One thing I know for sure: the field of education loves buzz words. And equity seems to be one of those words that schools and organizations have attached to in the last few years. Sounds great, right? More schools putting equity at the top of their “needs” list. Unfortunately, many schools also want quick, magic bullet solutions to the systemic problems they are trying to solve for. In conversations with potential clients, I often hear “But we need to create equitable schools now, so we don’t have the time to explore our identities and emotions. We need to get right to the equity piece.” The thing is, there are no magic bullet solutions for systemic problems. Whatever the path forward, we need to be in it for the long haul, and resilience is key to sustaining that effort.

How Do Our Emotions Fit Into This?

I have so much listening and learning to do myself, but another thing I know for sure: resilience rooted in emotional intelligence is necessary to do equity work. Still not a magic bullet, but personally I have found that understanding my emotions is a critical step in the right direction. I have a wide array of emotions that accompany any conversation around equity as I come from such a privileged background. I am white, straight, able-bodied, college educated, upper middle class…I receive many advantages and benefits from being a part of these groups. I am part of the dominant culture in education. And I also work hard to be a catalyst for change.

Over the course of the past few years, I have immersed myself into the concept of resilience. I have looked deep into my identity, exploring my core values, and have found ways to cultivate my resilience. I have created more space for compassion. My mindfulness practice has deepened as I focus on staying present and has helped me examine my biases. I have found all this to be a strong foundation for the work of creating equitable schools. Why? Because it has given me the energy needed to do this work day in and day out. This is demanding work. We will not wake up tomorrow with equitable schools, no matter how badly we want them. We need to cultivate our resilience so that we can continue to do this work and emerge stronger and more compassionate in the face of the inevitable adversity that accompanies changing established systems.

What does this look like in action? These 3 steps are a good starting point.

We know that issues of equity can sometimes trigger strong emotions. Learn how to understand these emotions to help you move forward.

  1. Familiarize yourself with the emotion cycle: An emotion, as you know it, is actually a series of events that can be explained in this cycle of an emotion diagram. Know that an emotion is a reaction to an event. Something happens, your mind processes it and attaches meaning, and your body responds. As Elena Aguilar shares in Onward: Cultivating Resilience in Educators, “This is the universal structure of all emotional experiences. Learning to identify the parts of the cycle in yourself is freeing because the cycle can be interrupted. You can intervene at any step.”
  2. Name the emotion(s): Most of us need to work on our emotional literacy. We know when something doesn’t feel right, but often we can’t identify the specific emotion(s). We may say that something stresses us out, but we aren’t really sure what emotions are compiling to make us feel this way. This list of core emotions helps you build your emotional literacy, and when we name our emotions, we can make more clear decisions about what to do next. The power of the emotion over us tends to lesson, and we feel more empowered.
  3. Deconstruct the cycle: Now that you have an awareness of the cycle and have explored the core emotions list, you are ready to put this to the test. Identify a recent emotional experience around equity that you want to reflect on. Use the Get to Know an Emotional Cycle activity from The Onward Workbook to breakdown the six steps of the cycle reflecting on specific moments in the cycle that you had an opportunity to cultivate your resilience.

Learning to understand our emotions is essential as we do equity work. Moving from a level of awareness into a level of action is an empowering step towards creating equitable school. And sometimes what you may realize is that you need to be ok just sitting with a troubling emotion and sometimes you may need to really scrutinize the interpretation or narrative that you are telling. In both cases, know that you are building your emotional literacy. Understanding emotions will help to cultivate the resilience you will need to do the daily work of building equitable schools.