By Dr. Nefertiti B. Poyner
If you happened to read the summer edition of our newsletter, you are aware that I have been working towards the completion of my doctoral degree. I am happy to let you know that I have successfully defended my dissertation and completed all necessary requirements. I was awarded a Doctoral of Education Degree from Walden University on August 26, 2016.
The study of adult well-being and resilience is a passion for me. While all adults can benefit from resiliency-based skills, understanding this concept as it relates to teachers drives my interest. Well-intentioned teachers enter classrooms every day with zeal, enthusiasm and enough knowledge to be considered as content experts in their particular field of study. All too often, however, the realities of teaching begin to take a toll, and the teacher starts to feel overwhelmed, tired, and empty. While researchers have examined the reasons why teachers leave the field, less attention has been paid to why they stay and the specific strategies they use to help them overcome stress and burnout. As a result, when given an opportunity to choose an area of research to investigate for the completion of my doctoral degree, I decided to delve into the literature surrounding adult resilience. I wanted to shed light on a population that is not well documented in the resilience research – preschool teachers.
The resilience framework guided my case study approach and allowed me to talk with the teachers about “what works.” The questions developed as part of my interview protocol helped me to investigate who or what were the teachers’ biggest forms of support. I was able to learn what approach they use to help support children with challenging behaviors (this is important as “working with children with challenging behaviors” is identified as one of the primary reasons teachers leave the profession). I learned how they work to overcome the salary that is often not enough to sustain the average household. Overall, my interviews with the teachers helped me to better understand how they cope, and what helps sustain their commitment to children and families.
Stress and burnout are not only phenomena negatively impacting preschool teachers. Teachers in our K-12 education systems also face amounts of stress that often lead to attrition. The aim of my research was to better understand how teachers cope with stress and bounce back from adversity they may face as a preschool teacher. This knowledge may help us better understand how and why some teachers can flourish despite challenges that lead to attrition in others.
Our education systems need educators who possess the knowledge, energy, and enthusiasm needed to effectively teach children and partner with families. Introducing teachers to a framework of resilience may help develop the protective factors that will help them bounce back quickly from set-backs, have more confidence in their ability, reduce the impact of stress, and improve overall job satisfaction. The hope is that the intentional focus on teacher well-being will enable them to better promote the resilience of their students.
I am excited about this next phase of my life. I have been a student since 2010. Since becoming a student, I have also become a wife and a first-time mother. During this experience, I have utilized EVERY strategy related to resilience that I can think of. I am thankful for my protective factors, I would not have been able to do this without them. I will use what I have learned to help advance the mission and vision of the Devereux Center for Resilient Children. We have lots of new and exciting things ahead. Click here to learn about our new online adult resilience class. I wish you joy!