Resilience as a psychological construct

Fredrickson’s recent development of a ‘broaden-and-build’ theory of positive emotions (2001, 2004) provides a useful psychological conceptual framework. She (2004) observes that a subset of positive emotions—joy, interest, contentment and love—promote discovery of novel actions and social bonds, which serve to build individuals’ personal resources. These personal resources, ranging from physical and intellectual resources to social and psychological resources, ‘function as reserves that can be drawn on later to improve the odds of successful coping and survival' (Fredrickson, 2004: 1367). In other words, positive emotions fuel psychological resilience:

Evidence suggests, then, that positive emotions may fuel individual differences in resilience. Noting that psychological resilience is an enduring personal resource, the broaden-and-build theory makes the bolder prediction that experiences of positive emotions might also, over time, build psychological resilience, not just reflect it. That is, to the extent that positive emotions broaden the scopes of attention and cognition, enabling flexible and creative thinking, they should also augment people's enduring coping resources (Isen 1990; Aspinwall 1998, 2001; Fredrickson and Joiner 2002).

(Fredrickson 2004: 1372)

Most importantly, she suggests that, ‘the personal resources accrued during states of positive emotions are durable, (outlasting) the transient emotional states that led to their acquisition’, and that ‘through experiences of positive emotions... people transform themselves, becoming more creative, knowledgeable, resilient, socially integrated and healthy individuals' (2004: 1369).

Fredrickson's broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, from a psychological perspective, provides an important contribution to the establishment of a conceptual basis for understanding the resilient qualities of teachers who are doing a job that is itself not only intellectual but also emotional in nature; and it mirrors the work of a range of educational researchers on the nature of teaching (Palmer 1998; Nias 1989, 1999; Fried 2001). Hargreaves (1998: 835), for example, suggests that emotions are at the heart of teaching:

Good teaching is charged with positive emotions. It is not just a matter of knowing one’s subject, being efficient, having the correct competences, or learning all the right techniques. Good teachers are not just well-oiled machines. They are emotional, passionate beings who connect with their students and fill their work and their classes with pleasure, creativity, challenge and joy.

In her study of American high school teachers Nieto too found that what had kept teachers going in the profession was “emotional stuff” (2003: 122). She describes teaching as an intellectual endeavour which involves love, anger and depression, and hope and possibility. Nieto (2003) argues that in the contemporary contexts for teaching a learning community is an important incentive that keeps teachers going. In pursuit of learning in ‘communities of practice’ (Wenger 1998), teachers will consolidate a sense of belonging and shared responsibility, enhance morale and perceived efficacy, develop aspects of resilient qualities, and thrive and flourish socially and professionally. More importantly, their resilient qualities do not merely serve their positive developmental progression. They also interact with negative influences and constraints and, together with teachers’ professional qualities, may develop in strength. Large scale research into variations in the lives, work and effectiveness of primary and secondary teachers in a range of schools in England (Day et al. 2007) also observed that in the emotional context of teaching, pupils’ progress and growth constantly fuelled teachers’ job satisfaction and motivation, but that this was mediated positively or negatively by a number of factors which affected their capacities to rebound from disappointments and adversity and sustain their commitment to the profession, and with this, their effectiveness.

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