How K-12 leaders will bounce back and bounce up

Education is second least resilient industry, a recent survey found
Marcus Buckingham
Marcus Buckingham

The pandemic has caused all of us to begin each day in kind of a blur, said Marcus Buckingham in kicking off his Future of Education Technology Conference® keynote address. But how can we maintain our resilience during challenging times?

As a researcher, he has spent most of his career “trying to measure things in life or work that are important but that you can’t count, like the engagement of your team or resilience of your team,” he said.

Results of a study of over 26,000 people worldwide conducted by his ADP Institute can help educators and others to better understand “their capacity to take on challenges, and not just bounce back but bounce up to a new plane of contribution,” he said.

Resilience thermometer statements

Buckingham said anyone answering “strongly agree” to most of the following 10 items would fall into the 15% of people who can be considered highly resilient.

The first four are “self” statements: I have all the freedom I need to decide how to get my work done; no matter what else is going on around me, I can stay focused on getting my work done; in the last week, I have felt excited to work every day; and I always believe that things are going to work out for the best.

The next three relate to what team leaders (such as principals) impact: My team leader tells me what I need to know before I need to know it; I trust my team leader; I am encouraged to take risks.

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And the final three are impacted by senior leaders of an organization: Senior leaders are one step ahead of events; senior leaders always do what they say they are going to do; I completely trust my company’s senior leaders.

Anyone less than “highly resilient” would be vulnerable to not being able to recover from something knocking them off course.

People who had a personal COVID experience (self or a loved one getting infected), were almost three times more likely to be highly resilient compared to those who had not. And having experienced more work-related changes—positive or negative—due to COVID also increased resilience.

Ed-tech to the rescue

Marcus Buckingham, who studies talents at work, recommends putting three technologies into classrooms and schools:

  1. Strengths assessments. “We ought to have some way for a student to have a language that begins that curiosity about how they learn, how they think, how they build relationships, and what drives them,” he says. Delivered electronically, such an assessment must be free, race-neutral, gender-neutral and focused on the uniqueness of the child, he adds. Buckingham just finished a youth version of his Standout Assessment, geared toward ages 11 to 18.
  2. Check-in tools. “We ought to have a technology that allows each teacher to check in with each student each week,” he says. It would allow a student to share their priority for the week to come and what help they think they need. The teacher would see each response in an app and could respond there or through a conversation with the student. “We should tell every teacher that the simplist and most important ritual is a one-minute check-in. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be a teacher.” Such an expectation of teachers would require coaching and learning tips for the teacher should to respond to students with that student’s individual way of thinking and learning in mind.
  3. A class engagement metric. It might be 10 questions that provide a reading or vibe of where students in a class are and how to engage them using strengths as a teacher.

With leaders across many industries pushing the working world to rush back to “normal,” Buckingham said it’s important to recognize what people—teachers, parents, students, for example—are actually fearing. “We don’t fear change. We fear the unknown,” he said.

Education second least resilient industry

While those working in technology, finance and construction industries can tout having the most resilience, education came in nearly last; just 12% of education employees are highly resilient.

“The least two resilient industries are healthcare and education,” Buckingham said. “The people we entrust our patients to and the people we entrust our children to are the least resilient.”

He believes the main problem is that in teachers don’t feel as if they are truly on a team.

“Humans are team creatures. We suffer when we are alone,” he said. “We should be asking, how do we understand what our best teams do and how do we build new teams like our best teams, and what kind of tech should we build to support the needs of teachers, administrators and others in order to be a team environment for our students?”

Buckingham suggested that educators think of themselves as swimmers. Maybe the lane they’re in is fraught with difficulty.

“But the most resilient people can say, ‘I do have other swim lanes, where I can make progress and can make a contribution. Can I compartmentalize so I’m not just looking at swim lane 12, with a lot of problems, but also the progress I’m making in swim lanes 3, 4 and 5?” One can catastrophize—or think about what lanes they can focus on instead.

What education leaders can do

Educators know that what’s around the corner is unknown, but they want to hear what is going to stay the same. That could be who we serve and what our values are. Buckingham suggested that education leaders share stories, such as about teachers who manifest a certain district value.

“Your challenge is not to dismiss people’s anxiety; it’s to take people’s anxiety and turn it into confidence,” he said.

School-level leaders must show they can be trusted and encourage teachers to take risks. They can also make a point to have a 15-minute check-in weekly with each teacher, asking about their upcoming priorities and how they can be supported.

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This kind of check-in can have a big impact on teachers. “Any time you can be seen by the person you report to, even if the person can’t do anything about the challenges you face, there’s power in that awareness,” he said.

Educators at all levels, meanwhile, should work to find strength and love in their work. “If you want to build your resilience,” he said, “use the work itself to bring strength to you.”

To find out what traits make you stand out at work, take a free assessment at

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