January 4, 2022

Hope is the best thing...

Post Traumatic Growth...Can You Help Your Staff and Learners "Get" It?

I am in the process of raising three "Generation Z" people. My children are 21, 19, and 17 years old. Most of us are aware of the different generation cohorts; The Greatest Generation that came of age in the Great Depression and World War 2, The Baby Boomers who were born between 1946-1963, Generation X who came of age in the 1980 and 1990s (me!), The Millennials came of age at the turn of the millennium, and Generation Z are in high school and college right now. Without going too far into ALL of the differences between the generations, I want to zoom in on Generation Z.

There is one characteristic that defines Generation Z. They are characterized by experiencing a lot of anxiety and stress. Think about it. This generation starts with those being born in 2000. Consider all of the turmoil that the world has gone through since then. To a large extent, they have known nothing but anxiety and stress.

I know my kids struggle with anxiety. I have tried the "suck it up" speech with them (BTW, great parenting 101 right there!), but for this generation, that is not good enough. They need more guidance and context to help them deal with their anxiety and stress. 

Tim Elmore discusses how we as leaders (and teachers) can shift the discussion about anxiety and stress and help it become a positive for our Generation Z friends.

The key concept is that we must differentiate between stress (anxiety) and pressure. Stress is bad, while pressure can be a good thing. After all, diamonds are just pieces of coal that have been under pressure for a long time. Stress and anxiety arise when a person believes they do not have any responsibility or control over the outcome of a particular event. Pressure is when you do have some control and input over a given situation. Pressure (even though it is uncomfortable) can increase a person's performance.

According to Elmore, all pressure experiences include three things:
  1. Importance – The stakes feel high because the outcome is valuable to you.
  2. Uncertainty – There is no guarantee of this outcome, and it could go either way.
  3. Volume – This is the intensity and amount of input coming at you which you must process.
Elmore gives an example of the difference between stress and pressure.

"An example of stress is yelling at the TV when your favorite team is playing. No matter what you do, it doesn’t help or hinder the game. Pressure is when you’re playing in that game. Your performance makes a difference in the outcome. It’s all about your ability and responsibility. The pressure of performance can bring out the best in us because the outcome is within our influence."

How to help students thrive under pressure...this also applies to our colleagues that work for us (from the blog post)
  1. Embrace a realistic view of what’s really at stake—no more and no less.
    Don’t create trouble by making mountains out of molehills. Be realistic about the stakes.
  1. Help students focus on what they can control and not on what they cannot.
    If something’s out of your control, trust the process. If it’s controllable, take responsibility.
  1. Eliminate sources of pressure or stress that distract students from what’s important.
    Get rid of anything that clouds your focus or prevents you from concentrating on your goal.
  1. Enable them to determine one step they can take toward their goals.
    In choosing one step toward a goal, the pressure can shove us in the right direction.
  1. Envision the positive outcomes and growth that could come from this pressure.
    Close your eyes and see the results you desire; imagine the pressure working for you.
  1. Talk about Post Traumatic Growth and tell stories of those who’ve experienced it.
    Trauma doesn’t have to produce PTSD. Growth (PTG) occurs when we process the benefits that arise from trauma.
  1. Clarify why this pressure point outcome is important too.
    Know your why. Be clear on why the outcome’s valuable. Leverage it to push you forward.
All seven of these suggestions are great and #6 really caught my eye. I have never heard of "post-traumatic growth." Now, growth from trauma does not mean that people should be happy when something horrendous happens to them. Those experiences can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But when we think about pressure, and performing under pressure, there is room for the concept of post-traumatic growth. 

The definition of post-traumatic growth is a positive psychological change experienced as a result of adversity and other challenges in order to rise to a higher level of functioning.

In other words, when we help learners and our staff to recognize the difference between stress and pressure, we can help them use pressure in a positive way. 

We live in a world of high anxiety, stress, and pressure. Let's stop telling people to just "suck it up" and help them deal with it. Our schools and learners will benefit.

About the author 

Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.

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