Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Book Review: Onward – by Elena Aguilar

This jewel of a book is one you’ll want to read very slowly so that you can stretch out the experience. It has taken me months to read it, and even now I’m sad it’s over. Elena knew it would likely have this effect, because she’s organized each chapter around a month of the year, beginning with June.

The book is about cultivating resilience in educators. Each chapter examines aspects of resilience such as emotional intelligence, storytelling, taking care of yourself, compassion, and dealing with change. Along the way she takes deeper dives into specific emotions such as optimism, empathy, and perfectionism. Each page gave me so much to think about and reflect upon that I felt the need to slow down to digest, but also share with others.

For instance, she begins the short section on perfectionism saying, “At the heart of perfectionism is the belief that, in order to be loved and accepted, we must strive to act and be the best all the time” (p. 166). This isn’t possible, of course, and so along with perfectionism comes frustration and even anger when things don’t work out perfectly. Understanding this helps me understand some people I know who at first glance appear to be angry much of the time, but underneath it all may be frustrated perfectionists. Education is certainly a difficult field if you’re constantly striving for perfection.

Her chapter on change made a big impression on me as well. Appropriately, she fit this into the April chapter, which in education is the month of testing and finding out the big changes for next year – the principal’s not coming back, or you’re asked to teach a new grade level. Change is incredibly stressful. The secret to leading change, Elena says, is to understand that most people are fearful of change, and as leaders we must acknowledge this and lend encouragement. There’s no fast way through this. “Leading change most often includes learning; in order for people to do something different, whatever it is that you want them to do, you need to address skill, knowledge, capacity, will, cultural competency, and emotional intelligence” (p. 280). She suggests setting up opportunities for teachers to reflect on their purpose and their ongoing growth. And above all, to listen.

As teachers, we all feel a complete range of emotions throughout the year. If you have lately been feeling less bounce in your step, less resilience in the face of challenge, I urge you to pick up this book. Each time I set it down after reading, I felt better, more encouraged, and filled with food for thought. Treat yourself to this book – you deserve it.

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