Leaders need to cultivate their own gardens

By Suzanne Bouffard
October 2019
Vol. 40, No. 5

As we settle into October and the honeymoon period of the new school year wanes, The Learning Professional is taking the opportunity to address stress and resilience — specifically how professional learning can help build school leaders’ resilience to handle the stresses that come with their jobs.

Education leaders need resilience more than ever. From mental health crises and public health concerns to college admissions scandals that threaten the equity of opportunity schools work hard to create, leaders face constant stress and unexpected challenges.

The concept of resilience blossomed in the 1970s and 1980s. Emmy Werner helped start a paradigm shift with her study of how some high-risk children on the island of Kauai thrived despite significant adversity (Werner, Bierman, & French, 1971). Later, research by Anne Masten, Dante Cicchetti, Suniya Luthar, and others illuminated factors and supports that help children bounce back from setbacks and succeed. This work continues to grow as research illuminates the impact of adverse childhood experiences (Felitti et al., 2019).

Resilience — the ability to overcome challenges, bounce back, and maintain strength — isn’t something you can give to another person, but you can establish the conditions for it and cultivate it like a garden. Great educators do that for students every day. But leaders and teachers need to be resilient themselves, and that means they need to cultivate their own gardens, too.

Resilience doesn’t come from a workshop. It develops over time, under the right conditions, including high-quality professional learning that follows the Standards for Professional Learning (Learning Forward, 2011). For example, supportive relationships, which research shows are essential to resilience, are embedded in the Learning Communities and Leadership standards. Commitment to the long-term process of development and growth, as articulated in the Implementation standard, builds strength and focus.

''Resilience doesn’t come from a workshop. It develops over time, under the right conditions, including high-quality professional learning that follows the #PLStandards.'' @SuzanneBouffard #LearnFwdTLP Click To Tweet

As authors in this issue illustrate, high-quality professional learning promotes resilient leadership by emphasizing instructional leadership when other responsibilities and divergent backgrounds threaten it (see “Tackling instructional mismatch” and “How school leaders manage stress and stay focused”); facilitating support from peers, coaches, and supervisors (see “Your voice mailbox is full of learning” and “Empowered students lead and learn”); and developing skills that are essential for success (see “Anchors for resilience”).

As the school year ramps up, we invite you to lean on the Learning Forward community to cultivate your resilience. Meet up with like-minded colleagues at the Learning Forward Annual Conference in December, where we’ll be celebrating our organization’s 50th anniversary. And follow us on social media (#LearnFwdTLP) for information on Twitter chats, webinars, and more. We are committed to helping you continue learning, reflecting, and thriving, no matter what the school year brings your way.


Suzanne Bouffard

Suzanne Bouffard ( is editor of The Learning Professional.


Felitti, V.J., Anda, R.F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D.F., Spitz, A.M., Edwards, V., … & Marks, J.S. (2019). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 56(6), 774-786.

Learning Forward. (2011). Standards for Professional Learning. Oxford, OH: Author.

Werner, E.E., Bierman, J.M., & French, F.E. (1971). The children of Kauai: A longitudinal study from the prenatal period to age ten. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press.

Vice President, Publications | + posts

Suzanne Bouffard is vice president, publications at Learning Forward. She is the editor of The Learning Professional, Learning Forward’s flagship publication. She also contributes to the Learning Forward blog and webinars. With a background in child development, she has a passion for making research and best practices accessible to educators, policymakers, and families. She has written for many national publications including The New York Times and the Atlantic, and previously worked as a writer and researcher at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Duke University and a B.A. from Wesleyan University. She loves working with authors to help them develop their ideas and voices for publication.

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