Supporting Resilience Through Creativity

Resilience. In my opinion it is one of the most used, and in equal measures, most abused words since the pandemic. From one day to the next, everything had to be resilient: people, jobs, the economy, hospitals, schools, you name it. Before Corona, you heard about resilience in the context of elite athletes suffering set-backs, trauma treatment, and maybe in the context of the economy. Maybe, if you were lucky, in some management seminar. With the lockdown, resilience shot to the top of the agenda for policy makers. If you want, and please excuse the pun, it went viral.

If you consult a dictionary, resilience means recovering quickly from illness, change, or misfortune. In material science, it means a certain degree of elasticity, in another context, the act of rebounding. The LifeComp Framwork, which got published in 2020, defines resilience as „Resilience is the ability to cope positively and bounce back from adversity, uncertainty, conflict, as well as with positive changes such as promotions or increased responsibility.“ Certainly, within the pandemic coping with change, uncertainty, conflict and illness went to the forefront. 

Research suggests, that there is a strong link between resilience and creativity. Relational-cultural theory puts creativity and resilience in the context of relationships and culture. According to this, people need connections and relationships and these are promoted through mutual empathy and empowerment. Hungarian psychologist Csikszentmihalyi posited that a flow state and the associated creativity created a protective and supportive layer against adversity. Creative output should best be shared so that family, friends or colleagues could provide recognition and thus ultimately lead to a transformative situation. 

Now, what does this all have to do with adult education?

In adult education, a large number of people are self-employed or employed on zero hour contracts. Their ability to cope during the pandemic got stretched to the max. Training seminars and courses got cancelled – in the short-term maybe not such a big problem. But no one knew how long this situation would persist. Pretty quickly livelihoods were threatened. Certainly, financial support was offered through the government. But the process was slow, complex and rules and regulations prevented many from being eligible. In many conversations with adult educators, I was faced with despair and abandonment. However, what I also experienced was an unyielding wave of creative problem-solving skills, of reinvention, transformation. In most cases this meant a quick transfer of courses to the online environment. There was a lot of experimentation with how courses could best be delivered through conferencing tools or other means. There was a lot of dynamism and change was unrelenting. 

Still, the sense of loneliness and abandonment remained. It was overwhelming. As an online platform for adult educators, we were in a unique position to provide support to this community, to leverage the community feeling in strengthening resilience through mutual empathy and empowerment. How did we do this?

We offered individuals from across Europe an opportunity to tell their story of how they experienced the pandemic, what it meant to their work, how it affected them on a personal level, how their learners were affected. But equally, in those stories they shared their approaches of how they dealt with that mountain of challenges they encountered. The stories gave adult educators across Europe a feeling that they were not alone with their problems, and that educators across Europe were in the same situation. They showcased the creativity with which people started to resolve issues and it was uplifting to see, how teachers, trainers and community organizations found ways to support their learners, their colleagues and their local communities. Needless to say that the process of storytelling is in its own right is a creative endeavor. Remarkably, the community grew substantially, moved closer together and the comments under the stories highlight the empathy and a glimmer of hope. The EPALE Community Stories were such a success in 2020, that we continued them throughout 2021, so that people could continue to share experiences and provide ideas.

In addition, we started a series in Germany of what we called the „EPALE Academy“ where we offered courses in creating supportive online environments, creativity techniques and wellbeing/ self-care among others. These included a 3-week self-organized group working phase. While the contents of the courses itself provided creative problem solving skills and coping techniques. The most interesting part was the group working phase. The group phase was challenging in terms of organization, team work, self-confidence and also self-efficacy. We required them to take responsibility. The solutions people developed in the process were exceptional and highly creative. Equally, they had a forum to exchange, connect and mutually support each other. Feedback was extremely positive and many of the participants have since returned to continue their participation in the Academy, or to contribute and share their experiences and learning materials with the community.

Sure, we never set-out with the scientific theories and models of resilience and creativity in our heads when we started the initiatives. They were more an instinctive reaction to the context and the feedback from the Community directly. So again a case of empathy and recognition. What I am interested in now is though, how can we transport this into the future? Yes, massive changes have occurred. Hybrid-models are becoming more common, face-to-face training and courses have resumed, previously sceptical individuals have discovered the advantages of online environments. The anxiety has quietened a little bit. But can we ever fully recover? Education has changed at lightning speed over the past two years, and this, in my opinion, has only been the start. All that we see and sense, is that communities that offer support, recognition and that provide a safe space, will be more and more important to help people cope with rapid change and allow them to develop their ideas. Maintaining a high level of resilience is going to be a key priority. So how do we offer the Community support, how do we get them to discover their problem solving skills, how do we awaken their creativity? And how can an online platform support this process? Let me know your suggestions. 

Make sure to discuss your ideas and meet with OEB21 speaker and author of this article Christine Bertram of EPALE in the session: Learning Professionals’ Communities of Practice on Thursday, Dec 2 at 12:15 in room Chess.

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