Making jolly good sense by Dr Dee Gray

I began writing this blog with the following few sentences …

‘Resilience is important in the lives of front line staff, as possessing it contributes towards endurance of a demanding work role. Interventions that help to develop resilience by strengthening the knowledge base and skill set are maximised through experiential learning’.

To those of you who are interested in supporting staff on the frontline through the medium of learning you would probably find this jolly good common sense….and it is. Experiential learning is powerful and memorable not least because it becomes hardwired into your memory through your emotions. Yet variations in organisational and structural systems will lead to differences in any sense of occupational ‘community’ and to the development of situational knowledge.

It is perhaps because of my own hardwired experiences of personal and professional trauma, and the experience of supporting other front line workers, that I pursue the creation of a salutogenic programme that truly does bring about a positive and lasting change.

If we need to legitimise investment by employers, societies, governments, and professional bodies in learning interventions, then we need look no further than a return that prepares the workforce to become resilient in stressful workplaces.

We know that we develop resilience by overcoming adversity through experience of something stressful, so it may sound peculiar to suggest that you can teach people to become resilient in preparation of something stressful.

Yet we attempt to do this all the time; consider nursing students learning about ethical decision making based on real life scenarios, or junior doctors learning about the ins and outs of legal accountability and decision making, or teachers preparing for a school inspection. What each of these have in common is that they are made aware that events at work may be difficult and in order to deal with them, acknowledge the possibility and plan for it.

For example, various teaching strategies intended to increase resilience have been shown to positively impact nurses in practice, and nursing students with a high level of resilience have better perceived well-being.  Understanding the interconnectedness of resilience and wellbeing is important, they are not the same but husband and wife in terms of achieving a dynamic holistic partnership.

Similarly, one approach to developing resilience in others is to provide examples for their learning by handing them our own experiences of surviving, processing and learning from trauma. An experienced pedagogue will devise these as learning scenes and embed learning ‘triggers’ within programmes with seamless ease, yet how do we truly know if we have contributed to the development of resilience and wellbeing in others?

Resilience and wellbeing are not fixed states, they fluctuate. We need to raise consciousness to this fact, and that just as we are on a health/disease continuum so too our classroom or workplace learning about resilience and wellbeing are on a continuum of our learning experiences.

The ebb and flow of resilience and wellbeing cannot be captured and taught solely in a classroom, it calls for an educational process that requires active participation and system adaptation, application, and efforts towards sustainability.

Nothing compares with the real life experience of a ‘do not resuscitate’ directive being carried out in practice on a ward, or the real life experience of choosing which patient to treat in the wee small hours in A&E, or the real life experience of coping with the anger and resentment from colleagues who are being audited against unachievable standards. It is the sense and meaning making from these experiences that ultimately contribute towards how we manage them in the long term and truly begin to shape a salutogenic mindset within ourselves.

Learning skills to better manage stress does not mean we leave the environment in which staff work unchanged, learning about resilience and wellbeing should never be a ‘tick box’ exercise on a workplace risk management register associated with a superficial compliance of health and safety.

Surely if we truly achieve the learning outcomes of understanding and being resilient and well then we should also expect the workforce to ask for and be supported to implement change?  Learning about resilience and wellbeing should result in a passion for personal change, and following this to a logical conclusion in our connection to the world we inhabit.

By truly valuing our frontline workers, we should be demanding their workplaces contribute to their wellness, after all their workplace is our hospital, our school, our green spaces. They cannot achieve the change without the rest of us, our resilience and wellbeing is connected to theirs…..

I hope that the end of this blog also makes jolly good common sense, from experience I know that sometimes words can also shape the world we and our children live in….