UBC Okanagan Education associate professor Sabre Cherkwoski recently wrapped up a three-year study that culminated in her latest book: “Perspectives on Flourishing in Schools” (edited with Keith Walker, University of Saskatchewan).
The third book to emerge from this study was a slight departure from Dr. Cherkowski’s earlier work. This time, contributions came from the educators and researchers themselves, resulting in a collection of wide-ranging perspectives.
So what does it mean to ‘flourish’? We caught up with Dr. Cherkowski to learn more.
How did the idea for ‘Flourishing in Schools’ come about?
I’ve long been researching learning communities in schools and was finding myself drawn to the idea of understanding the more ‘human side’ of organizational structures. I started doing some reading on compassion in organizations and noticed that a lot of research into this was coming out of the business world. With my research colleague, Dr. Keith Walker, we asked ourselves, “Why don’t we have this research in Education? What if research on school improvement focused more on ways to support and grow positive capacities for educators?” We tend to focus on deficits– what’s wrong and what’s not working for students, rather than what’s right and how we can help educators thrive even more in their roles. This led us to the key guiding research question that shaped this project and the books that we developed from it– what are the factors, forces and dynamics that explain how certain schools and certain people in schools flourish?
What did you find?
Through appreciative interviews and focus group conversations with educators in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, we guided participants to reflect on what works well and gives them a sense of flourishing in their work.
In analyzing our data we found that as teachers move towards flourishing they will notice that their relationships with their students, colleagues and the larger learning community become more positive– and perhaps even more fun. Teachers described how flourishing meant feeling a sense of belonging to a “group with purpose” from which they could derive meaning for their work and lives.
What does teachers flourishing in schools look like?
Teachers who flourish told us that they appreciate and feel supported when working in a climate of fun— laughter, joking and friendly banter. They feel that what they do matters. They feel seen and valued in their work, and think they contribute to making the group better in some way. Teachers who flourish shared how they work together in ongoing innovation for continued connection, growth and thriving guided by their shared values and higher purpose. They value creativity and enjoy rising to challenges in their work. They feel they are supported, challenged and encouraged by their administrators. They flourish when their students do.
Why is exploring flourishing important?
We’re facing growing levels of stress, anxiety and burnout among teachers across the world, along with increasing international trend toward improving student wellbeing in school. Teachers need support, encouragement and inspiration to attend to their wellbeing as a foundational aspect of their work.
How can we help a teacher that is communicating a displeasure with their current situation?
Part of well-being work is recognizing that challenges, stressors and frustrations aren’t going away. You can’t eliminate them. Sometimes you can’t even mitigate them. Some people feel the need to vent those frustrations, but our research finds that noticing and encouraging the positive is often more beneficial than trying to get rid of the negative.
My advice to school administrators is to support teachers to engage in appreciative mindsets in how they view their school, their work and their lives. Encourage teachers to get together, engage with their colleagues, share ideas and celebrate what is working well. While positive scholarship does not deny the existence of negative experiences and the suffering and trauma that can afflict all of us, a deliberate focus on the positive can create an environment where all can thrive and flourish.