Decoding Teacher Resiliency – A Breakdown of Terms & Phrases

by | Apr 30, 2018

A focus on Decoding Teacher Resiliency is needed. There are terms and phrases connected to teacher resilience that you may not be familiar with if your school or district doesn’t emphasize or invest in teacher well-being. Terms like vicarious trauma, trauma-informed care, compassion fatigue, and compassion satisfaction are foundational to discussions on teacher resilience. By understanding a common language around teacher well-being we can have thoughtful and meaningful discussion to better the profession. Below is a quick breakdown of these terms:

Compassion Fatigue

When Stress Becomes Burnout As educators, we want to be involved. We have insight into the worlds of our students. And, we know that we can’t effect change in all aspects of their lives. This can be painful when we really care about our students and know that their needs might not be met. We carry this with us and it impacts us deeply. Compassion fatigue occurs when people in caring professions burnout from extreme mental and emotional exhaustion. Compassion fatigue is a very real affliction that happens in education when we take on the trauma and circumstances of our students. It can rob educators of their energy, creativity, and spark. It strips us of our joy in teaching. It persuades us to question our purpose. Compassion fatigue can be a career-ender and deserves a seat at the professional development table.

Vicarious Trauma

Frustration In my mind vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue go hand-in-hand. While Compassion fatigue focuses on how caring deeply for others, those who might be going through difficult circumstances or even just don’t show gratitude can impact how we view ourselves and our careers as educators, vicarious trauma goes even deeper. Educators experience vicarious trauma as a result of the insight they have to their students’ lives. It has been a term associated with counselors and social workers for awhile, and has just started to be connected to those involved in education. Hearing stories of abuse and pain, and knowing what our students face outside of school can cause residual effects to educators. When students describe the trauma they face (especially now with the emphasis on ACES – Adverse Childhood Experiences) teachers’ absorb the impact and can take on the symptoms of the traumatized. This is sometimes called “the cost of caring” and it can greatly impact educators and their ability to be both effective and joyful teachers.

Trauma-Informed Teaching

Trauma-Informed Teaching Trauma-Informed schools operate with the understanding that ACEs and vicarious trauma impact the success of students, teachers, and school. They work within an established framework of sensitivity and have clear expectations and plans of action for behavior management. They keep communication open and approach issues as they come.


As schools become more aware of the impact of trauma in their schools they are putting the burden of addressing it on the teachers. This is fine when done thoughtfully and with care, however, schools need to be aware of the triggers that can arise and how they can affect teachers. When teachers are asked to lead homeroom and group discussions on heavy topics such as abuse and violence the impact of these discussions on the teachers must be considered.


Deep Breathing Protective Practices Self-care is much more than just treating yourself when you feel down. It has to do with listening to the voice in your head that is screaming for a break and understanding what recharges you to face new challenges. For some, that means connecting with a support system, for others that may mean scheduling some alone time to decompress. Sure “things” can give you a boost, but self-care can take on many forms beyond the tangible including exercise and mindfulness practices. Think about what fuels you and remember that self-care is not selfish, it allows you to face your students and the school day as the best version of yourself.

Compassion Satisfaction

Joy in Teaching, teacher resilience This is you. No, not in the picture, but in the definition of compassion satisfaction. It is why you decided to be an educator. Why you do what you do everyday. Compassion satisfaction is the joy in teaching. It’s the feeling you get when you help others. Knowing you can effect change and help others achieve success is what fuels you and it’s what you need to tap into when a career in education gets tough (as we all know it can).

Interested in digging deeper into teacher resiliency?

The new Joy in Teaching book offers a complete framework of action for educators to build resilience, fight burnout, and reclaim their joy in teaching. Click below. 


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