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Conversation #98: Lisa Schulte on Resilience

A conversation between Lisa Schulte-Gipson and Elizabeth Yost Hammer on teaching, learning, and resilience.

[tree]Lisa received her BS from Muhlenberg College (Allentown, PA). She attended SUNY Albany where she earned both her MA and PhD in Social/Personality Psychology.

Lisa has worked at Xavier University since 1993 and she is the Keller Family Foundation Professor of Arts and Sciences.

Throughout her tenure at Xavier she has served both the University and Department in many capacities, currently serving as Chair of the Psychology Department and as the Faculty in Residence for Service Learning at CAT+FD

Her current research focuses on both the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) and positive psychology (specifically as related to enhancing well-being among students).

Elizabeth Yost HammerElizabeth Yost Hammer is the Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development and a Kellogg Professor in Teaching in the Psychology Department. She received her Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Tulane University.

Links for this episode


Elizabeth Hammer: Hello this is Elizabeth Yost Hammer the director for the Center for Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development at Xavier University of Louisiana.

My guest today is Dr. Lisa Schulte-Gipson. Lisa received her BS from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

She attended SUNY Albany, where she earned both her MA and PhD in social personality psychology.

Lisa has worked at Xavier University since 1993 and she is the Keller Family Foundation, professor of Arts and Sciences.

Throughout her tenure at Xavier, she has served both the university and the department in many capacities currently serving as chair of the psychology department and as the Faculty in Residence for Service Learning at the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development.

Her current research focuses on both the scholarship of teaching and learning and positive psychology specifically as related to enhancing wellbeing among students.

And it's in her capacity as a positive psychology teacher that she's with us today. Welcome, Lisa. Thank you so much for being with us today.

Lisa Schulte: Thank you. It's very good to be here.

Elizabeth Hammer: When we, in the center, were preparing for fall semester 2020, we knew that faculty would have to be flexible in their teaching -- in their teaching methods with their students, with their own lives, with their own kids. We knew flexibility was going to be really important. So we knew that they would need to have a level of resilience in dealing with whatever fall 2020 is going to bring and so far, you know, it's brought a lot.

So we thought the idea of resilience would be a good underlying theme for us in the center, and that's what I would like to talk to you about today is resilience. So let's start with you. What is it, what is resilience?

Lisa Schulte: So resilience is really the ability to, in this environment, maintain your sanity, but really, more formally, maintain relatively normal levels of functioning. Note that -- relatively normal levels of functioning in the face of trauma, so resilience has really been researched in the context of how people respond to trauma.

This means that the individual is affected by the trauma, so you'll see blips in functioning. They're not 100% fine, but the trauma doesn't break them. Also keep in mind that even your most resilient person, depending upon the level of trauma, that trauma might overwhelm them. If we have relatively stable levels of resilience, we're able to handle that trauma. So for example, if we think about our students who are enrolled in a really challenging course load this semester, and again, keep in mind the COVID environment. Assume that the student experiences some deaths in the family and also challenges with respect to funding for the semester. This student will experience anxiety, will experience stress, and we'll see the behavioral repercussions. They may miss some classes, they may miss some assignments, but they're able to hold it together and pull out the performance at the end of the semester. So you get the idea that a person who is resilient will bend, they'll be stretched, but they don't break or snap.

Elizabeth Hammer: Thank you. That's a great definition, and just for listeners who might not be from New Orleans, we are dealing with our, you know, fall 2020 COVID semester like the rest of the country. We also have had a few tropical storms and hurricanes come our way, so we like that bending. We're still hanging in there. So, you kind of gave us an example with students, I wonder if you could talk about why it's also important for faculty or if you have more to say about why it's important for students.

Lisa Schulte: Oh yeah, as far as the importance of resilience, it allows a person to persist. It allows a person, with respect to resilience, the coping skills also tend to be healthier coping skills. So for instance, it's not avoidance of the problem. You might have some proactive coping on both the part of the students and the faculty and really the overall, and this is very simplistic to say this way, but with respect to resilience the person can get through that situation maintaining that again they're affected but relatively normal level of function and then move on to the next situation and succeed despite obstacles. And again, this applies to both faculty and students to anybody.

Elizabeth Hammer: Yeah, and I think that is so important, and I think about centers like ours.

Part of what we, maybe, implicitly were doing in training for different types of teaching scenarios that might come our way has probably provided some proactive coping in terms of faculty being prepared. You can do it, giving faculty skills to teach, and then the interpersonal coping is more on their own.

Lisa Schulte: Yeah, well the training as far as learning to utilize the tools at one’s fingertips; so for instance, on our campus, our course delivery system is brightspace. The idea of exposing faculty to the various features and providing practice and using these features enhances the ability to of course teach, but also in that context of other stressors in their lives.

Elizabeth Hammer: Yeah. It is all kind of coming together. What factors are either correlated with resilience or foster resilience? What are some factors that are related to it?

Lisa Schulte: So you can talk about factors related to the person, you can talk about factors related to personal relationships, you can talk about factors related to the community. Breaking some examples down, within the individual, an optimistic outlook is associated with resilience, and keep in mind an optimistic outlook. You can look at optimism as a personality trait, as somebody who is hopeful overall, or you can look at optimism as an explanatory style. The explanatory style is really key here. So an optimistic explanatory style in the instance of stressors would be “this too shall pass,” so that it's temporary.

The style would also be, as far as any negative repercussions, adverse events that it's not stable, and it's also not an internal cause with respect to these events. So, that's important to consider, the ability to regulate one's emotions.

I am basically telling several individuals/giving the advice of: before we send off that email, if the emotions are running high, take the address out of that, write that email, let it sit, read it over, and then decide if you want to put that address back in.

So, you know, emotional control, a positive “self-you,” so you can talk about not only global self-esteem, but really self-efficacy as being associated with resilience and also a good sense of humor. The ability, not to laugh in the face of stress because that's impossible to do all the time, but to be able to find the humor in the stressful situation is an individual factor.

Elizabeth Hammer: Before you move from the individual factors, I wonder if you could just take a moment and distinguish between self-esteem and self-advocacy for our non-psych listeners.

Lisa Schulte: Sure so self-esteem, as far as the concept, I'm thinking back to the global sense of self-worth which is very universal. So overall, do you think you are worthy or the person that doesn't get into specifics, with respect to a worthy mother or where the friend you know roles and so forth. It's just that global self esteem.

The self efficacy is the idea that you think you are an effective individual, so you can get the task done. With self-efficacy, also keep in mind that you need to take into account the specific context of the task. So if you ask me, for instance, “can you repair your car nowadays?” Nope, but if you asked me, “can you get a Mac computer to work?” I've been working with them since 1988, yep that long, so yes, I can get that to work. I actually know it's easy to hack into a Mac, because I have experience with it. The bottom line, you know, the past experience with the realm affects your self advocacy, so it's much more specific.

Elizabeth Hammer: And one of the follow up questions, before we move on, from the personal, individual characteristics that are related to resilience is, you mentioned optimism and optimistic explanatory style, and I wonder if you have any you know from talking to students about this in your course over the semesters. I wonder if you have any advice you would give somebody who's not naturally optimistic because right now in 2020, there’s a lot to not be optimistic about, and yet it is so important for well-being, to maintain some of that. So I wonder, what would you say to somebody who's not naturally optimistic?

Lisa Schulte: Then it's very interesting because I could give you a kind of longer, in-depth activity that's not gonna work. So there's an a, b, c, d activity where you sit down and think “what's the adversity,” okay, “what's the effects?” “Let me dispute myself,” not going to happen right now.

What I would recommend, the number one thing that I would recommend, is very simplistic and it's a gratitude journal. Now the gratitude journal is basically, there's several ways that you can keep it, you can do one every night. So, one of my practices is three things for which I'm grateful for each day. I dictate it into my phone. Some people like to write it. I'm not a hand writer, I'm a taper, and when I could dictate, I do it that way. The form doesn’t matter. What matters is at the end of the day, you’re reviewing the day and you're looking for, in that mental summary, three things. You could do it once a week, and it could be one thing. The idea is consistency, and “stop and think this way,” but think of three things for which you're grateful. Now, here's some roles here. If you do it every day or every week or twice a week, try not to be repetitive. So you have to think of something new, and it doesn't have to be big. So the next time I, not that I can plan it out, but I love frozen coffee. So the next time I get a good cup of frozen coffee, I'll be just sitting down and relishing it. It doesn't have to be a huge thing, so switch it up. The other thing is avoid engaging in downwards social comparison when you are engaging in your gratitude journal. You don't want to think, “well, I'm better off than that poor S.O.B.” because that's not the way to do it. You want to think of in my life, in my perspective, “what am I thankful for, for a given day?” So, quick example, there was a day I was on the way home from the zoo with the kids, we got a flat tire. We were able to get it fixed, and this is rubbing off on my daughter Lorelei who is now 12.

So you could sit there and go, “I got a flat tire. That was awful. That was a lot of money.” However, I had run flat tires, so I was able to get to the station to patch the tire. They were able to patch the tire. It took them about an hour, and I had actually had time to play I-spy with my daughters, so we had some bonding time. So note how you could take “this was awful, it delayed me,” and switch it, and that's what a gratitude journal does. It basically trains your mind to not look at the negative, but to find the positive, hence the optimism.

Elizabeth Hammer: Thank you. Thank you so much for those concrete examples, and we can put some links, too, on this below your podcast. We’ll put some links to some gratitude journal ideas and websites for that. I love that. Did you want to go on with talking about relationships or community?

Lisa Schulte: Yeah, yeah relationships, and I like the self-piece and the relationship-piece. Those are the pieces that you can control.

The community is the idea of a close-knit and supporting community, and that really will stem from relationships. But with the relationships, it's the idea of authentic, warm, open, caring relationships. The relationships that provide that sincere sense of social support and that connection with others, they are key with respect to resilience. That idea that others truly have your back is key with respect to resilience. So another technique, as far as if I were to give advice on how to increase resilience, it would be to focus on those relationships. Those current relationships that you have, make sure that you're reaching out to those individuals that you're spending time with. We can get so lost in the stressors. Even if it is a zoom meeting, just that being able to sit down and talk to others. Also, keep in mind that you want to ensure (because we can so get into talking about the stressors) not to focus on that during the entire conversation, but active listening during the conversation is essential. Active listening is when you go into a conversation with a completely open mind. Usually when we have conversations we're concerned about that potential lull in the conversation, so we're thinking about what we're going to say next. If you go into a conversation with active listening, you’re just truly listening to that person, so you're just taking it in and might rephrase a little bit.

Then an interesting activity is to think of a question for that person that you truly do not know the answer for. That will deepen that conversation, so take that time and that will foster also random acts of kindness. Just doing something nice for a stranger, nothing in return. You never know what relationships could come out of there. I also made up one, somebody else probably did before me, random acts of connection. So the idea that you touch base with somebody who you haven't touched base with for a while and maybe it doesn't go anywhere.

You make that connection and you never know where that could go. So lots of recommendations in there.

Elizabeth Hammer: Thank you. I love the concrete recommendations, and I hope that, for those of you who are listening, one or two of them might be something that you can latch onto that might really help you as we continue to get through this uncertain semester. I wanted to use the random act of connection. One thing, I have a colleague and a friend whose parents work for the post office, and so he's feeling really passionate about supporting the post office during this time. One thing he did is for a bunch of friends, some of them who know each other some of them who don't, he put out this Google doc and said, “add your address, and let's all buy stamps, let’s all send postcards to each other. Let's use the post office.” It’s been interesting because I participated in that, and it did feel like okay, wow, I would never have gotten in touch with this person if I didn't see them at a conference, and then other people I’m like, “I don't know you, but hey, hope it's going well.”

Little things like that, so thank you for those concrete examples.

As we are getting close to our time here, I wonder, did you have anything else that you want to say about fostering it, you kind of mentioned fostering for ourselves and things we can do. What about fostering it for our students? Is there anything we can do, recognizing right now, that our students are going through a lot? We're going through a lot and we're adults who expect to be going through things. I wonder if you have anything to say about how we can help our students this semester?

Lisa Schulte: One thing pops into mind and I'll explain it. See them. To see them for the whole person that they are, and this is related to a piece of the active listening. Hear them. Meet them where they are. That idea of empathy and understanding that students, you know you're talking to somebody (I won't say my age) much older than students. They're really young adults. This is new for them. Envision all that's going on culturally with COVID, with trying to come to your own. Just take the time to listen. Hear them out, and also realize that they're going to stumble, a little bit. They are young adults, patience with them and more patience that recognizing that as faculty your patience is going to be stressed, so dig deep. Dig as deep as you can for the patience for those students because they're going through a lot too.

Elizabeth Hammer: They sure are, and I love that “dig deep.” The break is right around the corner, it’ll be here before you know it. Lisa, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate you sharing your expertise with me and with others.

Lisa Schulte: Oh, you're very welcome. My pleasure.

Elizabeth Hammer: If you've liked what you've heard today and you want to keep up with our program, please subscribe to the series and by all means rate and review us on iTunes, Google Play, or the platform of your choice.

Transcribed by Maya Madise.

About Bart Everson

Creative Generalist in the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development at Xavier University of Louisiana

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