Is it February 3rd Yet?

It’s a new year. A new semester. A new COVID.

But everything feels the same.  Actually, not the same, worse?  Omicron has made the past few weeks feel like a traumatic retelling of Groundhog Day, minus the quirky smalltown and love story.  This timeline is all Ned Ryerson.

2022 has been a real downer so far.  COVID cases are surging, highly anticipated events are being cancelled, and we are again being pushed into forced isolation.  We’ve been through this before, so why does it feel so much worse this time?

There are a confluence of factors contributing to our collective ennui.  The pandemic has dragged on for years.  We are at peak time for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  And generally, spring semester is just harder on our psyches than fall semester.  It’s even harder on our students: graduation chaos; stress over summer positions; and the honeymoon period of the fall is long gone, weeks of work and reading stare us down with only the respite of spring break to alleviate the stress. It all feels like a progression of days remarkably the same, but demanding more and more from us and our students.  The days are the same, but we feel worse as we repeat them with no real end in sight.

When faced with a never-ending repetition of the same circumstances in the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors progresses through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ model of the five stages of death and dying until he lands on acceptance and finally wakes up to a new day.  It is by changing his perspective and learning resilience that he finally changes his circumstances.  When he accepts he cannot change his external situation, only his internal response to it, Connors finally emerges on the other side.

The pandemic continues to rage, we can’t change that.  But we can develop resilience and teach it to our students.

There are many definitions for resilience, I favor this one from INEE, “Resilience refers to a process by which individuals in adverse contexts recover and even thrive.”  Simply put, resilience is our capacity to adapt.

Law school already demands a certain level of resiliency, the intellectual toll and time requirements of first year alone create a compressive stress which not all students can handle.  But if they can learn the techniques of resilience, these students go on to thrive: at summer jobs; in clinics; and even into practice.  There won’t always be a pandemic, but attorneys will always need to manage stressful situations, the emotional toll of client interactions, and work-life balance.  Teaching them strategies for resilience while in law school will develop the skills they need to prevail in life.

To some extent, students are already exhibiting resilience. They continue to show up and do the work.  They can identify the blessings in disguise of these difficult years.  In a preprint study of graduate students, a limited pool of participants were able to recognize positives that came from a semester within the pandemic and exhibited characteristics of resilience without external skills coaching.  Students interviewed as part of a study in the Netherlands indicated that what they needed from instructors was positive reinforcement and a greater emphasis on growth mindset. They needed their teachers to exhibit resilience.  However, resilience is not something we are born with, it is a skill honed over time.

So, how do we as instructors gain the power of resilience and how do we instill it in our students? 

We can endorse self-care and the power of failing well.  Failing well theory attempts to reframe the idea of “failing” and therefore change our perspective of ourselves and our lives when outcomes are not what we would consider optimal.  “The Best” becomes “The Best I Can Be” and then “The Best I Can Be in the Circumstances.”

We can follow the example of Professor Laura Reilly at the University of Buffalo, who begins each of her Legal Analysis, Writing and Research classes with a ten-minute lesson on resiliency.  Every class of the semester.  That might seem like a great deal of time devoted to something outside of routine instruction, but in the words of one of her students:

                “It serves no purpose if you can write a perfect twenty-page memo on an ideal day, if you can barely scrape together two words on days you are stressed. Why? Because law school and internships are one big ball of deadlines, imposter syndrome and long hours (I suspect being an attorney is the same), leaving little time to work in ideal mental conditions. Unfortunately, this means you need to be able to work even when everything else is working against you.”

Some keys strategies or topics Reilly recommends include:

  • Practice four-count (box) breathing.
  • Create self-affirmations.
  • Abandon the fiction of perfection.
  • Sleeping, eating and connecting with others gives us the energy and grounding to be resilient.
  • Reframe internal narratives, thinking, phrasing; i.e., “I get to go to law school,” instead of “I have to go to law school.”

We can explore the training materials of Nikita Gupta, Resilience Coach; her methods are thoughtfully explored by Tarica LaBossiere in this RIPS post from 2019.  Finally, we can practice kindness, as recommended by Ashley Arrington in this RIPS post from 2020.

Practicing kindness to others boosts our own resilience.  Remember, it wasn’t until Connors began to care for the lives of others, when he captured the pleasure of his same day life, that he was finally able to move on.  So yes, it feels like more of the same right now, but if we can care for ourselves and others, then maybe we can wake up to a new day tomorrow.

About lizmanriquez

My love for libraries borders on fanatical and I'm honored to have this space to indulge my interest. I received my B.A. in Economics from DePaul University, my J.D. from Chicago-Kent, and my M.L.I.S. from the University of Washington. Did I mention I love libraries?
This entry was posted in Career, Legal Research Instruction, Lifelong Learning, Productivity, student services, Teaching (general), Work/Life Balance and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Is it February 3rd Yet?

  1. Gerard Fowke says:

    Reblogged this on The Blackacre Times.

  2. Oooh, that is an interesting idea about teaching students about resiliency!

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