Collective resilience

April 1, 2021

By: Keara Kotten

Behind every resourceful woman is a support system of other resourceful women.

Many times the narrative of collaboration is lost in favor of highlighting a single hero. In particular, neglecting female interconnectedness perpetuates unnecessary competition among women. In striving to be the one who makes it, women can sometimes be pitted against one another. But working together unlocks an abundance of opportunities, resources, and solutions that could not be achieved alone. Center for Positive Organizations (CPO) professors Jane Dutton, Betsy Erwin, and Monica Worline demonstrate just this. The teaching trio celebrates its collective resilience throughout the past year, adapting to teaching under trying circumstances.

Dutton, Erwin, and Worline are co-instructors for the Center for Positive Organization’s Magnify Immersion Program. This course employs Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS) to empower students to create positive work environments, improve workplace culture, and discover untapped possibilities. The program was taught remotely for the first time in Spring 2020, and will be offered in a virtual format in Spring 2021 as well. The teaching team brings their enthusiasm, along with the essence of POS, to their virtual classroom; helping students discover new ways of being and doing in these difficult circumstances.

Although the transition to remote teaching and learning was new for many, Erwin, Dutton, and Worline had been primed with the necessary virtual skills. Erwin, who taught the online MBA course, reflects: “Adapting to remote teaching wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was figuring out how to be there for our students throughout everything else: the pandemic, acts of racial injustice, and natural disasters across the country.”

Grappling with how to best support and connect with students was a guiding question for the teaching team, as they reimagined their curriculum for the coming year. How could they confront the grief and loss students were feeling? How could they provide resources for other educators making the same transition? And how could these things be accomplished in a completely virtual environment?

“Teachers are always, if they choose to embrace it, healers and caregivers. It’s what you do when you are invited into the immensely privileged position of touching someone’s life. I think in some ways the pandemic cracked open everybody’s teaching practice and said: You have to change, and you have to change now. It opened up the space for all of us to support each other in different ways and create a community where people could be held and supported and loved through this tremendously difficult time.”

– Monica Worline

Dutton emphasizes the importance of creating something with the goal of giving it away for the betterment of society. It shifts the scarcity mindset that so many of us have to one of abundance. A scarcity mindset keeps us trapped in trying to be the one to accomplish something, or the hero in a narrative. It promotes individualism, competition, isolation. Rather, an abundance mindset acknowledges that many people can be working toward the same goal, and that working together will help everyone get there faster and yield more creative solutions. Dutton and Worline highlight the feminist stance on scholarship of “giving away” what they learn. It is the practice of sharing their findings, resources, and tools back with others through a variety of channels. It allows teachers to make the greatest impact possible in helping others grow. “In teaching, part of what you’re doing is giving information away so that the students can make the most of it and share back with you in ways you could never imagine,” says Worline.

“To create a thriving classroom, we wanted to equip faculty members around the world with tools to imagine how to do things differently. It wasn’t just about the students, it was also about trying to reignite faculty to see a different way of being, as teachers.

Give it away, give it away, give it away. Whatever we’re learning—give it away.”

– Jane Dutton

Designed and curated by Worline, the Thrive in Trying Times Teach-Out was a global conversation and week-long learning experience. The free lessons provided tools and practices to help people and organizations thrive while navigating the stress and uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Teach-Out embodies the philosophy of “giving away” resources.

Not only did the teaching trio share resources with other educators, they also were invaluable resources to each other. Dutton acknowledges the role that Erwin and Worline played in bringing out her abundance mindset. “One of the most joyous parts of my career has been collaborating with these amazing women and doing what we have done for such amazing students,” says Dutton. In particular, she credits Erwin and Worline for helping her develop her integrated self at work. An integrated self-identity is being able to embrace all parts of yourself, and bringing each of these parts together in a coherent way. “Bringing my whole person into the classroom, not just my academic person, has been incredibly freeing,” Dutton says.

And Erwin expresses gratitude for Dutton and Worline helping her expand the vision of what she believed was possible. Working with these women has given her the space to craft a job that is much more impactful than the one written down on paper. She has adapted her role to fit her unique self, and has found it to be “so much better for me, at my core, and so much better for the students.” Collaborating with Dutton and Worline has allowed her to grow, while also feeling trusted and challenged and supported.

“We grow in relation to other people,” says Worline. She acknowledges that not everyone has the luxury to collaborate. “It can be really lonely. A lot of people in lectureship and clinical practice are so burned out right now because they are having to do it alone.” Worline stresses the importance of finding the healing, positive relationships to get us through these difficult times. Working with people like Dutton and Erwin has made a huge difference in her capacity to engage in teaching and research. “It’s the reason that I’m doing this work at all,” says Worline.

This blog was written by Keara Kotten, a #UMSocial Intern and Michigan Ross Junior, and originally published on the University of Michigan’s Social Blog.