Facebook
Edutopia on Facebook
Twitter
Edutopia on Twitter
Google+
Edutopia on Google+
Pinterest
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

Unleashing the Power of Positivity in Your School

Donna Wilson, Ph.D.

Author of Positively Smarter, Smarter Teacher Leadership, Developer of Graduate Programs in Brain-Based Teaching, and Professional Developer
PrintPrint
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

Editor's note: This post is co-authored by Marcus Conyers who, with Donna Wilson, is co-developer of the M.S. and Ed.S. Brain-Based Teaching degree programs at Nova Southeastern University.

A positive community of educators within a school has a powerful effect on the students who learn there. Individually, teachers contribute to that positive environment by exhibiting and modeling an optimistic outlook and can-do attitude. An understanding of the role that emotions play in learning can lay the foundation for positive and productive interactions with students, colleagues, administrators, and parents. As neuroscientist Richard Davidson explains in his book The Emotional Life of Your Brain, "Emotion works with cognition in an integrated and seamless way to enable us to navigate the world of relationships, work, and spiritual growth."

Enhancing Your Practical Optimism

In a previous post, we explored the benefits of teaching students to adopt an attitude of practical optimism as they learn. This outlook is also key for educators in our professional practice. The concept of practical optimism combines the commitment to plan and execute the steps needed to achieve one's goals with a positive outlook that success is possible. A variety of strategies may useful in enhancing your practical optimism, in sharing this approach with colleagues, and in encouraging students to persist in the sometimes hard work required for learning.

Stay focused on the "upside."

This is possible when you commit to actions and emotions that are useful and positive. A negative attitude is neither. Attend to the completion of tasks that help solve problems and move you closer to accomplishing your goals. Celebrate each small achievement along the way. And especially when your emotional batteries need recharging, choose to spend time with people, in places, and in activities that make you feel happy, refreshed, and rejuvenated.

Express gratitude.

Saying thank you is not just good manners but also offers a path to better emotional health and stronger collegial relationships. Professors at the University of California - Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center share a growing body of research that expressing sincere gratitude:

  • Lessens feelings of social isolation
  • Increases joy and optimism
  • Enhances acting with more generosity and compassion
  • Improves physical health

Consciously recognizing all of the people and interactions that you appreciate and expressing those feelings can boost your mood and pass that positivity along to others.

Regularly commit small acts of kindness.

Lending a hand to an overworked colleague, paying a specific and heartfelt compliment, bringing vegetables from your garden to share -- all of these are examples of charitable actions that spread the wealth of positivity. Acts of kindness lift the recipients' spirits and have the boomerang effect of enhancing your own feelings of well-being and positivity. In a study where participants were asked to reflect on their feelings after engaging in acts of kindness, many people reported feeling happier and more content.

Be mindful of your emotional state.

Researchers recently enrolled thousands of participants in a study via their cellphones and checked in with them at random moments about their thoughts and feelings. The surprising conclusion of the study was that when people allow their minds to wander, they tend to drift toward worries and negative thoughts. To avoid that pessimistic default, notice when you are feeling gloomy and consciously redirect your thoughts into more positive territory. Instead of cycling through everything that might go wrong, stay focused on what you love about teaching and what you can do to improve the learning environment in your school and classroom.

Give your brain and body a positive workout.

A brisk walk over the lunch hour and a regular exercise routine before and/or after the school day can relieve stress and provide health benefits and a refreshing endorphin boost.

Infuse positive feelings into your surroundings.

Arrange your classroom to take advantage of a pleasant view. Make sure that you get outside regularly for some fresh air. Avoid joining negative conversations about your school, administrators, colleagues, students, or parents.

A Deliberate Effort

These kinds of everyday activities can improve your outlook about yourself and your abilities, which can help motivate you and fuel continued progress toward the attainment of your personal and professional goals.

Incorporate these strategies into your routine for one week, and then reflect on what changes you notice in your outlook, attitude, and interactions with others. In our own experience of employing these ideas, we find that we enjoy more positive emotions and a higher sense of purpose and productivity. Much like developing the skills and knowledge that you need to advance as a teacher, becoming more optimistic entails deliberate effort. And as with maintaining other competencies, sustaining a positive outlook may require a practical maintenance routine of being mindful about the good things in life, in you, in your work, and in students, colleagues, and administrators.

Was this useful? (3)

Comments (11) Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Conversations on Edutopia (11) Sign in or register to comment

Donna Wilson, Ph.D.'s picture
Donna Wilson, Ph.D.
Author of Positively Smarter, Smarter Teacher Leadership, Developer of Graduate Programs in Brain-Based Teaching, and Professional Developer

Hi Martin,

We are glad our post spoke to you. Marcus and I have found that many teachers find this a fascinating and useful topic!

Best to you in your teaching!

Donna

Micheal's picture

Really good advice. The power of positivity is somewhat undervalued in education, but hopefully this wins it a bit more attention!

Donna Wilson, Ph.D.'s picture
Donna Wilson, Ph.D.
Author of Positively Smarter, Smarter Teacher Leadership, Developer of Graduate Programs in Brain-Based Teaching, and Professional Developer

Michael, we could not agree with you more. Positivity helps lead to greater motivation and student learning.

Best to you!

Donna

Breanna's picture

Donna,
Thank you for sharing this perspective on teaching. I need to be reminded from time to time about the importance of creating a positive environment within both your classroom and your school. I love the idea of being mindful of your attitude around students and colleagues. I want to share a smile instead of a frown :). Thanks for sharing!
Breanna

Donna Wilson, Ph.D.'s picture
Donna Wilson, Ph.D.
Author of Positively Smarter, Smarter Teacher Leadership, Developer of Graduate Programs in Brain-Based Teaching, and Professional Developer

Breanna,

You make a good point. Positivity should be a part of both classroom and school plans. It is important for students to learn in a hopeful, realistic and positive environment where they are supported to learn and achieve. Furthermore, educators deserve to have a positive environment in which to work at the school level. For more strategies on positivity consider reading our latest book, Positively Smarter, recently out with Wiley.

Sincerely,

Donna

Tricia McIntosh's picture

Thank you for this post. Many of my memorable classes were from teachers who were kind or who had a pleasant attitude. Friendliness made learning so much easier and enjoyable even when the assignments were hard. Knowing that my teacher cared about the product I was creating, made me put my best effort into my work.

When I teach my adult learners, I make sure to start with a smile or try to make a friendly comment when they enter my class. Students like being acknowledged, and a teacher's positive attitude can be contagious. Also, when someone is having a bad day, taking a few minutes to listen sends the message that they are welcome in the class regardless of the baggage they carry.

Donna Wilson, Ph.D.'s picture
Donna Wilson, Ph.D.
Author of Positively Smarter, Smarter Teacher Leadership, Developer of Graduate Programs in Brain-Based Teaching, and Professional Developer

Tricia,

Thank you for your post! Having a positive environment for learning is important across the life span and various contexts.

Sincerely,

Donna

Ali Henke's picture

I enjoyed reading this blog post about the power of positivity. I also believe that creating positive relationships and reciprocal trust with your students is a great way to promote a positive learning environment. Being cognizant of how you treat others, from the janitor to students to the Principal, students are constantly watching your actions and whether they realize it or not, they are making judgments about your personality. I believe that Principals have a huge responsibility to be positive examples to students and staff members.

Sincerely,
Alexandra

Donna Wilson, Ph.D.'s picture
Donna Wilson, Ph.D.
Author of Positively Smarter, Smarter Teacher Leadership, Developer of Graduate Programs in Brain-Based Teaching, and Professional Developer

Hi Ali,

We agree that the principal has a very important role to play in creating a positive environment in schools. When principals support teachers and students by leading for practical positive relationships and classrooms, all people within the school win!

Thanks for sharing!

Sincerely,

Donna

Josh Hoff's picture

I enjoyed reading this article as it deepened my understanding of the importance of keeping a can-do attitude! I find more power being the person who infuses the positive feelings in my school. Doing so, you create a positive learning environment that promotes student learning learning. Keep a positive mindset!

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.

Join the movement for change