School Climate

Unleashing the Power of Positivity in Your School

Enhance your practical optimism through focusing on the upside, gratitude, small acts of kindness, emotional mindfulness, brain and body exercise, and positive surroundings.
Two young women are sitting in a classroom, one smiling widely.
Photo credit: University of the Fraser Valley via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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.