Top 4 Tips on How Teachers Can Build Realistic Optimism this Year

As human beings, we tend to give more importance to negative experiences than to positive or neutral experiences. You are not alone, it’s our nature to fixate on bad news, a phenomenon known to psychologists as negativity bias. Sometimes we can’t help but focus on the negative even when they are insignificant compared to other positive instances. Why don’t we focus on having optimism?

Schools have been under enormous pressure to ensure that education for the students had as little disruption as possible when the Covid-19 outbreak began. Now that schools have been operating normally again, it is more important now than ever for school leaders to ensure the welfare of their students. Helping your students to be optimistic helps them to conquer obstacles and face any challenges in the future. Promoting realistic optimism in the classroom helps them to have positive role models. You and your fellow teachers can do this. Promoting optimism includes encouraging positive self-talk, encouraging your students to try out something new, teaching them to help others and appreciate them, and seeking joy even if they feel they can’t find it. 

4 Ways to Promote Optimism in the Classroom

1. Positive Reframing 

Positive reframing involves thinking about a negative or challenging situation in a more positive way. This could mean coming up with benefits or the upside to a negative situation that you may have overlooked. Alternatively, it can also involve identifying a lesson to be learned from a difficult situation. 

positive reframing in the classroom

Teachers can challenge students to seek positive ways of evaluating an event. A student who received bad grades for a certain subject or did not win a recent competition may feel let down. Seize the opportunity by promoting the perspective that they did well in the other subjects and participating in the competition is actually great preparation for better future performance. You can reframe any failure or unpleasant event as a positive. As the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining.

2. Selective Focus

Instead of focusing on the bad, teach students to focus primarily on thoughts and events that lead to action-oriented solutions. This may sound similar to Positive Reframing but that is when you can’t change the incident. Like not winning in a contest or getting bad grades on a past test. Selective focus is when you still have the chance to turn the ship around and make things better. Instead of focusing on the unfortunate event, shift the focus to thinking about ways to improve the situation.

how teachers can promote optimism

For instance, the class organized a picnic but suddenly it started raining heavily. This then cancels the outdoor picnic. If you are adopting positive reframing in the situation, you would think things like, “I need to be sure to check the weather forecast next time.” different from selective focus where you are actively thinking of ways to still carry on with the picnic but an alternative indoor venue. 

3. Preventing Catastrophizing

Catastrophizing is when an individual assumes that the worst will happen. It often involves thinking and believing that you’re in a worse situation than you really are or “exaggerating” the difficulties you face. For example, a student might be worried that they will fail an exam. From there, they will start to think that failing an exam means they’re a bad student and bound to never pass, finish school, get a degree, or find a job. They might conclude that this means they’ll never be financially stable and will become a disappointment to the family. It’s easy to dismiss catastrophizing as over-exaggeration, but it’s not as simple as it seems. Often times it is not intentional and people who do it don’t realize they’re doing it. They are so absorbed in the situation and may feel they have no control over their worries.

how teachers can help students be more optimistic

It is important that teachers try to avert these thoughts whenever possible. Students can be afraid their feelings will be brushed off. Teachers can help to show empathy. By understanding first, they can help students to be proactive and lead them to be unstuck. Any little steps to help solve the problem. Reassurance is also a crucial aspect of following through with this strategy.

4. Stop and Smell the Coffee

There’s an expression in neuroscience: Neurons that fire together wire together. This means that new patterns of thought can change the physiology of our brains. So while we can’t ignore bad news, we can train our brains to become more alert to good information. When you notice a positive detail in yourself or someone else, or your environment, try savoring it for at least ten seconds. Most of these observations will be as simple as ‘the sun is shining’ or ‘this coffee tastes good,’ but do this a handful of times each day and you’ll feel an emotional shift.” —Rick Hanson, Ph.D., neuropsychologist.

stop and smell the coffee

At the end of a school day, if teachers pivot on a singular instance that did not go so well compared with the many events that did go well, they are exhibiting negativity bias. Adopting the four strategies we discussed earlier would be helpful to combat this bias. 

All in all, you must put extra effort into truly valuing all the good and positive aspects of your life. It helps you to not be overcome by the negative. Even when you are facing a multitude of objectively negative situations, you can try to appreciate the positive aspects of your life, regardless of how small they may be.

As leaders, in any industry, for that matter, setting a good example is important to building optimism. Modeling this mindset and attitude at school would be an excellent example for your students as they learn best by example. Optimism is a learnable skill, having caring and supportive educators can shift students’ perspectives toward life and its trials. When students develop more optimistic views of the challenges they experience daily, they’re building resilience for the future and creating positive expectations for positive outcomes in their lives.

If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.

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