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.
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.
Understanding Realistic Optimism
Realistic optimism is not about viewing the world through rose-colored lenses. It’s about recognizing the hurdles in life while maintaining a hopeful perspective. This mindset enables teachers to persevere through difficulties, inspiring their students to do the same. Helping your students to be optimistic helps them to conquer obstacles and face more challenges in the future. Promoting realistic optimism by showing a positive attitude in the classroom helps them to have positive role models. Optimistic teachers tend to set higher expectations for themselves and their students, resulting in increased motivation and better outcomes.
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.
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. Seizing 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.
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.
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, 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.
Navigating School Life with Realistic Optimism
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 4 strategies mentioned above would be helpful to combat this bias. As leaders in schools, or any industry for that matter, setting a good example is important to building optimism. Optimism is a learnable skill, and having caring and supportive educators can shift students’ perspectives toward life and its trials.
Seeing the Silver Lining: The Power of Realistic Optimism
In a world where challenges and uncertainties are an inherent part of life, the power of realistic optimism shines like a beacon of hope. Optimism doesn’t mean ignoring the obstacles before us but rather, facing them with a resilient spirit and a hopeful heart. This mindset empowers us to navigate the complexities of life and teaching, inspiring not only our own perseverance but also lighting the way for the youth.
All in all, we must put extra effort into truly valuing all the good and positive aspects of our lives so that we are not overcome by the negative. Even when facing a multitude of objectively negative situations, we can always try to appreciate the positive aspects, regardless of how small they may be.
If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.