The Positivity Advantage

I find it quite ironic that I had just finished reading ‘The Happiness Advantage’ by Shawn Achor when I end up having another mental health crash myself.  Resilience isn’t my strongest point but I have been learning for the past 25 years, (along with medication input) to manage failure, to not take failure personally, to learn and to make it a positive experience rather than all-encompassing negativity.  So here I am writing my next blog about the power of positivity when all I really want to do is hide for a while and make it all go away!  Perhaps you can also see the irony…?

Our interactions with people are affected not only by our own emotions be they positive, negative or non-descript, but by the emotions of others. We pick up on the feelings of others and respond subconsciously to them.  How many of you have come into a room full of miserable people and ended up going out deflated and miserable yourself?  This ‘affect’ can also work in a positive way.  If we say ‘thank you’ and express our gratitude to someone, this positive affect is passed on not only to that person whom we have thanked, but to the next people that they meet.  The positivity moves on three levels.  In our world of interconnectedness, if we paste one humourous or thankful post on Facebook, this positive affect touches not just the lives of our Facebook friends, but of their friends on Facebook as this ‘affect’ travels.

The same goes for our own children and the children we teach. Children and young people respond to positivity, trust and respect.  As Achor says,

“Cultivating positive brains makes us more motivated, efficient, creative and productive.”

So if we want the children in our class to be more creative, motivated and productive and consequently achieve higher standards, we should understand that “positive brains have a biological advantage over brains that are neutral or negative.”

We need to adjust our mind-set to one of positivity so we can achieve more and we can do this by retraining our brains to think positively and look for the positive aspects of children’s learning rather than focusing on the mistakes.

This takes time and practise but understanding that we can rewire out brains is essential.  If we surround ourselves with the negative aspects of teaching, the stress, the workload, the unwanted behaviours, then we will feed our brain negativity.  If we remain aware of these issues, but consciously focus on small moments of positive input, such as a smile, a child saying good morning, a focused child in our class, then we can retrain our brains, step by step, to be positive brains.

Looking at learning we can use the moments of apparent failure to develop our skills, and the skills of the children we teach.  We can regain control of our own positivity by focusing on small manageable goals.  You would not expect a child to achieve a complex task without breaking it down and the same goes for us when developing our own teaching strategies.   Finally, remember our social support network is of prime importance in supporting us to make these small manageable changes in our lives.

So here is a challenge to try: End each lesson and each day with 3 things you want to say thank you for, or maybe think of a child to whom you want to say thank you and why.   Look for the small, positive aspects of your day and acknowledge them out loud gratefully, someone making you a cup of tea, a child smiling as they finally understand what you are teaching, someone holding the door for you.  Little by little, you will notice a positive change both in yourself and in those around you.



The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor, Virgin Books, New York, 2011.









Positive Behaviour Strategies – Exercise for kids with ADHD.

My middle child has always been ridiculously active..even before he was born! Nothing has changed in the eleven years he has been running around, fighting with sticks (or logs!) in the woods, climbing trees, climbing walls, climbing fact, anything he can get a purchase on! (He is the one hanging upside down on the Outdoor Woodland Learning School facebook banner photo!)
I was once told by a teacher that the then DHT in his primary school had found Middle Child at the top of a tree…15m high.
My husband took our three children shopping while on a long weekend from school. For one reason or another Middle Child hadn’t done any exercise for two days. Husband came back saying he would never do this again…Middle Child had been climbing the walls…literally…both inside the shops and outside the shops. He had been climbing on lamp posts, he had climbed over our van and back in through the windows, he had even tried climbing up his Dad!
When he went for his dyslexia assessment, and yes, he is dyslexic as well, the first thing the internationally renowned educational psychologist said was that he was showing definite signs of ADHD…but Middle Child is reasonably successful in school.  His teachers have no issues with his concentration. When he does lose his focus, he can refocus himself.  He isn’t disruptive, he is quiet and polite….and I am very lucky to have such a great child.  
But I don’t believe it is purely luck.  We are an active family.  We run, we hike, we orienteer, we climb, in fact we spend a lot of time outside doing physical activities.  I have realised more and more that we are helping Middle Child to regulate his own ADHD symptoms by exercising him in the way you need to exercise a spaniel puppy!  Everyday we ensure he does something.  Recently he took up Sooyang Do a martial art.  He loves it.  The focus has been incredibly good for him and the exercise is fantastic.
The scientific evidence is now showing that exercise affects areas of the brain needed for self regulation.   Exercise can, in the case of ADHD and depression, compliment medication or even remove the need for it entirely as in the case of Middle Child.  John Ratey, American psychiatrist has written a book called ‘Spark’ showing the benefits and links of exercise and brain function, more specifically, ADHD.
The American journal ‘Paediatrics’ published a scientific report by Hillman et all on the effects of exercise and brain function.
Electrophysiological plots representing brain processing
capacity and mental workload (P3 amplitude) during
cognitive tasks that require executive control in children
in the experiment and control groups. Red represents
the greatest amplitude, and blue the lowest.
(Hillman et al, Pediatrics/The Atlantic)

I wonder if we allowed and encouraged kids to exercise more, if some of the discipline and concentration issues we face in schools would diminish? It doesn’t need to be huge amounts of time, just a few minutes when you see a child losing concentration, some star-jumps, a run twice round the playground as fast as you can, a bit of jogging on the spot in the classroom, a bit of brain gym at the beginning of the day…

We can all fit in a few minutes and if it benefits the children’s health and wellbeing, reduces class disruption and enables greater concentration, to not include it would be tantamount to rejecting the requirement to improve learning and teaching and thereby raise attainment.