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.









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