Start with this “P”

It was Sunday night around 11:00 p.m. and I was checking some Twitter comments and chats that were happening.  I came across a chat that had just ended called, #boldschool.  It’s not one that I’d be on before, but the topic they had been covering was around “positivity” in schools and the classrooms. I immediately started to post responses to some of the questions, while also reading many of the amazing answers that other individuals had given.  It struck me that earlier that night, a chat that I run every Sunday night, called #teachpos was talking about being motivated and how we help students and colleagues to be motivated in school.  The similarities were so spot on, that it convinced me to do a blog post about the power of positivity in our classrooms and schools.

Positivity in our classrooms and schools isn’t an option.  As educators at any level, our ability to bring and maintain a positive attitude contributes greatly to how students feel, respond and learn in our class.  We can always debate the powers that contribute to how students perform in schools.  But, it seems reasonable to conclude that a teacher who is positive, both with their actions and words will at the very least help students to feel welcome and happy. Also, and I’d say even more importantly, a teacher who exudes a constant aura of positivity, leads students to follow in their footsteps.  If this seems like a stretch, just think about when you’ve watched smiling and happy kids or teens in class.  We know that their enthusiasm wasn’t happening because their teacher was miserable and uptight.  Rather, it was at least in part (and I’d go further to say a large part) because of the energy and upbeat attitude that the teacher was modeling.

Before providing some ideas on how to bring that positive energy to class, I’ll readily admit that all of us have those tough moments.  It’s completely reasonable to have times where either outside influences or even stuff in school affects our positivity meter. As a person who tries every day to be positive, I recall when my dog Izzy, (our 16-year-old Golden Retriever) had to be put down.  The next day, many of the students mentioned that I seemed a “little off” as they put it.  Instead of disregarding their feelings, I told them that my dog had passed away and it’s tough when you’ve lost a pet that was part of your family.  Not only were the students receptive to my response, many were empathetic because they’d been through the same kind of trauma before.  Again, while we all will have difficult days, it’s imperative that we’re open and honest with our students.  In times when our positivity isn’t what they’re used to seeing, we can explain why and how it’s affecting us.

Positivity is a choice – Each of us, as I mentioned above has a different positivity meter that carries us through our day.  No two people are alike, and it’s understandable to think that being positive or negative is just who we are.  But, in the vast majority of people, it really comes down to how we want students to view us in the class.  The great thing about making positive habits part of your class is just how incredibly easy it is, and the benefits they cause for everyone.  Here are four easy ways to be positive with your students:

  • Greet them at the door.  It’s a no-lose situation and will immediately promote a positive message.
  • Chat with them as they enter the class.  This offers a chance to get to know students on a personal level before instruction has started.
  • Have a positive word of the day!  Words like: proud, happy, dedicated, kind, respectful, friendly, and my personal favorite: genuine, are all ways to spread a positive outlook
  • Use reminder notes for students.  This is a great way to get kids and yourself thinking positive thoughts.  Just take a post-it note for the week and have students fill up the note with at least one “happy” thing that either going to happen or has happened during the day.  I love doing this for myself as well!

Be a note taker – Many of us have lesson plans for class and guidelines for how a particular unit should be taught.  I personally still use the Green (old as dirt) lesson plan book.  I love technology, but there is something to be said for just writing stuff down.  But truth be told, up until rather recently, I’d ponder briefly about things, and maybe jot down some reflective ideas when something either went really well or really poorly.  But more often than not, most of the time, the daily instruction would be in and out of my head just as quickly as it came in.  About 5 years ago, I began teaching mostly in the classroom.  I decided to spend 1 semester writing down at least a sentence or comment about every single class.  Even if it is was just, “class went well.”  Initially, those little notes became gratifying reminders on the impact positive lessons had on students.  It also gave me clarity on those times where I didn’t rise to the level of positivity that I’d done previously.  I’m not suggesting you write a paragraph all the time or even some of the time.  As a matter of fact, I only do that at the end of the day to summarize the entire day’s worth of class.  Even just a sentence can make a huge difference.  For example, “so glad that lesson went well, the kids really enjoyed our class”, is a prime example of a quick comment that helps us to remember the importance of positive reflection.

Start to finish – I’m a huge believer in the importance of the beginning and end of class.  They say when you go on an interview, your body language, tone and the words you use either eliminate your immediately or give you a chance for greatness.  The same holds true for class!  I mentioned about some of the key things for entering the room, but it’s just as important to finish strong, with a genuinely positive message.  As a point of reference, have you ever heard students complaining about the previous class they came from?  I know that older students are notorious for these types of outbursts.  While I feel really bad that they aren’t coming in happy, it always gives me pause as to what could have been done differently to stop that from happening.  For brevity’s sake, it’s really just being mindful.  If the class was challenging for students, giving them a minute to chat and unwind can be a huge difference maker.  Also, simply doing a brief reflection with a positive message can raise their spirits.  Again, ending strong helps your colleagues as students transition to their class, and leaves them inspired when they come back the next time.

Bringing positive energy to our classes and schools is transformative in nature.  That’s truly not an exaggeration.  When you see students and staff that are happy, smiling and positive the impact can change the culture of your school and even the community at large.  So when you enter the class, smile, say “hi” and spread positivity to all around you.  You’ll be happy with the results!

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