Monday, January 5, 2015

Positivity is an Attitude we owe Ourselves and our Students

Day 5 of the Reflect and Renew Blog Challenge from Reflective Teacher @TeachThought 

Staying positive and sharing/encouraging that positivity in my students

When I woke up this morning I did what I normally do. No, not have breakfast, I checked Twitter etc to see what was happening in the world.  I was shocked and saddened to read that there had been another series of large earthquakes in my hometown, Christchurch.  Nearly every comment, however, showed a strong resilience, positive attitude and a sense of humour.  Goodness knows how most accomplish that given all they've been through.  Whenever someone was a bit 'down on it' there was generally someone there to add a lighthearted touch.

Then I started to read from some of my online teaching resources and pages I follow.  For many, today was back to school.  I felt incredibly saddened by some of the comments.  As I read through I noticed that it took only one or two negative comments to turn the tide of any positivity or excitement that was evident.  The threads soon became very negative and, in some cases, extremely concerning.  All I could think about was the students and the fact that some of their teachers were about to enter the classroom with some interesting thoughts in play.  I wondered why they were staying in the profession if they disliked it so much, and worse, if they disliked their students.  I wondered if it was just a case of 'back to work blues' that we all get from time to time.  Maybe, once they got there and saw their students, they'd be fine. Our students have a way of doing that.  I hope so anyway, but it got me thinking about positivity in line with today's prompt.  My thinking was not about judging or criticising, it was about wondering what had caused them to think this way because I'm sure they didn't start out in the profession with that mindset.  What are we doing to our profession that makes so many leave or so reluctant to go back into the classroom following a break or even after a year or two in the classroom?   Of course, this crazy wonderful profession is not for everyone and it does have frustrations and it's natural that some change their idea of what they want to do.  Am I just overthinking it?  Possibly not, as I've let this post circle in my head a while and, after reading some comments from teachers today, know that there is an issue and, if we're truly passionate about what we do, we can fix it but it won't be easy.

There are so many pressures on us as teachers and they vary depending on which country you are in.  Generally though, the paperwork, assessment and government expectations seem to be a consistent source of pressure or stress no matter where you are in the world.  So... how do we counteract that so that we, and our students, are able to maintain a positive mindset?  It's not easy and I'm definitely not positive all the time, even though I'm generally perceived to be.  I get just as frsutrated by many of the issues as the next teacher but I've changed how I think about things by always going back to focus on what my students and my colleagues need from me.

The culture of the school is key here and it comes from strong leadership.  The more you back your teachers, students, and all other staff, show them that they matter and support them no matter what, then the more positive the environment will be.  Given the aforementioned pressures, it is so easy for a negative mindset to creep in but that isn't going to help anyone, least of all our students, or ourselves.

So, here are my thoughts on how we create and maintain positivity in our learning and teaching environments...

1.  Keep students at the heart of what you do, and how you think.  
A great post came through this morning via Edutopia which summed up my thinking around this.

2.  Look for the benefits in what we do.
Yes what we do feels like it has unlimited frustrations at times but our students count on us to be there for them, to encourage and support them to be the best learners - and teachers - they can be.  We have to believe that there are more positives than negatives in this career.  Is that a bit of a Pollyanna approach?  Yes, it is and I know it frustrates people sometimes but I make no apologies.  I have a responsibility to find the good in situations and model that to my students and colleagues.  I'm heading into my 15th year of teaching and I'm still as excited about it as the first day I set foot in a classroom as a student teacher.  Do I have moments of wanting out?  Yes!  Most definitely.  They don't last long though.  I look at my students, even the more challenging ones (especially the more challenging ones??) and know that they have expectations of me as I have of them.  We're all in this together.  (I won't break out into a High School Musical song here, promise!)

3.  It's okay to vent.  In fact it's really healthy, but get into the mindset of having a positive solution or thought to the issue you're venting on.
This isn't easy, particularly if you're really wound up about something but the more you practice this, the easier it gets.  Trust me, I know from personal experience!  Look for positive solutions and ideas.  Ask for them.

4.  Know your colleagues and students as people with hopes, dreams, and interests outside of school.  Also know when they need extra support or a boost.
What we do is all about community.  Knowing that you're valued for your contributions to that community helps to create a positive environment.  Celebrate it!  Drop a positive appreciation note on a desk or table, etc. There are many ways to show this.  Remember to thank people for what they do - don't let contributions, no matter how small, go unnoticed.

5.  Fight the negativity.

6.  Stay true to yourself and remember why you became a teacher.  Try to hold on to that passion.  Set some goals and expectations for yourself.

Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher on Twitter) has written a post about making 2015 an epic year.  When I'm feeling any negativity creeping in I often read her posts.  She has to be one of the most passionate and enthusiastic colleagues on the planet!  

7.  Be open to, expect, and welcome change.
See it as an opportunity for your own, your colleagues and your students learning. We expect this of our students but not always of ourselves.  Seeing change as a learning opportunity and being open to it helps you become more positive about any negative aspects of it.  Often the perceived negative aspects disappear if you change your mindset.

Claire Amos (@ClaireAmosNZ on Twitter) has written a timely blog post on this subject - Reflections and Resolutions.  It appeared in my Twitter feed this morning.  Isn't it funny how, just when you're thinking hard about something the right information or, in this case, blog post comes along.  It's worthwhile reading and sharing with colleagues.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and, like all my thinking, it's bound to change and be adpated over time.  That's what learning's all about.

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