Have you ever had that experience when you feel really positive and suddenly when you look in the mirror your reflection is way more attractive to you?
In fact, anything you reflect on – relationships, work, professional path – seems better. You feel competent and ready to take on the world. Wouldn’t it be great to feel like that everyday? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if your brain’s default was to see the world’s potential rather than its obstacles? What person doesn’t want a more positive brain? What educator wouldn’t want a whole classroom full of brains that look on the bright side and function more successfully? There may just be a way to make that happen – and in just 21 days.
Recently, I spent time on the east coast reconnecting with family and friends and one of those fabulous friends shared a TED talk with me about happiness. Shawn Achor was a Harvard professor who studies, writes about and lectures on positive psychology. He created a 12 minute TED talk that is funny, engaging, provocative and useful. All that in just 12 minutes! Although the title is “The happy secret to better work”, I believe it would be fairly easy to implement in a classroom and could be a very effective way to create a positive classroom environment.
In his talk, Shawn Achor explains that it is the way you see the world that shapes your reality and that “if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.” He goes on to say that if your positive brain looks at the world through a positive lens, “Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise.” The science behind this phenomenon, he explains, is that being positive causes dopamine to flood your system and turns on all the learning centers in your positive brain. What teacher doesn’t want that for her/his students?
Now that I’ve made the sales pitch, here are the 5 things that Shawn Achor suggests you do daily for 21 days in order to train your psoitive brain to be more positive and my ideas on how they could be implemented in the classroom.
1. Write down 3 NEW things every day for which you are grateful.
What a wonderful quiet journal activity to start the day!
2. Journal about one positive thing that happened over the course of the day.
What a wonderful activity to end the day! Students could write in that same journal or students could partner up and share a positive experience from the school day, reliving that positive experience and getting more bang for the buck! Not only that, but the listener gets to hear a positive story as well increasing the ratio of positive to negative things heard over the course of a day.
Perhaps your school already has students in PE (or even dance) daily. If not, work some movement into the school day. It could be as easy as having students bring in their favorite music to dance to and having a freeze dance once a day.
Call it quiet time or reflection time. What if the students created a series of movements to represent how to help them be ready to learn and performed these movements before they sat down to write the 3 things for which they were grateful? Even having just 5 minutes of quiet time following the movement ritual for the students to center and write their short but novel gratitude list, could prepare them in a whole new way for starting the day.
5. Conscious acts of kindness.
Shawn Achor suggests writing a positive email of praise or thanks every day to someone new. What if the students received the name of a student each day and in the course of that day, they were tasked with doing something kind for that other student? It could be a note of encouragement, praise or thanks. Or that could be just the beginning. Maybe the challenge is to find several different ways to be kind to that other student throughout the day.
As you plan for this new school year and think about how best to foster a community of learners, consider helping yourself and your students train their positive brain to be more positive and therefore more productive and more creative. With students focused on what is going well, finding ways to help another student and noticing things for which to be grateful, the emotional environment could be one that is more supportive of learning and creative thinking. Time to train the positive brain!
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.