Want to take a test? Of course you do! It’s the 21st century in education; testing is all the rage.
The test is simple. As you read this post, make a note of every word you read that rhymes with “YELLOW” (Feel free to write your words down as you see them). At the end of the post, you will be assessed on your observation skills.
In the meantime, consider a couple mentalities a teacher might have:
A) These kids are driving me crazy. I knew that they were going to be annoying yesterday, and sure enough, they were. I bet today students are going to roll in late, sit like a bunch of slugs and be rude any time I ask them to do something. Don’t even get me started on all the ways I’ll get interrupted as I teach; it’s like a flippin’ circus here.
B) I’m going to have some fun today. True, some students will look at me like a freak but—meh—I’ll still have fun. I believe they’ll perform well today also. I mean, we’re not talking Freedom Writers performance, but better than yesterday. I can handle mellow rather than raucous. It’s going to be a good day.
Which of these two classes will have more student annoyances—more interruptions, more disruptions? The answer: I don’t know and neither do you. For all we know, they could be the same … Maybe class B is worse. But that’s not the real question.
In which of these two classes will the teacher be more annoyed? This question we could probably answer with some confidence. Teacher A is probably going to hate his/her life more than teacher B. Why?
Because you notice what you look for in life.
Confirmation Bias. The Tetris Effect. Both these concepts are critical for us to understand. In short, by priming our brains to focus on a certain type of stimuli, we increase it’s ability to find such stimuli. And we are more apt to focus our perception on our existing beliefs (e.g., I already think Kurt is a jerk, so I’ll notice his jerk-like tendencies more often). Relatedly, in noticing one type of details, we may miss another entirely.
In case you want a “video break,” here’s a great example:
We notice what we look for, and we may miss important details in the process.
How often do teachers go into an experience expecting the worst? We meet with an administrator or dean lookingfor him or her to criticize our teaching. We conference with parents looking for them to blame us for their child’s ills. We surge our blood pressure looking for those mean punks in third hour to terrorize our souls. We draw our mental weapons, ready to duel the educational trainer or consultant who comes to our meetings. What kind of idiot are they sending us today? I bet they haven’t taught my students at my grade level in my classroom in my district in my space-time continuum.
This isn’t to say that we aren’t going to face criticism from admin, blame from parents, terror from teens or consultant hocus-pocus from time to time. But are we also looking just as hard for the good in our colleagues, communities and classes?
Let’s check in: Have you been noticing those words rhyming with “yellow”? Keep looking.
Before your test, here are seven ways we can foster and teach more positive perceptions.
1. Do Some Positive Prep
Before your next meeting, training or conference, set a goal of finding and writing down X number of positives that are helping the education of your students. Maybe it’s a caring colleague who has never lost her passion for teaching, even after 40 years. Maybe it’s an idea that could help minimize interruptions. Compete with a fellow colleague to see who can find the most positives.
2. Hand Out Goodness Awards
Make a weekly/monthly goal to bestow a “Goodness Award” to someone (staff member, student, etc.). Be sure to explain why that person has demonstrated a certain quality or goodness. Bonus: Between meetings, the current award holder must find the next award recipient.
3. Seek Daily Gratitudes
At a habituated time each day, write down three things for which you are grateful. Clearly identify why you are fortunate for each thing. Be sure to check out some of theresearch on the short- and long-term effects of this practice. To stoke your inner techy, you can even use apps like Gratitude365 to hold you accountable. For more, consult the guru of gratitude, Dr. Robert Emmons of UC Davis.
4. Avoid the Downers in the Teacher’s Lounge
I’m sure you can think of at least a couple fellow teachers who always have some gripe-of-the-century to bellow at anyone in earshot (find them in their natural habitat: the teacher’s lounge). If you’re feeling particularly mopey, it may be worth avoiding these folks for a bit. If you can’t (or shouldn’t) avoid these people, be extra vigilant in looking for the good qualities in each person. Remember: If you go into a conversation looking for someone to be negative, you will find it. Or make a note to do one positive for your students or staff for every one gripe or excessive complaint a downer says.
5. Conspire to Inspire
Create positive conspiracies. Place a student’s favorite candy bar on his/her desk before class begins. Enlist your class to give a fellow teacher random high-fives throughout the day. Mail a positive, thankful note to a parents about their student. Most importantly, do these random acts of kindness anonymously so that the recipient doesn’t know who initiated it. The anonymity will require the recipient to see everyone as a potential source of positivity.
6. Kick-Start With Mood Boosters
Say hello to a brighter day or meeting by starting each session with positive shares. Students write compliments to hand one another (or place in a box to be reviewed and distributed later). Staff share “great moments” they’ve had that day or week before getting on to the learning or business. Parents must list three things they like about their child before commencing with the conference. Play an inspiring or hilarious video or read a positive news story in the morning.
7. Teach Tetris Effect Thinking
Ask students to take a mental note of every yellow thing they see in the next week. Make sure that students know their “observation skills will be assessed” by listing what they see. Remind them to look for the yellow each day. On assessment day, have them list out all the green things they have seen in the last week. After they spaz out and throw things at you in disbelief, explain the concept of “seeing what you look for.” Lead a discussion on the benefits of seeking positive observations—with their peers, with their classes and with their daily lives. Note:Please don’t actually grade students on their observations. If you do so, you deserve to have things thrown at you—and for them to hit the target.
With that, it’s time for your test:
List out all the words you noticed that rhyme with GREEN.
I’m sure you took great note of all the words rhyming with YELLOW (there were four). But did you miss the words rhyming with GREEN (there were also four)?
You notice what you look for in life.
It’s important to note that there are still times in which criticism and judgment are necessary in education. Not every complaint is misguided. Not every day will be a Mary Poppins sing-along. Unrealistic optimism can be just as much—if not more—counterproductive to education as excessive pessimism. In only looking for positives, we may actually miss serious issues like bullying or violence.
Has the scale been tipped too far to the negative? Are we constantly setting ourselves up to only see the malice in every moment? Can we do more to find the goodness in every day, every student, every colleague and every part of our community?
Look for the green. You’ll find it. And you’ll love it.