Is it Friday yet?
In the teaching profession all I hear, and have heard for the past 14 years, is “is it Friday yet”? Teachers seem to spend much of their life wishing it away – looking to the weekend, or the next break so they can really enjoy life. Many teachers talk about the job being a struggle, a thankless job, too stressful, ridiculous workloads and so on. Many teachers talk as if they hate their jobs and wish they had chosen a different career path. Many believe the hours and hours of marking they are expected to do is unmanageable. Many of them get sucked into the negative talk tirade that is poisoning our education system on a daily basis. Why is this? These people are educated people who have had a calling into this profession, many believe. Yet the minute they set foot into it they jump onto the band wagon of negativity. I believe the teaching profession would benefit from some gratitude practice, some optimistic and hopeful thinking, some resilience and positive talk. Imagine it for a moment.
Optimism, Gratitude and Hope
If a teachers day was filled with optimism and hope and they became grateful for all the good things that happened in their day how much more would they enjoy their jobs? There are so many amazing teachers out there who work tirelessly for your children to make sure they learn, develop as young people, learn how to be good citizens and make the necessary progress while in their class yet how often do these amazing teachers actually stop and focus on the positives of their job. The reasons they entered into the profession in the first place.
The Science of Happiness
I started teaching a year 12 and 13 group of students ‘The Science of Happiness’ as part of their enrichment programme 4 weeks ago (it is a 12 week programme). There are 18 students in the group and they all opted for this programme to my delight. This is the first time my school has ran a ‘Science of Happiness’ programme but each week the students focus on another scientifically proven way to improve their happiness and wellbeing. In week 1 students completed the VIA Strengths test and found out about their top 5 strengths. In week 2 we practiced mindful walking and in week 3 we practiced various mindfulness meditation practices and they were introduced to Headspace. This week however, we focused on gratitude practice and this lesson really engaged students and I felt the atmosphere in the room changed throughout the course of the lesson. The positive emotion could be felt in the room as students stopped to appreciate what they were grateful for. This got me thinking. I know the students I teach every day would benefit from gratitude practice but this experience made me stop and think about the teachers in the school and the impact this could have on their levels of happiness and wellbeing.
The Impact of Positive Emotion
As a teacher how often do you sit down and count your blessings? How often do you stop and pay attention to the little things that happen in your day and realise the enormous impact you are having on these young people’s lives. Sometimes we teachers forget how much of a privilege it is to teach – to have a daily audience of young people who need us and hang of our every word. Young people who look up to us and many who want to be just like us one day. How much better would your teaching be if you were in a positive frame of mind? If you were experiencing positive emotion?
According to Fredrickson and Losado people need a Positivity Ratio of 3:1 or better to flourish in life meaning for every negative experience we have to experience 3 positive emotions in order to maintain positive affect. Unfortunately it seems only around 20% of the population achieve this ratio. However, once we understand the ratio we can pay more attention to the positive and even have an impact on the positive emotion just by changing our thought patterns and where we pay our attention. Fredrickson believes that people who achieve this 3:1 ratio experience the effects of what she calls broaden and build – the upward spiral people experience when good feelings enable individuals to think and act in a different way. Research suggests that people who achieve the 3:1 ratio become more caring, kind and generous and are more dedicated. As a result their thoughts and insights are clearer, more creative and they become more perceptive and so the upward positive spiral continues as people achieve more success and the good feelings they experience continues to build.
Be the change you want to see in the world
Yet all too often teachers are sucked into the negatives of the job and as a result can enter into a negative spiral and the negative emotions take hold. We all sometimes need to be reminded of the positives of our chosen career. We want our teachers to flourish and to be at their best when they teach our children. We want our teachers to enjoy their jobs and thrive because we understand this will enable our children to also thrive in life. If we pay attention to the positives, no matter how small they may be, and learn not to dwell on the negatives, teaching could become the profession it should be; a privilege, a joy, an adventure, where we have it in our power to influence and shape young people’s lives. So, no matter what your job may be next time you feel yourself getting sucked into the negative spiral stop and change the conversation, ask your colleagues to tell you something good about their day and see how the emotion (and conversation) changes. One of my favourite quotes is ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ (Mahatma Ghandi) and this moto reminds me daily not to follow the pack but to do it my way and to be the change
About the Author: Katie Small graduated with a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of East London in 2014. Katie’s passion is to teach teenagers about the power of positive psychology and how it can enable human beings to thrive. Katie is an Assistant Principal at Liverpool Life Sciences UTC.