Teaching – the Power of Positivity

Background: I was asked to give a talk recently at a “teach meet” on a topic of my choice. I chose positivity, below is a rough summary of what I spoke about. Whilst it is aimed at teachers I think that a lot of the things I discussed are relevant for everyone. I hope you enjoy reading and take something positive away from this post ;).

So why positivity?

I have found that there is often a cloud of negativity surrounding our daily lives. It’s in the news, in the classroom, at home, amongst peers, in the staff room all of which seep into you. These days it is possible to get overwhelmed by negativity and allow it to rule your life, leading to anxiety, depression, lack of drive, poor quality of work, lack of ambition and general unhappiness. But it doesn’t have to be like this! If you become a more positive person in your personal life, your students will benefit. People commonly develop their IQ (intelligence quotient) through education/work/reading/watching videos… and also work on the PQ (physical quotient) in the gym/walking/running/sports… But people rarely spend time actively improving their emotional or spiritual wellbeing, both of which are hugely important as part of well rounded personal development.

I argue that taking time to train yourself to be more positive should be seen as an essential part peoples daily lives and an important element within teachers continuos professional development (CPD). Before I go any further it is useful to first understand why positivity is so important. (The following facts have been drawn from a number of online and offline sources including articles and research studies. )

Positivity in Teaching

10 Facts about positivity: 

  1. Positive work environments outperform negative ones.
  2. Positive, optimistic sales people sell more than pessimistic sales people.
  3. Positive people who regularly express positive emotions are more resilient when facing stress, challenges and adversity. 
  4. Positive thoughts and emotions counter the negative effects of stress.
  5. Positive people have more friends which is a key factor of happiness and longevity. 
  6. Positive emotions such as gratitude and appreciation help athletes perform at a higher level. 
  7. Positive people have more friends which is a key factor of happiness and longevity.
  8. People who regularly express positive emotions live on average 10 years longer than those who express negative emotions. 
  9. Positivity is contagious.
  10. Positive people are happier.

Whilst most, if not all, of these facts seem common sense most people do not acknowledge them within their lives. It seems as if people often have a cognitive block that stops them accepting what they need to do to be more happy and acting on this. The following step by step guide is something I have created, drawing from many different sources and personal experiences. It is only my opinion and something which I find helps me be more positive. I hope you might find it helpful too.

STEP 1. Who do you not want to be?

 This might seem like a strange place to start but I believe that when you are preparing for a fight, it is essential to know your enemy. Therefore it is vital to be able to picture the person that you don’t want to be. Take everything about every person you hate and bundle them into one and that’s who I want you to imagine. It’s not necessarily a nice thought but an essential one to help you progress. Write down the characteristics you least desire, for example here are mine:

Lazy, scruffy, dirty, rude, obnoxious, unkind, cocky, dull, a sheep, short sighted, miserable, spiteful, lonely, thoughtless, sneaky, a failure, negative. 

This is obviously who you don’t want to be.

STEP 2: Who do you want to be?

 Now we have to look at the flip of this and think of all the things that you want to be. Firstly I want you to think of all of your role models, friends, family, sporting heroes, pop stars, movie stars… and think about why you like them. Now it’s time to create a super role model. This might seem daunting and unachievable just now but it’s important to aim high. Write down the character traits you admire the most, here are mine:

A leader, hard working, kind, healthy, skillful, attentive, caring, non-judgmental, happy, supportive, understanding, loving, successful, …a role model.

This is who you want to be. At this stage I find it useful to write out your lists from steps 1 &2 and put them somewhere you can see or have easy access to. You could try getting creative:

  • Draw out a visual metaphor for your “hero”and “villain” surrounding each with words from your list.
  • Design a Ying and Yang diagram with your list.
  • Write. “I am….” and “I am not…” at the top of two pages and create a mind map/doodle of your two lists below.

STEP 3: Visualise

I truelly believe in the saying “be the person you want to be”. Visualisation is one of the most powerful tools for achieving our goals. If you can picture yourself doing something, getting something or achieving something, it is a lot more likely to happen. Therefore once you have created the person you want to be in Step 2 then next step is to actually imagine yourself being that person. There are a number of ways of doing this, I will highlight one example.

Imagine your normal daily routine, picturing all of the things you do/people you meet BUT not as your normal self. Imagine it as if you did everything “perfectly”. Base this imaginary journey on the list you made in Step 2. For example I would imagine myself opening doors for everyone I met, smiling more often, helping out my colleagues when they need it, making an effort to listen to people, learn and use everyones names, procrastinate less, do exercise and allow myself to enjoy things more…

STEP 4: Vocalise

Positivity isn’t just about thinking about being positive, you have to start being more positive. The first step is to use positive language. Too often we find ourselves saying: I might, I wish I could, maybe, I’ll think about it, this is too hard, I cannot… What we should be saying is: I can, I will, I am going to do this, I would like…

Half of the battle is won or lost when we use either of these ways of starting a sentence. If you start out with doubt and hesitation in your mind it’ll be an up hill struggle. But if you decide that you are going to be more positive and that you can do things (even if they’ll be a challenge) then you will achieve more and be happier in the process.

STEP 5: Act

“Fake it until you make it” – Amy Cuddy, Ted Talk

According to research it takes sometimes as little as 15 minutes of acting in a particular way, for example like an extrovert, to cause a psychological and chemical change in the way you are in that instance. Therefore it’s important to act in a positive way, but what does that mean? In a physical sense there are a number of simple ways that you can feel happier and more confident instantly.

  • Sit up straight/stand up tall
  • Open you shoulders and stance
  • Smile (even if you don’t feel happy) as it will make you happier
  • Look at people in the eye and try to really understand what they’re saying

Other than these simple ‘tricks’ it’s time to once again return to the list you created in Step 2 and think about how they would act. So when you’re faced with a situation, particularly a difficult one, think, what would I should I do to be as positive as I can? Remember it is said that it only takes 30 days of doing something to make it a habit. So create positive ones.

STEP 6: Learn from the past

In able to move forward and be more positive you must be able to not only forget the past but also forgive it. The person you were yesterday isn’t the same person you are today. Everyday your experiences, people you meet, things you do, places you visit – change you. These things can change you for the worst but you can choose to let them change you for the better. When you’ve had a bad day allow yourself to acknowledge it but not dwell on it, learn from the experiences,  know that tomorrows another day and move on.

Positivity In School

NOTE: This  is  an developing section that i’ll edit and add to as I gain more experience teaching.

Step 1: Be a role model for students and teachers

When teachers or students are being negative choose not allow yourself to be dragged into negativity.  Instead focus on the positives: tell stories about students who are breaking the mold, doing great, trying hard and achieving. Discuss methods for overcoming curriculum challenges. Find ispirational stories and share them. Within a school sometimes it takes just one person to be the positive change that inspires others. You can be the person to make that change. 

Step 2: Teach students to develop positive character traits

Have your students create a list of their top 5 positive character traits and incorporate them into your classroom, reward and praise students who embody them and be a role model for them. Refer to them on a regular basis. This is also great for developing the CfE 4 capacities (Scottish Curriculum).

Step 3: Rewrite your classroom rules

Most classroom rules focus on the negative: don’t swing on your chair, don’t shout out, don’t run in the class, no shouting out. And most teachers, when disciplining a student, use negative language: “I don’t want to see that again”, “you know you shouldn’t be doing that” “put that away”. What we need to be doing is replacing a negative rule or command with a positive one. These are proven to be much more effective and have a higher impact on changing student behaviours in the long run. They also help to reduce misbehavior and repeat offending.

 Step 4: Be realistic but focus on the positives

No one can be positive all the time, it is important to have a balance. But at the same time help students realize that it’s not all doom and gloom by sharing positive news stories, experiences and events with them. Celebrate success and make your classroom environment one that is upbeat, supportive and progressive. Self-Reflection-–-Guidance-from-the-Creator-fills-me-with-positivity.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my take on “positivity”. If you have any comments, criticisms, pieces of advice or want to get in contact with me please leave a message below.  


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