The Habits Of A Happy Educator: Part 1

Express Gratitude

Gratitude is a personality trait, a mood, and an emotion. As an emotion, gratitude is a feeling of happiness that comes from appreciation. While in a grateful mood, grateful emotions are more likely to be present.

Robert Emmons, a well knonw scientific expert on gratitude, argues that gratitude has two key components, which he describes in a Greater Good essay, “Why Gratitude Is Good.”

“First,” he writes, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”

In the second part of gratitude, he explains, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. … We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

Gratitude has empowered me to teach more effectively, appreciate individuality among students and teachers, grow professionally, and enjoy life to the fullest. Gratitude allows me to model how exhibiting a positive attitude can bring positive change in all aspects of life, especially those that are most challenging.

Recent research by two leaders in the field of gratitude and education, Dr. Robert Emmons and Dr. Jeffrey Froh, supports the idea that gratitude improves the lives of students and adults. For example, keeping a gratitude journal enables both students and adults to be more optimistic, experience more social satisfaction, exercise more often, have less envy and depression, have fewer physical complaints, and sleep better.

Journal Idea:

List 5 things about teaching or your school that you are grateful for. Did this come easily for you? Why or why not? If any of the things you listed were other people, would you feel comfortable expressing your gratitude to them in person? Why or why not?

Be Optimistic

Look for the silver lining! Having a cheery disposition can influence more than just your mood. “People who are optimistic are more committed to their goals, are more successful in achieving their goals, are more satisfied with their lives, and have better mental and physical health when compared to more pessimistic people,” says Suzanne Segerstrom, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky. 

In a 2009 study, researcher Angela Duckworth used a questionnaire to rate teachers’ optimism at the start of their first year of teaching. At the end of the year, she found that students whose teachers were optimists had made greater academic gains than their peers. According to the study, there appears to be a link between a teacher’s attitude and student success.

Research supports the idea that teacher optimism can have a positive impact on student performance. A 2006 Ohio State University study that looked at academic optimism as an explanation for student achievement when controlling for socioeconomic status, previous achievement, and “urbanicity,” showed that academic optimism—defined as academic emphasis, collective efficacy, and faculty trust—played a significant role in student achievement.

By nature, optimists don’t sweat the small stuff. Those were the findings in a study at Quebec’s Concordia University. Not only did optimists produce less cortisol—the stress hormone–during times of stress, they also didn’t experience as much perceived stress during stressful times.

When life delivers lemons, optimists are more likely to make lemonade.

Journal idea:

Write a brief description of your best possible self as you see it five years from now. Did this help you structure and prioritize what you want in life? Why or why not? How can you use this to guide your decisions and goals today?

Avoid Overthinking & Social Comparison

Teaching is a profession that is wide open to constant scrutiny and bombarded with constant suggestions of change. Which methodology will improve the rate of learning? How can I change the seating to get better engagement? The overwhelming abundance of suggestions on how to improve are relentless and can lead to overthinking and social comparison. Sadly, I’ve observed teachers teaching in a way that does not fit them or their student’s learning styles. Don’t let social media get the best of you!

study from UC Santa Barbara suggests that thinking too much about a situation impedes our judgment and performance. In this study, researchers observed the functions of the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which supports two kinds of long-term memory: explicit memory, where you actively recall information and consciously use sensory processes to perform tasks, and implicit memory, where you unconsciously rely on previous experiences to perform tasks. When researchers disrupted the functions of parts of participants’ prefrontal cortexes associated with explicit memory, they found that the decision-making process actually improved in accuracy.

We have all been there…standing with 3 tote bags and our arms full of things to carry to the car gazing with amazement at the new pinterest-y bulletin board the teacher down the hall has constructed. How does she have the time? Didn’t I just see her posting new materials on TpT last night? Does she ever sleep?

It is SO difficult to STOP this kind of thinking! I get it! It is important to remember that no two teachers are alike! I know teachers who excel at data collection and analysis. I know teachers who appear to have a magic wand for all behavioral outburst and temper tantrums. I have teacher friends that could teach any child any skill. Other teachers are technology geniuses, artisans, organizers, ambassadors, social media gurus…we all have different skill sets, hobbies and life experiences! (Believe me, I’ve got more life experiences than you have time to listen.) Our differences, talents, and profession skillsets should be celebrated because WE ARE A TEAM!!!! Everyone provides a unique slice of the collaborative pie!

So the moral of the story is…wait for it…

Avoid social comparison and beware of the big-fish–little-pond effect (BFLPE). This is a frame of reference model that was introduced in 1984 by Herbert Marsh and John Parker. According to the model, individuals compare their own self-concept with their peers. Equally capable individuals have higher self-concepts when in a less capable group than in a more capable group. For example, it is better for academic self-concept to be a big fish in a little pond (gifted student in regular reference group) than to be a small fish in a big pond (gifted student in gifted reference group). High achieving and gifted students are just as susceptible to the effect as are less talented students indicating that the effect depends only on the achievement of the reference group. Want to read more about this? Check out Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.

Need to be reminded of your worthiness? Hang this poster near your desk or work space. Refer to it when you need a pick me up or when you’re feeling inadequate, overwhelmed, or like you’re not enough. 

Journal idea:

Write a list of situations at school (places, times, and people) that trigger overthinking. Take a day where you consciously avoid those situations or modify them just enough to stop their ability to trigger overthinking and comparison. At the end of the day, reflect on what worked or what didn’t. Modify your mindset and try again. YOU are enough.

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