How are you today?

Any student of mine knows that my priority in class is their well-being, which is why classes usually begin with: How are you? How’s your day going? What’s new and exciting?

I’m sure that most teachers would agree that a happy student is a learning student (at least, more likely to be learning student!)

So coming across one of Martin Sellgman’s latest books, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being (Atria, NY, USA, 2011) was a fascinating find. In this book, Seligman describes the research and explains the principles behind his innovative theory of Positive Psychology.

Today I thought I’d share three takeaways from his exciting work.

  1. Optimism can be learned.

What does that mean? Let me give you an example, when dogs were exposed to electric shocks and were unable to control them, they learned that they had no control over their circumstances. However, if they were given the means to control the shocks, they would and therefore avoided potential shocks.  Similarly, we as humans learn at a very young age whether we have any control over our environment or not. Unfortunately, if we feel we have no impact no matter what we do, we will have a tendency to experience feelings of helplessness and depression.

However, the good news is: if we learned helplessness, then we can unlearn it, and take control of our reactions to our circumstances, thereby choosing optimism. Maybe you weren’t good at using verb tenses in English. You are not doomed to perish in a tenseless existence! You can learn. The question is not: Why do I have to learn these when I’m useless?, but rather: I have a bit of difficulty in this area, but I can do something about it. What tools, tricks or resources can I use to make a bit of progress? Optimism can be learned.

2. Positive Psychology focuses on mental health (not illness).

When Seligman began his research, it was hard for him to get funding. No-one wanted to invest in this strange new idea that perhaps it would be better to focus on the positive, rather than the negative. Once he got the ball rolling, however, the money came rolling in too. In fact, today Seligman’s work is being taught in educational, military, political and corporate settings around the world.

Why? The theory doesn’t focus solely on ridding people of their mental illnesses, but more on leveraging the five ingredients proven to enhance well-being: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement (thus the acronym, PERMA).

What do I mean? Let’s say you know you have a learning disability, maybe you’re dyslexic. You still remember the shame and embarrassment when a teacher told you you’d never be any good at learning English since you had no memory for grammar rules, never mind spelling irregular verbs or strange-sounding words in foreign languages.

Putting the dyslexia aside, perhaps it would be more helpful to think in terms of, I enjoy my English class with my colleagues. We have a good time. We laugh and learn together. Everyone makes jokes and it certainly makes for a terrific break from the humdrum of my regular work! That’s an example of positive emotion. Perhaps just that will help motivate you to continue taking classes when the going gets tough.

Or maybe the heady feeling of accomplishment, having overcome a difficulty and proven you can do it despite the odds, or for the sheer fun of it, will keep you motivated.

Whatever the means, focus on one of these elements of well-being either at work or in class, and see what difference it makes.

3. Gratitude +  Love of Learning = Well-being

Another researcher, Barry Kauffman, a peer of Martin Seligman, decided to run some tests and do the math to determine the two values that were most important to attain PERMA (link: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/which-character-strengths-are-most-predictive-of-well-being/). He found that they were gratitude and love of learning. I love that!

How can we develop gratitude? Seligman recommends people ask themselves on a regular basis this simple question: What went well? You simple cannot remain negative when you are focusing on the positive!

The love of learning value comes into play once the list of positive events is compiled. The follow-up questions are obvious: How can I make this happen more often? What do I need to do?

Coming out of class tomorrow, either as teacher or student, ask yourself the questions: What went well? Why did it go well? How can I get more of that? What do I need to do?  No matter the misunderstandings or seemingly unsurmountable challenges, an upward spiral of optimism and hope is sure to ensue.

So, how are you? What went well for you today? Let’s keep the gratitude energy flowing! Drop me a line in the Comments section.

  • Claire :o)

[Photo: Shutterstock/fizkes]

3 Lessons My Students Taught Me

I came across this quote on my Facebook page this week, a gif shared by the BrainPower Neurodevelopmental Center in Newburgh, Indiana.

At first, I thought about my home situation; the older my sons become, the more I realize they are their own selves. What a myth to believe that kids become what parents ‘make’ them! Even if you raise them in a totalitarian environment, their personalities will surface (I hope!) and they will emancipate themselves to become who they truly are!

However, the second part of the quote was what really got me thinking, the part about children teaching their parents so they can become what they, as parents and people, can become.

I suddenly mentally flipped over to my classroom situation. My students, too, are what they are supposed to be, not what I thought they’d be. Oh, so what have they taught me then to help me become a better teacher and, ultimately, person? Certainly, a lot! Here are just three examples.

Lesson #1: You don’t have to know everything.  

Teachers know that questions are a sign of intelligence. I always say it is the door opening to understanding. I get excited when students ask questions; it means they are ready to learn, and they are going to ‘get it’. The brain is processing the data. Cognitive psychology explains that the more the brain processes the information, the more likely it is that the individual will develop the neural pathway and maintain the information in their long-term memory. Deeper learning means greater mastery and that leverages competence.

Yes, but sometimes a question comes up that you just weren’t anticipating and just don’t have the answer. You don’t know. Brain freeze! No matter how much you search your brain, the answer is just not there. For example, how come ‘theirselves’ is not the correct reflexive pronoun? Not so easy! Some of the forms take the possessive form of the personal pronoun (I – myself; You – yourself). It would seem logical to then say They – theirselves). But that is not the case. It’s just one of those things – something you have to memorize.

You’re almost afraid they’ll ask questions! No big deal. You can’t know everything, so you use that handy phrase: That’s a great question!  And then, either follow up with a Google search live, or go home and do your homework so you’ll be prepared with a fantastic explanation next class.

Lesson #2: You don’t have to always be in control.

The other day, I suddenly felt sick during my first of two morning classes. I was sure I was turning green and about to fall of my chair. Catastrophe! I’m the teacher, I’m supposed to be in control! I couldn’t move, and just wanted to put my head down and rest.

The students were great. They offered advice, they suggested I drink some water or go for a walk. When the class was over, the next group came in and continued the good work. They got me laughing. They took over. They first took out their homework and began correcting it with my weak input. Then one of them asked if I had any games. I did, so she went and chose one and got the other two playing. By the end of the class, I felt much better. They were wonderful.

The concern, care and initiative of the students blew me away. It also reminded me that I didn’t always have to be the boss. After all, what is student-centered learning all about? Students take ownership of their learning. The teacher is just there to guide and facilitate.

Lesson #3: It’s okay to not be perfect.

Perfectionism is the bane of the teacher. We want everything to be just perfect (you know, a perfect A, 100%): the lesson plan, the presentation, the activity, the materials, even our appearance!  But sometimes you just don’t have the time to get it Just Right. Anxiety attack! And the quality of the lesson goes downhill from there!

Last week I asked a student what their lesson of the day was. The student answered: stop thinking, start doing. An enriching discussion ensued.

Once again, it was the disciple teaching the master. Do what you can with what you have. You don’t have to be perfect; be real, drop the ego, and enjoy the discovery of learning with your students.

In conclusion, maybe the people, places and events around us are not the way we expect but are rife with lessons to learn. Accepting, acknowledging and appreciating them for the truths they reveal, is not easy, but part of adapting to the ever-changing nature of life.

Does this resonate with you? Please let me know in the Comments section. I love hearing from my readers!

Cheers!

Claire :o)

 

*Photo and link to BrainPower Neurodevelopmental Center : https://www.facebook.com/BrainPower-Neurodevelopmental-Center-889931051105659/?tn-str=k*F

When Initiative Is MIA: What to do about it?

I had a wonderful opportunity to take initiative on the weekend. And I didn’t.

No, no, of course I won’t obsess about it (not!) It’s just that this weekend, I was preparing an activity for a class this week about initiative because a student and I had a discussion that ended with the question: how can a manager encourage employee initiative?

I googled initiative and came across articles discussing engagement. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace, only 15% of today’s workforce consists of actively engaged employees* . Which begs the question: why? Lack of interest, indifference, stress at or outside of work?

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace, only 15% of today’s workforce consists of actively engaged employees

An attractive infographic on snacknation.com presents the 9 pillars of employee engagement: 1. Values & Purpose; 2. Workplace Environment; 3. Recognition and Incentives; 4. Communication; 5. Well-defined Roles; 6. Buy-in from Managers; 7. Health & Wellness; 8. Relationship with Colleagues; 9. Personal Growth & Development.

In three words, lack of initiative stems from lack of knowledge, purpose and support: head, heart and hands. An actively engaged employee is at work head, heart and hands. She’s all there. Present!

An actively engaged employee is at work head, heart and hands.

And that takes me back to the start of this post: why didn’t I take initiative? An assumption. That assumption was, once examined, erroneous, not true, false. In short, I lacked knowledge – ‘key intelligence’, so to speak. The heart and the hands couldn’t follow; they were missing out on the intelligence!

How often do we miss out on amazing opportunities for lack of the facts? Further, do we always have to know, be told, be asked — to take initiative?

My personal definition of responsibility is response-ability. If you can respond, then act. I even break down the base word response into an acronym:

Resources

Energy

Skills

Power                                  – ability = responsibility

Opportunity

Network

Savviness

Experience

You have the resources (if not all, some), energy (even if minimal), skills (once again, maybe not all, but some), power (if you have the opportunity, then you have the chance to intervene), network (people are all around you: talk!), savviness (enough knowledge to see there is a need, and if you can’t, you can ask someone to help), and experience (again, if not all, some).

The bottom line: If you see the need, then you have the response-ability to intervene. That, to me, is what initiative is all about. Whatever, you do, don’t listen to those sneaky assumptions; get the facts and act.

So, I missed my opportunity on the weekend, but at least I gained a powerful object lesson to use in my class this week on manager intervention to encourage employee initiative.

The bottom line: If you see the need, then you have the response-ability to intervene. That, to me, is what initiative is all about.

Gotta go, now. There’s laundry to take care of and classes to plan. Initiative, right?!

What are your tricks to taking initiative? I’d love to know! Drop me a line in the Comments.

  • Claire :O)

 

* https://www.forbes.com/sites/brentgleeson/2017/10/15/5-powerful-steps-to-improve-employee-engagement/#6bb67fb4341d

[Photo: Shutterstock/Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko]