Teaching Positive In The Face Of Negativity: What Is Your ‘Why’?
by Rachelle Poth
What is your ‘why’?
How can you ‘teach positive’ in the face of negativity?
While many teachers focus on practical ideas and skills–assessment ideas, teaching strategies, and classroom management, for example–being about to create a healthy mindset can be one of the most important things you ever learn to do as a teacher.
The Background Of Negativity In Teaching
Summer. It is the time that many of us in education look forward to. A break from the schedule, alarm clocks, piles of paperwork, and I hate to say it, for some, those colleagues. The ones who, in lieu of their love for teaching and significant expertise–have fallen into the morass of negative teaching.
There is the perception that teachers have ‘summers off,’ but in reality we know that for many that is not the case. Many teachers take advantage of the extra time over the summer to work another job, enroll in online courses for teacher, participate in personalized learning, travel, attend conferences and other professional development activities.
My new definition of ‘summer off’ is simply being ‘off’ from reporting to the classroom. It’s nice to have the time to create your schedule for what you need, whenever and wherever you want to.
But as August and September draw closer, I often sense a mix of emotions from peers. There is excitement for the possibilities of a new school year based on summer learning experiences and the renewed opportunity to learn with the students. There is also sadness that summer is ending and alarm clocks will be needed again signaling the return of the daily teaching schedule.
Regardless of how I may be feeling–tired or busybusybusy–my mood quickly changes the moment the students enter the building. I’ve taught for many years,- and many times I’m sure that I did not have the most positive attitude when heading back to school; working or dealing with any of the issues that can arise in the classroom the first week of school can be draining.
But the one thing that I’ve tried to do consistently is to keep those negative feelings to myself and to project in a positive way, especially around students and colleagues.
Because we are all human and a hugely human profession, negativity can be difficult to avoid. Further complicating the matter, the sources of negativity in your school can change, from paperwork department shifts to organizational challenges to juggling school initiatives.
Even seemingly innocent conversations with fantastic teachers can wander towards negativity.
Navigating The Sources Of Negativity In Teaching
Where does the negativity come from?
Often, it comes from disappointed and disillusioned teaching professionals who have felt let down, powerless, and/or blamed for any number of education-at-large’s collective failures.
Sometimes the negativity is loud and in-your-face obvious. Other times, it surfaces as consistent doubt and uncertainty every time a new idea is discussed, a new program is brought it, or some other large change makes itself known.
Sometimes policies can be negative, too. School-level policies–on attendance, for example–can be framed as threatening or otherwise assume the worst in students and parents. Class rules can be a source of negativity in teaching as well. The tone of your rules creates a tone for your interactions with students very early in the school year. If your class rules all start with ‘Don’t’ or focus on punishments–or even superficial rewards that don’t help promote intrinsic motivation–it’s possible that they’re creating negativity in your classroom.
(Here is one of your favorite examples of class rules.)
Beyond school-level sources, the news and social media can make it easy for you to be consumed by negativity yourself. In fact, it can be quite intense at times and very bothersome. Whether it’s a news event about test scores or a meme that portrays teachers as inept, lazy, etc., in the United States, the public perception of teachers isn’t overly positive.
Even in my carefully curated social media feeds, I have seen more questions posted–on Twitter especially–about how to confront this kind of negativity. What can you do to drown out the negative people–the ‘naysayers’?
In the broadest possible sense, as George Couros says, “We need to make the positive so loud that the negative becomes almost impossible to hear.” This statement is one that I keep in mind and remind myself of often. But there’s an even bigger issue at hand that can help you confront and navigate negativity in your teaching.
Returning to school a few weeks ago, truthfully I was sad to see the summer end. I was used to the routine of not having a routine, even though I had a busy summer. But once I started talking with colleagues and saw my students, that initial sadness was replaced with excitement and anticipation for new opportunities.
Somehow this led me to task myself: Why are you in education?
What Is Your ‘Why’?
What is the reason you do what you do?
What is your ‘why’?
Answer this question, then think about how you are portraying yourself to your students and colleagues. Maybe it’s because I just recently finished Simon Sinek’s book “Start with Why” and I have been asking myself this and thinking through this more over the past six months.
Especially when it comes to technology, for example. Why do I want to use something? Why is it a better way to engage students?
And, of course, why is there negativity?
We talked about sources of negativity earlier. From conversations I have been a part of, it seems to arise because of new school initiatives, new job requirements, clerical tasks or changes to the different systems you’ve been using for years. Change can be hard but without change, we would be stuck doing things the same way we’ve always done them.
There can’t be progress without change.
Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change, to be perfect is to change often.” We have to welcome change as well as opportunities for personal and professional growth. Why? For our students.
So ask yourself: Why are you teaching? Why do you get up in the morning and go to school? Your ‘why’ should be for the students. It should be because you love what you do and you want to make a difference. And if it truly is for the students, negativity in your school can be seen as something your students need for you to avoid rather than something that’s simply ‘bad.’
That’s the why.