For a complete powerpoint presentation on Optimism, specifically for teachers, click here.
People are constantly changing and can be optimistic at some points in their lives and not at others. Optimism can be learned, both unconsciously by observing people around us, or explicitly, as with other skills.
Teachers can promote optimism within the classroom by creating a supportive, successful environment and by helping to develop the mental and emotional skills of the students. Below are some useful strategies:
- Provide a safe, empathetic environment.
- Share stories of optimism where it has made a real difference.
- Encourage social relationships particularly with peers.
- Show students they are valued and special.
- Provide ample opportunities for students to achieve successful, personal outcomes.
- Offer practical support to develop emotional and mental balance .
A number of learning theories relate to the topic of optimism, both in the way that young people learn and in the importance of optimism as part of the learning process. These can briefly be summarised as the following:
Bandura's Social Learning Theory - we learn by modelling our behaviour from other people. Hence, if we want children to be optimistic then teachers need to demonstrate optimism within the classroom.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Individual Needs - focuses on the individual's own capabilities and personal learning needs of which optimism is a key component.
Seligman's Learned Helplessness - we can learn to become helpless if we think we have no control over our environment. There is a significant link between how we think about causes of events (explanatory style) and our levels of optimism.
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Explanatory style is a psychological trait that determines how we attribute our successes and failures to different causes. Developed throughout childhood, one's explanatory style significantly influences whether one will, in general, adopt an optimistic or pessimistic attitude towards themselves. Of course, people change, and so does our explanatory style.
Knowledge of explanatory style is important for educators, since teachers play an important role in children's development during a time when their explanatory style is being developed. Children's explanatory style will influence future learning and development, which could potentially be detrimental.
There are three dimensions to explanatory style - Permanence, Pervasiveness, and Personal, summarised below with examples:
|The Optimistic Child||The Pessimistic Child|
Does the cause of bad events exist indefinitely, or does it present itself only on occasions?
Likewise, are good events due to permanent causes, or temporary ones?
An optimistic child attributes success to permanent characteristics of themselves. They don't criticise their successes as being a 'fluke', by chance, or because of external causes.
Attributes failure, setbacks, or challenges to permanent causal factors. For example, "I will never be good at math".
Is the failure or success confined to a specific event, or is it all-encompassing of the individual?
May be equally upset at failing, but accepts it, and confines the failure to a specific event. They don't give up on everything but instead move on. For example, "I'm not the best at swimming".
Upon failure, thinks 'nothing ever goes right for me', no matter how hard they try, so stops trying. That is, their failure is responsible for further failure - they give up on everything. For example, "I suck at sport".
Who is responsible for the failure or success? Internal (self) or external (others) causes?
|Accepts failure when caused internally, takes responsibilty for their actions and attempts to correct or modify their behaviour to prevent further failure. If the cause was not their fault, they recognise this but still feel worthy.||
Constantly blames self for failure, regardless of who was actually at fault.
Attributes success to external factors such as 'pot luck'.
So, a person who is optimistic generally explains bad events due to unstable, specific and external causes, whilst good events are viewed as resulting from permanent, global and internal causes. The inverse applies to the pessimist.
How does this impact children?
Children who adopt a pessimistic explanatory style can fall toward depression. Their physical health and general well-being may also be at risk. They are at a serious disadvantage in school, and often achieve less than they might otherwise.
What does this mean for educators?
Children learn to respond to events with a particular explanatory style. That is, they form habits that dictate how they will respond to future events in their lives, whether these be positive or negative. It is therefore important that teachers help to improve a child's explanatory style.
- Children should be encouraged to be realistic about their abilities and take responsibility for their actions.
- Encourage the child to use behavioural rather than general self-blame when things go wrong. Allow them to attribute their failure to some temporary and specific cause, rather than a cause of a general, non-specific nature. For example, "I didn't pass my English test because I didn't study the text" places a realistic blame on behaviour of the student, whereas "I failed my test because I am stupid" is general, and suggests of no opportunity for moving ahead
- When assessing student tasks, use an optimistic explanatory style when possible. Explain failures as a result of temporary, changeable causes, not permanent and pervasive ones. Otherwise they might form their own pessimistic explanatory style.
Visit this website to find out your explanatory style.