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Five Principles of Deliberate Optimism Can Help in Challenging Times

We are certainly experiencing challenging times in schools. Being optimistic that we will successfully get through this is more helpful and productive than doom and gloom. Over the Christmas break, I enjoyed reading Deliberate Optimism: Reclaiming the Joy in Education. In this insightful book, the American educators argue that optimism can be learned, developed and maintained and outline their five principles for Deliberate Optimism.

1. Before acting or reacting, gather as much information from as many varied sources as possible. 
In stressful, demanding times there is a lot of negativity about. Rather than just blindly following along or chiming in, each of us needs to make every effort to collect accurate information before we react to or act on hearsay. Attitudes are contagious, especially those of leaders. Whilst cynicism is contagious, so is hope!

2. Determine what is beyond your control and strategize how to minimize its impact on your life.
It is helpful to acknowledge that some things are beyond our control. Worrying about things that are beyond our control is a waste of time and energy. The impact of COVID continues to challenge us with system wide decisions that we have no control over. It pays to be nimble. In the book Nan Henderson (2013) correctly maintains, “Educators cannot eradicate poverty, stop cultural violence, heal parental addictions or prevent the myriad of other types of stress, risk, and trauma many students face daily.”

3. Establish what you can control and seek tools and strategies to help you maximize your power.
There are many things we can control and those are the areas in which we need to focus our positive energy and resources. The optimism supported by the authors is not some vague hope that eventually things will all work out but rather a positive, realistic conviction that we have control over certain aspects of our jobs and no control over others. Most of us have a lot more power than we realize, and all of us can choose how we will react to those things we cannot control. We can throw up our hands and say, “I can’t do this,” or we can look challenge in the eye and say, “Well, okay then, I’ll try it another way.”

4. Actively do something positive toward your goal.
It is helpful to remember that maybe we can’t do everything for all of our students but we can do something. It’s fine to start small. Reach out to just one child. Or try a new teaching strategy with just one class. The point is to start. Doing challenging tasks brings a sense of excitement as well as a sense of accomplishment.

5. Take ownership of your plan and acknowledge responsibility for your choices.
It is time we are more honest with ourselves and with each other. Often educators will confront parents, students and even their administrators (as long as two people come with them) but most are afraid to confront a co-worker. We sometimes prefer to “let sleeping dogs lie” rather than to speak up. Rather than uniformly going along when one of our colleagues is out of line, we should stand up for what we think is ethically correct. Whilst all the adults at school need to support one another, we also need to hold each other accountable.

Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life (2006) Seligman, M and Deliberate Optimism: Reclaiming the Joy in Education (2015) Silver, S, Berckemeyer, J.C and Baenen, J.