Thursday, January 29, 2009

Putting Positivity into Practice

I am so excited that Barbara Fredrickson's book, Positivity, is out! It is on it's way from Amazon and will be here in a few days. I took the online quiz, available free on the book's companion website,, and registered to keep track of my daily positive ratios. There are wonderful tools to help learn more about the process of increasing well-being through positive emotions.
Today, as I thought about the range of positive emotions that can be elicited and built upon in the classroom, I decided to focus in on occasions where kids were amused, curious, silly, fascinated, playful and downright cute! As I purposefully savored those moments, I overheard one little girl say to her neighbor, "Are you kidding me?" in the most adult tone that a 5 year old could muster. As I grinned and noticed her watching me, a warmth flowed through my body and a calmness seemed to fall upon the room. I was reminded that kids watch my face often, looking for signs of my reactions, and I need to be mindful of that power. As easily as I can elicit a giggle, it is far easier to elicit a negative emotion or expression.
As I joined my class in singing our regular good morning song with the puppet we so fondly call, Mr. Monkey, I watched the students' faces as Mr. Monkey tried to sing in my ear, or hang from my chair. Whereas in the past I would not have dared to make my kids "silly" for fear of losing classroom control, I now know that eliciting that joy and silliness gives them a safety and a calmness that increases ability to solve problems as they arise during the day.
When a student interrupted, or wanted to tell me a story that we didn't have time for, instead of reminding him to be quiet, I told him how wonderful it would be for him to share that story at snack time. The look of satisfaction on his face was priceless.
I wondered if I could keep up this positivity as recess approached. Thursday is my yard duty day, a day I normally dread. I decided to intentionally strike up conversation with students who were looking a bit lonely, or seemed to need a chat, instead of my normal tendency to look for students getting into trouble. I hugged former students who came to visit, helped a few kids find classmates to play with, and before I knew it, the bell was ringing and recess was over. I couldn't believe how I calm I felt.
After recess and before lunch, I set out to give the district writing assessment to my kindergarten class. Where normally I can help students as they attempt the very difficult task of writing, I was mandated to remain quiet after verbally administering the writing prompt. I knew this would be a stressful endeavor, so I decided to try an experiment. I decided to use manila folders as dividers between students to reduce distractions and eliminate the possibility of cheating. This technique is hardly original, but my adaptation may have been. I asked my new and wonderful student teacher to draw a big smilie face on the side of the folder that the student would be facing while writing. I told my students that this smilie was to remind them to just do their best and that would be just great! As I suspected, the folder reduced the temptation to talk, and also seemed to calm the students. Perhaps it was just serendipitous, but my students performed better than prior classes had performed on a writing assessment at this time of year. And most importantly, no one was stressed out!
Thursday continued on with its positivity and I am reflecting with gratitude as I write. I can't wait for my book to arrive, and I hope that I one day have the chance to meet the author, Barbara Fredrickson, in person and tell her how grateful I am for her research on positive emotions.

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