Just a few days ago in one of my college-level English courses, a senior boy put me on the spot.
[One sidenote here: whenever my students write an essay, after I grade it, I always have them go back and make revisions one more time--for a separate revision grade. Theoretically, they have been away from their writing for a bit, they now have a different lens to view their essay, and they have some feedback from me. It is usually a very beneficial process; I think it is when they actually make the most gains.]
During this revision process, the young man called me over, pointed at his screen and excitedly asked, “Were you proud of me for this idea? I thought it was pretty good!”
I had left a comment on his document stating that I was impressed. In that moment, I was thrust into an opportunity to apply Active Constructive Response. I replied, “I was VERY proud of you. That was a really deep idea, and you explained it really well. How did you feel when you came up with it?”
He then lit up even more and shared a few additional pieces about his crafting process. In a way, he was reliving--and celebrating--his experience. Together we created an upward spiral.
Our Response Matters
There are really four ways we can respond when someone shares something positive, and only one of them truly helps others to flourish and builds a positive relationship, but they all can be found in daily life. The response types include being either Passive or Active in combination with being either Destructive or Constructive. I’ll give some examples for each using my student’s situation:
“Were you proud of me for this idea? I thought it was pretty good!”
Passive Destructive (The Hijacker)
Verbal: The responder ignores the event and/or changes the subject.
Nonverbal: The responder has little to no eye contact, and/or turns away/leaves.
Example: “What was for lunch today?” ...and walks away.
Active Destructive (The Assassin)
Verbal: The responder verbally minimizes the event and highlights the negative.
Nonverbal: The responder gives little eye contact, shows negative facial expressions/emotions, and/or turns away.
Example: With a firm exhale and rolling eyes… “Are you looking for a treat? There were a lot of good ideas in class. You probably spent way too much time coming up with that one.”
Passive Constructive (The Meh…)
Verbal: The responder acknowledges the success and gives some support, but it is low energy.
Nonverbal: The responder shows little to no emotional expression.
Example: “Yep. It was good stuff.”
Active Constructive (The Positive Charger)
Verbal: The responder shares enthusiastic and genuine interest and helps the individual relive the experience by asking more about it, their feelings, or the process.
Nonverbal: The responder maintains eye contact and shows positive facial expressions--like smiling.
Example: “I was VERY proud of you. That was a really deep idea, and you explained it really well. How did you feel when you came up with it?”
The only of these that helps people flourish and enhance relationships is Active Constructive.
Scan for Positive Events
Active Constructive response is not natural; it takes practice. Although it might be difficult at first, it is important to avoid it sounding forced and insincere. One strategy that may help is to scan for positive events as much as possible. Look for successes in others. Listen for moments of pride or joy. When you can, comment on it and ask for more information. Try to help them relive the experience.
As educators, it is much more natural to accomplish this when a student shares a success directly with us. It makes it easy. They tell us something and then we react and ask about the situation. However, we can also use Active Constructive Responses during, and after, grading assignments, projects, or tests. While we are assessing students, we can be sure to acknowledge quality work and also include comments/questions like How did you come up with this cool thought? or I bet you felt awesome when you crafted this sentence. It takes a bit of extra time (and some practice), but it is well worth the small investment. When we are handing an assignment back to a student, we can take a moment to ask them a question
This works with your co-workers, too. Acknowledge the great idea, the cool project, or the effective way to deal with a challenge. Both students and staff members will flourish in a Active Constructive environment, so scan-scan-scan away!
Some Positive Side-Effects of Active Constructive Response
There are a few side-effects that have been proven to occur:
The big questions:
Do you engage verbally and nonverbally?
Do you help them relive all or part of their success?
Does your response increase a student’s well-being?
Does it help build a relationship?
When we positively engage in other’s success and help them relive it, we strengthen their well-being and enhance the relationship. We create an upward spiral.
Although some may argue my current physical build would disagree, I was actually both a track and cross country athlete in college. I have a couple of cross country training memories that stand out the most: interestingly, they both deal with hills. Most weeks, we had at least one day of intentional hill training, and many other workouts included some mildly famous inclines--at least they were famous to our team at the time. One was titled Killer Hill, and the other was simply called The Dip. Killer Hill was a stretch of twisting gravel road that escaped upwards into a forest at a consistently increasing incline. The Dip was a 10-mile loop with a giant U-shaped mile-long dip--hence the name--neatly carved into the middle of it. (The Dip also once included a dead, bloated Hereford cow beached on the side of the road, but that is a story for another time.) Killer Hill is where we will spend our time today.
We worked out at Killer Hill many times, but there was one instance in particular that strikes me: the Tuesday I was late. Due to a scheduled meeting with a professor, I knew I was going to have to play catch-up at practice that day. I knew we were heading to Killer Hill, so I left my meeting, hustled to the locker room, quickly changed, and took off to try to catch the group before they started to attack the upward 1-mile intervals. However, when I approached the starting line, the team was reaching the peak. Soon, they would begin their recovery jog back down the hill, but that would be minutes away. My coach greeted me, and we decided it was better for me to just get going, on my own, rather than wait for the team to come back down--and then be a full rep behind. So I set myself at the start and looked at the winding trail. I felt like the finish line immediately pulled away from me like a Hollywood dolly zoom out (think that famous Jaws zoom scene but only in reverse). The finish line seemed to double. Regardless, my coach gave me the signal, and I raced off. I was able to greet my teammates about halfway up, but after they disappeared into my blindspot, I again was faced with a formidable finish line. But I kept on. Greeted by another coach at the top of the hill, I completed my rep and began my slow descent. The piston-like passing by my teammates continued as we worked up and down Killer Hill, but one thing continued to change: each time I got to the bottom of the hill, the journey to the top looked longer, steeper, and more arduous. Typically, when the team would do this workout, I would grow fatigued, but the task itself would not vary in perception. I finished the workout slightly after the team, and there was one truth: it was not enjoyable when I was alone. Shortly after, I faced The Dip. Solo. In essence, the same experiences occurred: the run seemed longer, the miles more difficult, the hills steeper, and the overall task was less pleasant. I didn’t really think much of either of these events until recently.
About a year ago, I ran across some studies from the University of Virginia, and they dealt will--yep--hills. In an early study, they found that if people are looking at a hill they need to climb, and they are in a negative state of mind, they predict the hill to be 30% steeper than it really is. In a second study, researchers discovered that, when alone, a person perceives a hill to be 20% steeper compared to when standing next to a friend. Essentially, a person’s perception is reshaped by the presence of others. When I reflect on Killer Hill and The Dip, this concept was completely accurate. Without the physical and emotional influence of my teammates, the challenges looked--and felt--insurmountable.
. . . And then I think about our classrooms and our schools.
As administrators and educators, we can learn a lot from these findings. We can help foster a support system at the figurative “bottom of hills” with these 3 C’s: Connection, Collaboration, and Celebration. Below, I’ve included a few brief ideas in each category.
Increase Social Connection
Do your teachers connect beyond content?
Real strategies you can implement:
Do your students have time to connect within or between classes?
Real strategies you can implement:
Do your staff members have time to work together?
Real strategies you can implement:
Do your students have chances to work together on a regular basis?
Real strategies you can implement:
Does your staff have a way to congratulate each other or express gratitude?
Real strategies you can implement:
Do your students have a way to congratulate each other or express gratitude?
Real strategies you can implement:
When I think back to Killer Hill and The Dip, I can now appreciate how much my teammates meant to my mindset and success. An intentional support system can yield huge dividends. If we intentionally implement Connection, Collaboration, and Celebration in our schools, we undoubtedly can help our students see challenges through fresh eyes.
I think most people can agree that an openly intimidating and demeaning teaching style would be detrimental to your students...and you. (As an aside, it doesn’t work well in coaching either.) Surprisingly enough, I occasionally run into people who disagree. In both teaching and coaching, there are still folks out there who believe the aforementioned negative culture doesn’t impact classroom climate, team climate, or student performance in a negative way. But I’ll be honest--thankfully, I think the number of people riding the negativity train keeps reducing all the time. Realistically, though, there are subtle things we do, or don’t do, in our classroom that can make a huge impact. And the scary thing is that we may not even know we are doing them. My hope is to shed some light on these concepts and benefit everyone involved. The study I’m about to share with you involved students learning to juggle in PE class, but I truly believe that the same results would occur in a core classroom as well...and at all levels.
About a year ago, my friend Troy Wineinger at the University of Kansas shared a recent study (2017) with me regarding the impact climate had on student performance at the middle school level. Here is the initial set-up:
Both the C/TI and EI instructors implemented a unique way to work with the students.
EI instructors (Did pretty much the opposite as the C/TI instructors)
I like the varying instructors of this study because (1) each instructor group was almost the polar opposite, and (2) both instructor groups used techniques that people currently use both in the classroom and in athletics. These are representative of real teachers and coaches!
The data for the study were gathered in multiple ways: cortisol levels, performance, and student surveys (CCS--the Caring Climate Scale: a 13-item scale that measures to the extent which students feel cared for, valued, and respected). Although the students were separated by gender, results were consistent between both males and females.
What can we learn from this?
I think the largest takeaway from this study is that we need to pay attention to detail when creating our classroom culture and working with our students. I’ll stick with the positive lessons here. We need to foster a supportive environment between students, really get know each student on an individual level; search for and recognize individual improvement; treat mistakes as a natural part of the process; promote collaboration and cooperation. I know, I know--that’s a lot to keep track of. But if you work to create this environment early, it is self-sustaining, and student performance will go through the roof.
A caring climate wins...in every category. Better stress levels. Better performance. Better psychological state. Whether a teacher, coach, administrator, or parent, how you interact and what you choose to focus on matters. When students are learning or working to improve, how we interact with them--and how we promote the interaction between them--matters.
Hogue, Candice M., et al. "The Differential Impact of Motivational Climate on Adolescents' Psychological and Physiological Stress Responses." Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 21 Feb. 2017, pp. 118-27.
My previous post ("Well-Being Defined") covered the components that make up adult well-being: Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment.
While these are applicable to all people, there is a way to better connect these concepts with our students from a developmental standpoint. Some awesome people from the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University (Margaret L. Kern, Lisbeth Benson, Elizabeth A. Steinberg, and Laurence Steinberg) created a way to measure the well-being of adolescents. Instead of PERMA, the acronym EPOCH is used: Engagement, Perseverance, Optimism, Connectedness, Happiness. I mentioned EPOCH in a recent post, but I thought it would be helpful to go into more detail. While some of the definitions are similar to PERMA, there are some subtle differences and additions.
The 5 Building Blocks of Student Well-Being: EPOCH
Engagement is basically the same as the adult definition of Engagement. It is being so completely absorbed in an activity that you lose track of time--you are in flow.
Perseverance could also be called “grit.” It is the ability to keep going when you face adversity. Perseverance means you set goals, go after them despite the challenges you face, and stick to it even if it takes awhile.
Optimism is having both hope and confidence about the future. In general, you view things in a favorable way and when negative events happen, you see them as only temporary.
Connectedness deals with relationships and feeling close to others. It involves feeling loved, supported, and valued by people in your life.
Happiness is a general feeling of joy, cheer, and contentment with life. It is important to note that you may not feel happy every moment, but you generally feel content with life.
Can You Measure EPOCH?
Thanks to the survey created by Kern, Benson, the Steinbergs, we can definitely measure student well-being based on EPOCH. The 20-question survey asks participants to rank varying personal descriptions based on 5 categories ranging from “not like me” to “very much like me.” Each EPOCH building block is related to 4 questions (see picture).
How I Used the Survey
I administered the survey without much explanation to get a baseline of my students. I then started implementing a couple of strategies to enhance well-being: “What Went Well” & “Gratitudes.” (These are explained in an earlier blog post). After 25 days, we took the survey again to see growth. You can learn more about my study here: https://www.duanejourdeans.com/blog/can-teachers-actually-increase-student-well-being-in-just-a-couple-minutes-a-day-yes
What do I love most about positive psychology? It’s proactive. Positive psychology studies people who are flourishing, discovers why, and share strategies that can be implemented to move lives further on the positive spectrum.
When I first started studying positive psychology, I thought everything revolved around one topic: positivity. As I learned more, I discovered that it all revolved around the ideas of well-being--it was a lot broader than just being positive or having a positive mindset. Positivity is important, but it is not the whole story--it is a piece of the story. Dr. Martin Seligman created the acronym PERMA to share the 5 major components of well-being: Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. As administrators and educators, we can not only improve ourselves, but we can help our students flourish as well.
Initially, it is important to identify and define each component of PERMA:
(P) Positive Emotion
This component deals with feelings like happiness, cheerfulness, joy, gratitude, and optimism. When I begin each of my classes, I try to nudge my students towards these positive emotions. When these emotions are activated, students will be more engaged and the learning centers of their brain will be activated. Studies have shown that much of the level of our positive emotion is heritable, but there are ways to raise these levels by about 15% which can have a large impact. The What Went Well exercise I mentioned in an earlier post is an example of a proven way to grow positive emotion.
Engagement can be described as being in “flow,” where a person actually loses track of time because they are so immersed in a task. Dr. Seligman describes it as “being one with the music.” Research has shown that flow occurs when your highest strengths match your current challenge. In essence, it is important that we know our strengths...and it is important that our students are aware of their strengths. Once we understand, we can put them to use and heighten our level of engagement. In addition, we can use our signature strengths to work through difficult situations.
The positive and healthy relationships we have are integral to our well-being. We are a connected species; the people we spend our time with have a direct impact on our ability to flourish in life. Being connected to others is not a natural skill for everyone, but there are strategies that can help us form and sustain positive relationships.
Human beings inherently search for meaning or purpose in life. Meaning occurs when you belong to, and serve something, bigger than the self.
Accomplishment is pretty straightforward, but working through a task to the end is very rewarding. Characteristics like grit and self-discipline are highly linked to this category.
As educators, we should work to draw out, grow, and celebrate each PERMA component in ourselves and our students. If we do, a fulfilling life will follow.
During the 2019-2020 school year (before COVID 19 smacked us in the face) I decided to up my game a bit more regarding positive psychology in education, so I conducted a study in my classroom. I had been implementing a number of positive priming techniques at the beginning of classes, but I wasn’t really measuring anything to gauge impact or level of success. I decided to create a 25-day study and really measure some things.
Who were the subjects?
I collected data from 56 high school students ranging from 9th to 12th grade.
We didn’t use any names. I gave each student a random “secret number” that was assigned to their assessments. I didn’t know who had what number; I could only see the trend within each student number. They just had to write their number somewhere so they could put it on their assessments (and yes, a couple of students forgot their number after the first assessment, so we had to do some problem-solving).
What did they do?
First, I gave them a baseline test to assess their level of well-being. It is based on concepts created by Margaret L. Kern, Lisbeth Benson, Elizabeth A. Steinberg, and Laurence Steinberg of the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University. The assessment is intended to measure the students’ well-being regarding 5 categories:
What were the results?
After the 25 days were completed, students took the EPOCH assessment again. All 5 areas increased, but some more than others.
I was very pleased with the outcome after just 25 days, and I immediately began to think about how I could modify things to impact the categories that had smaller gains.
Would I do anything differently?
I continue to learn more and more pretty much every day. Here are a couple of the tweaks I would make to make things even more impactful:
What did the students say?
A vast majority of students really enjoyed the daily activities. It became part of their routine, but one that made them feel good. Many students commented on how they were starting to notice things throughout the day that they could write down the next day. They were beginning to change the way their brain was viewing and scanning the world. There were also students that said it seemed like it was positively impacting their extracurriculars--they felt more focused and calm during competition. In essence, the students enjoyed the experience and felt it positively impacted them even beyond the classroom.
*Click here to see the official PDF describing the EPOCH categories.
**If you are interested in the survey I used, or have any questions, just shoot me an email at email@example.com.
I finally tried out the video creation software Doodly to share some strategies about overcoming procrastination. (I think I was delaying my use of it).
Recent studies show that about 70% of college students claim they struggle with procrastination on a regular basis. I think the age groups below and above have similar issues. I know I do! In the video I share 6 techniques that may help. The one that really clicks for me is #1: The 5 Minute Take-Off. I struggle with perfectionism, so sometimes I freeze up rather than start. The 5 Minute Take-Off gets me to just get going. Once I do, I typically get into flow. It is so amazing how a small technique--a small shift in mindset--can help so much.
Here are the 6 Strategies:
1. The 5 Minute Take-Off
2. Reward Yourself
3. Go Public
4. Use the Team Approach
5. Write It Down
6. Be Sure to Recover
Take a look at the video, try out some of the strategies, and let me know what works for you in the comments.
I’m hoping this post can give you a better understanding of Positive Priming: both what it is and how to implement it. However, I know it is not all-inclusive, so if you have any questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. During these crazy COVID times, I think it is also important to mention that Positive Priming can also be done virtually!
This is the challenge: as humans, we are wired to scan for the negative...for threats. So we are inherently constantly scanning our environment for what can kill us--or maybe harm us not just physically, but emotionally. This means we are really good at finding the negative. To overcome this overwhelming magnetic pull, we need to put in work to change what we focus on. Positive Priming can help.
Where Did Positive Priming Come From?
I think I coined the term Positive Priming around 2016 or so. I had been using the strategy for a number of years before, but I officially named it only a few years ago. However, the whole idea of the benefit of positive emotions came from North Carolina years before. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson of UNC is one of the world’s leading researchers of positivity--in fact, one of her books is titled Positivity. Within, Fredrickson shares a concept called the Positivity Ratio. Basically, if a person has a ratio of about 3 positive emotions to every 1 negative emotion, they will flourish...they will be pretty successful. Over time, there has been some debate about the ratio being 5 to 1, but I think we can all agree that anywhere between 3 and 5 will be just fine for what I’m discussing here. This concept is what led me to start thinking about Positive Priming. If I could help my students have a better positivity ratio, they might be more successful. So I researched more. Fredrickson identified 10 major positive emotions that were most impactful: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love. My focus was to attempt to ignite one or more of these emotions in my students within the first few minutes of class each day.
What Can Positive Priming Actually Do For Your Students?
The scientifically-proven benefits of Positive Priming are many. Here are some of my favorites:
The Basics of Positive Priming
A Sample Week of Positive Priming
I will say that I don’t usually follow a pattern each week anymore. I try to use some variety from day-to-day, but I do use WOW Wednesdays and Thank You Thursdays almost every week. In addition, each day I give students a small bit of time to talk about the priming activity. It is usually just like 30 seconds, but it could be more depending on how it resonates. At any rate, here is what a week of priming could look like:
And There's a Bonus!
Here is the beauty of this entire post: Yes!--Positive Priming will work for your students, but...wait for it...it will work for teachers, too. In essence, if you engage in priming activities, you will reap the benefits as well. Enjoy the videos. Laugh. Write down 3 new things you are grateful for. Do as much as you can. You don’t have to do every activity every class period, but even if you choose one hour a day to engage, you will put yourself in a positive state...and it will help bring out the best in yourself and your students.
In my Positive Charge workshop, I help participants collaborate and actually create multiple days of potential Positive Priming activities!
A number of years ago, I discovered positive psychology. After researching for just a month or so, I decided I would try to apply some concepts in my high school classroom. Specifically, I was interested in how positivity could affect student performance (in terms of grade %), so I created something I call "Positive Priming."
Basically, "Positive Priming" is intentionally trying to activate positive emotions in students at the beginning of class. It can take as little as 10 seconds, but most of my positive priming activities are around 2 minutes. (I'll create a separate post about the details of positive priming in the future, but for now, I'll just share that I simply wanted to put students in a positive state.) From a research-based standpoint, being in a positive state as opposed to a negative or neutral state enhances multiple things including engagement, creativity, and ability to learn new concepts/strategies/techniques.
I had 5 freshman English classes at the time, so I devised a plan to implement 3 different strategies and assess impact. During first quarter, there was to be "Positive Priming" to establish a baseline. Then, during second quarter, the following Priming Plan would be administered:
After looking at the year-long results, I became curious if it affected any other measurable factors in my students--behavior came to mind beyond grade percentage. My classroom rarely has any behavior issues, but on occasion, I do have to report things to the office. I'd say maybe once or twice a quarter I have had to at least notify the office or document some type of negative behavior. During first and second quarter, I had a few instances involving mild inappropriate behavior. Second semester...zero. In fact, reported negative behavior was much lower in the 9th grade during second semester in all classes. Was it related to the "Positive Priming" and social connection in my class? Maybe...maybe not. But specifically in my class, performance was up and negative behavior was down.
Sounds like a great combo to me!