It’s Good to Feel Good

“Not every day may be good, but there’s something good in every day.” Unknown

A first year teacher* was recently telling me he was finding more happiness in teaching. When I asked him about this shift, he said he was making more of an effort to find happiness, “It can be a labor to enjoy teaching. It’s really something I have to put a lot of thought into.” So wise. I appreciated this teacher’s commitment to enjoy teaching, especially during the challenging first few years. Often, our first years require a tremendous amount of work as we build our teacher toolkit but positive emotions are a vital part of our instructional repertoire as well. 

Even as an experienced teacher, I work hard building and refining my teaching practice and expect that this should take effort. However, I find myself assuming positive emotions should come spontaneously and naturally. Since positive emotions may have a number of personal and professional benefits and, like this wonderful new teacher pointed out, can be cultivated with a little effort, it may be worthwhile to time to spend some time increasing them. 

Why its good to feel good

Positive and negative emotions can play a role in job performance; negative emotions can narrow our skills to only what is needed to respond to the immediate situation, while positive emotions can broaden our skills (Achor, 2010; Fredrickson, 2000). Interest sparks intellectual curiosity and builds knowledge, contentment can ignite insights; it is through positive experiences that our attention is broadened and we build physical, intellectual, psychological and social resources (Fredrickson, 2004). For example, a middle school science teacher* recently was describing how happy she was with the success of a recent lesson. While in this positive emotional state with her class, she was able to make numerous insights about her practice that could be applied to future lesson; hands-on inquiry sparks engagement even for reluctant learners, group inquiry built a positive class culture, the success of this lesson could increase her student’s self-efficacy. Reflecting on the positive emotional experiences she increased her knowledge of teaching. 

According to Fredrickson (2004) these positive emotional experiences are important for helping individuals see the broader picture and build their repertoire of skills. Negative emotions, however, narrow our attention scope and lead to specific action responses to react to the troubling situation (Fredrickson, 2004). For example, a teacher’s frustration with quieting a noisy classroom could consume the teacher’s attention. The focus becomes eliminating a specific behavior instead of reflecting on the broader and numerous factors that may influence student behavior. 

Aren’t negative emotions important as well? Of course. A world without grief, anger, and guilt is terrifying and negative emotions have their own benefits. Anger helps us understand our boundaries. Guilt gifts us with moral clarity. Even Fredrickson, notes that some negative comments can provide direction. She hypothesized “ultra-happy” employees could potentially be content, complacent, and avoid important information. A modest, yet still low, amount of negativity could support individuals perceiving and adapting appropriately to challenges. 

However, research into our profession shows teachers aren’t experiencing moderate levels of stress: high levels of stress and negative emotions are found in teachers. The expectations teachers place on themselves and the expectations others place on them are significant factors in making teaching among the most stressful professions (Larrivee, 2012). Yes, I agree there is a lot of work to be done at local, state and national levels to improve education which could improve outcomes for students and reduce stress and worry for educators. However, in addition to advocating for these changes, we can also build our skills at caring for ourselves. An art teacher* once told me, “Teaching is a rollercoaster and a marathon.” There are highs and lows, rallies and valleys. If we burnout during the low-points, we cannot continue to do the valuable work we do.

How do we cultivate our positive emotions at work? In this blog post, I share how one simple research-based daily journaling technique about what well. According the Dr. Martin Seligman (2011), this simple strategy increased positive emotions for participants within just one week and the participants were still showing benefits months later! To help us all get started, I created a simple and free 7-day journal (keep reading) so you can test our this journaling practice and see if it benefits you.  To download our teacher gratitude journal, simply complete the form below. What are other ways you might cultivate positive emotions?

*All teacher quotes and stories are printed with teacher permission. Names and all identifying characteristics are changed.  

Resources

Fredrickson, Barbara L.; Mancuso, Roberta A.; Branigan, Christine; Tugade, Michele M.; (2000). "The Undoing Effect of Positive Emotions." Motivation and Emotion 24(4): 237-258

Fredrickson, Barbara L.; (2004). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1693418/pdf/15347528.pdf

Larrivee, B. (2013). Cultivating teacher renewal: guarding against stress and burnout. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

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