Optimism, Part 4: Act it Out


“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.” 

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

In this last post, we looked at a method for examining and challenging unhelpful thoughts. In the final post in this series about optimism in schools, we will look at how changing your behavior, or even just experimenting with new behaviors, can bring about changes in thoughts and feelings. Sometimes when working with teachers, particularly new teachers, and we work on unhelpful patterns of thoughts or biases, teachers still struggle with putting ideas into action. They may grasp an abstract concept, like engagement, but need concrete strategies to put thoughts into action in the classroom. Providing a concrete strategy can help change behavior and which may change teachers thoughts and beliefs. In one study, researchers examined changes in beliefs between a group of teachers that took a standard pedagogy course and a group of teachers that took a course that taught new skills along with the pedagogy. The teachers in the group that learned behaviors shifted their beliefs the most. 

Here are a few approaches I use with teachers to support building new behaviors and new beliefs: 

Try an experiment. Something I like to try with teachers I coach are short experiments in which they try on a new behavior and reflect on how it challenges their beliefs. For example, if a teacher believes they cannot make positive connections with students, I might encourage them to try, as an experiment, some kind of new behavior:

Greet each student at the door when the students enter class and when they leave everyday for one week. What happens?

Include a non-academic component to a daily warm-up activity as a way to get to know students. How do students respond? 

Giving teachers an actual behavior and a rationale rooted in pedagogically-sound practices provides them with new experiences which can also provide them with new insights and may even shift their thoughts and beliefs. 

When working with teachers that are still building their teacher-toolbox this is incredibly important. They may struggle with new thoughts or new behaviors because they can't imagine what this would look like in real life. Experimenting with a new strategy provides a learning opportunity for teachers to build new behaviors to support new thoughts about teaching and learning. 

Watch and learn. Observation is a powerful way of learning, even for adults! Watching a more experienced teacher model a strategy is a fantastic way to learn a new skill. Psychologist Albert Bandura (1997) even said vicarious experiences can be a source of self-efficacy. Sometimes teachers need to see a strategy in action in order to feel like they can be successful. 



Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman. Print.

Spiegel, A. (2012, September 17). Teachers' Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2012/09/18/161159263/teachers-expectations-can-influence-how-students-perform

Rachel Hallquist