How it all began...
In the school year of 2011-12, I began an informal study of Positive Psychology with a professor from Oregon State University in Corvallis. I was fascinated. And I loved everything he taught and explained. As I applied the teachings, I marveled at the ways that those teachings affected my life.
I also was enrolled in an apprenticeship program for alternative healing modalities and studied in depth the development of the adolescent brain and knowledge acquisition.
I was totally absorbed in my studies outside of my own classroom. The principles and practices I was learning made such a profound difference in my own life. I was better able to handle the stress and craziness of being a public school teacher. My relationships both with my friends and family as well as my students became harmonious and ever-so-pleasant. I had no reason to send a single child out of my classroom for disciplinary action. Things were fantastic.
At the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, I was flying high. My summer had been the best in a long time. I was motivated and super excited to be back in the classroom. I had five classes of 2nd and 3rd year Spanish with a total of about 150 students. We were on a block schedule and met for an hour and 20 minutes. The year was starting off splendidly.
And then, I gave the first unit test of the year. Oh dear. My students scored a 68% class average. This would not do. We had a talk about what they were capable of, what the class expectations were and more specifically, what my expectations of them were. I had very high expectations and I knew that they could do a lot better.
I explained that I was going to teach them by using the principles of positive psychology and adolescent brain development. I shared briefly with them the ideas of Dr. Daniel Siegle in his book Brainstorm. We were all motivated to do our best.
And we did. On the cumulative final exam, my students scored a 78% class average. Even better than that, they were able to communicate in Spanish. They could get around, rudimentarily for some, pretty well for others. We experienced a great improvement and measurable learning.
Next year, same thing. First unit test of the year, a 68% class average. I had to laugh! Or else I would have cried. But this year things were really different. We went from a block schedule to a traditional, 7-classes per day schedule. We had 49 minutes in the classroom. And 208 students. Holy moly! Talk about a stressful environment.
Thanks to my solid knowledge of how to be happy, especially in stressful situations, that I’d gained from my positive psych studies, (I had now officially enrolled in a Certificate of Positive Psychology program with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar), I knew how to sort-of manage the stress.
Again, as I calculated a 68% class average on that first big test, I thought to myself, “This is going to be good. Now I really know what I’m doing.” And I had the conversation with all 208 of my amigos.
Guess what they did? On the cumulative final exam in June, they scored a class average of 80%. Sweet little Spanish-speaking honeys. They took it to heart. They trusted in me as their teacher. More importantly, they learned to trust themselves as students, as capable of learning, as capable of overcoming failure, as capable of communicating in Spanish. And they did it. And it was my very best year of teaching ever. And my last.
I knew that what Positive Psychology can do for adults, it can just as easily do for students. Our young people are so hungry to know who they are, what they can do, and how they can be an active and involved participant in life. They really want to know why they study what they must study in school and how it is going to affect their lives. They love to ask “Why?” Let’s encourage that!
My classroom was my laboratory. It showed me that as I gave students tools to find and know and use their strengths, they would flourish. I learned to trust my students to do their best. I gave up the need to continually monitor them; their homework completion, their project schedule to make sure they were on track to have it done and turned in by the due date, and their test prep and study time away from school. They learned to trust themselves. They understood and accepted personal responsibility for their learning. And they loved it! They honored that I, as the adult in the room and as their teacher, gave them freedom to learn according to their needs and their style. And so they flourished.
My students motivated me to write YOUTH Positive. The idea was in my mind for a while. Having been able to apply what I had learned in my own classroom gave me pause to consider how many other students could benefit from the core principles and practices of positive psychology. I knew the answer was “Many. A whole lot.”
Then I considered what it would be for teachers to have students who were engaged and interested and question-askers, what it would be for teachers to not have discipline problems in the classroom, to never have to send students to the office, or out into the hallway to “compose” themselves. What if students really were respectful, responsible, and successful?
And so you have before you YOUTH Positive. May it be easy and fun for you to do. May you be inspired by the contents so that you can offer from your heart the practices found herein. May you thrive and flourish both as an individual and an educator. May your students thrive and find deep meaning and purpose in their educational adventures.