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Positive Psychology

The Gift of Positive Psychology: Empower Teachers

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week

Dear American Teacher,

You have [almost] made it through another school year. This is a testimony to your positive psychology aptitude. A testament to your ability to self-regulate your frustrations, engage your emotional strength in the face of often failed policy, nurture a relationship with your students with fewer resources, and find purpose in often meaningless testing.

You accomplish a great deal that is sometimes little recognized and under appreciated.

You survived another year in the failed ‘Big Data’ era of education that offers little advantage. Yet, you keep teaching because you love the students and the learning.

You know what matters the most in education is your professional assessment of what your student knows at the granular level. You know what matters the most is how you make your students feel so that they do not avoid - or accept - failure as an option. You help them find the self-assurance, resilience, and courage to learn from it and try again. You know what matters the most is creativity, engagement, and more time to plan. You know what matters most is not only what you teach (standards/content) - but equally how you teach it (pedagogy).

Teachers are professionals. However, over the past 20-years, proponents of the ‘reform movement' have not always treated them that way. Simply put: the best gift we can give is to empower the teachers who care about our children and help them teach with tolerance, patience, persistence, and respect.

If you want to give teachers a gift this week, give them time, training, and tribute. Let students, parents, principals, and professors assess them - not for-profit testing companies evaluating them 3 independent variables removed from outcome and controlling for no external variables (including poverty). Invite local scholarly professors into the classroom to ‘grade’ teachers rather than using political proxies and ever changing questionable metrics. And, let teachers 'grade' their principals, schools and districts on how well they are doing. It takes a local community to teach a child not a corporation. Teachers need to have more power in their own classrooms and ideological billionaires less.

So here are some of my wishful gifts to all teachers from a bygone era of education that built the strongest and most successful nation in the history of civilization. The educational model that most other nations envied and adopted (e.g. Finland, China). The kind of teaching practiced in an era that valued innovation over compliance, encouraged individuation over standardization, and abandoned ‘assembly-line, factory-schools' in favor of the progressive school model. Teaching as an art as well as a science.

1. Smaller class sizes. Enable teachers to get to know students better and have more time for each one individually. Promote personalized learning environments. Simple math: divide the number of students in a classroom by the number of hours in a day and find the average time allocated per student. Or, better yet, adopt the teacher/student ratio of the best, and most expensive, private school in your community.

2. Local, organic testing. Teachers and their districts can test students locally and organically. Do not allow ‘BigEd’ (large for-profit corporations) to infiltrate the schools with ever more oppressive testing regimes. There is a ‘maker movement' in education where teachers themselves make educational products of value (including small-scale tests). Likewise, students make products of value and education emphasizes digital creating and sharing across the globe. Teachers and students transformed as artisans and education as artisanal for all - not just the privileged few.

3. More time, education, and resources. The best teaching takes time to plan and is not scripted from a multi-national corporation's textbook. Give teachers their own classroom budget so they don’t have to crowd source crayons. How about a free master’s degree in education, or in their subject area, at a higher education institution close to home? There are also many not-for-profit professional associations with value-added models who will share their proven methods and support teachers without partisan and hidden agendas: Collaborative for Academic, Social, Emotional Learning, Coalition for Essential Schools, Partnership for 21st Century Schools, Responsive Classrooms, Rethinking Schools, Phi Delta Kappa, and many, many more. Read the Education Declaration.

4. Private school model. Model all public schools on the best and most progressive private schools in the community. The one your child would attend if you could afford it. You will find little punishment and no high-stakes, relentless testing. You will find empowered teachers, small classes, much creativity, plentiful resources, and positivity (3 positive experiences for every 1 negative experience). You will find disruptive neuroscience-based education. You will find schools guided by school-based boards comprised of parents, teachers, professors, and community leaders. Or you might simply bring in consultants from the National Association of Independent Schools to help empower your teachers and their schools, and include the teachers themselves in all decision-making. This gift does not include consultation from for-profit mega charter schools. Perhaps, teachers should defect en masse and create a series of small, connected, progressive, public, not-for-profit, charter community schools with emphasis on not-for-profit.

The best positive psychology teachers are the ones who see public education as they would like it to be and not as it is now. They imagineer their way to success against the odds with mindfulness and enagagement as their success metrics. What if the answer to the 'how to improve schools' question is simple: empower teachers.

Teachers, enjoy your gifts. Students, enjoy your reinvigorated teachers.


A Grateful Nation

Empower Teachers: Watch PBS Greater Independence for Teachers

Empower Teachers: Read SEEN Empowered Teachers Change the World

Empower Teachers: Visit Center for Inspired Teaching

Empower Teachers: Join Teacher Powered Schools


READ MORE IN MY BOOK: Positive Psychology in the Elementary School Classroom (W.W. Norton & Company, 2013) is intended to help teachers build positive psychology classrooms consistent with affective neuroscience.





A special thank you to Jill H. Anderson of Ann Arbor, Michigan for granting me license to use her charming artwork. Jill is a recently retired university-level science educator specializing in public outreach. She is also a writer and a maker of captivating drawings and dolls. Read more about the meaning of her 'brain' drawings; what lies beneath your skull.

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