Posts Tagged 'positive emotions'

Developing positive emotions and resilience

Is it possible for people to develop skills associated with emotional and social intelligence?

The answer is “yes.”

More specifically, is it possible for people to increase their positive emotions and, in turn, their resilience in the face of illness and other adversity?

The answer is also “yes.”

“[N]ew research is demonstrating that people can learn skills that help them experience more positive emotions when faced with the severe stress of a life-threatening illness,” Jane Brody reports.

“Judith T. Moskowitz, a professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, developed a set of eight skills to help foster positive emotions….”

“An important goal of the training is to help people feel happy, calm and satisfied in the midst of a health crisis. Improvements in their health and longevity are a bonus. Each participant is encouraged to learn at least three of the eight skills and practice one or more each day.

The eight skills are:

■ Recognize a positive event each day.

■ Savor that event and log it in a journal or tell someone about it.

■ Start a daily gratitude journal.

■ List a personal strength and note how you used it.

■ Set an attainable goal and note your progress.

■ Report a relatively minor stress and list ways to reappraise the event positively.

■ Recognize and practice small acts of kindness daily.

■ Practice mindfulness, focusing on the here and now rather than the past or future.”

I encourage you to experiment with one or more of these strategies for at least a week and to note their effects on your mood and ability to deal with adversity.

How adults can boost their resilience

While resilience is an essential skill for healthy childhood development, science shows that adults also can take steps to boost resilience in middle age, which is often the time we need it most. Midlife can bring all kinds of stressors, including divorce, the death of a parent, career setbacks and retirement worries, yet many of us don’t build the coping skills we need to meet these challenges. 

Scientists who study stress and resilience say it’s important to think of resilience as an emotional muscle that can be strengthened at any time. While it’s useful to build up resilience before a big or small crisis hits, there still are active steps you can take during and after a crisis to speed your emotional recovery. —Tara Parker-Pope

Given that resilience is an “emotional muscle” that can be strengthened at any time, and given that human beings can learn important skills throughout their lives, it is enabling to know that there are practical ways to boost our resilience, such as these suggested by Parker-Pope:

Practice Optimism… Optimism doesn’t mean ignoring the reality of a dire situation. After a job loss, for instance, many people may feel defeated and think, ‘I’ll never recover from this.’ An optimist would acknowledge the challenge in a more hopeful way, saying, ‘This is going to be difficult, but it’s a chance to rethink my life goals and find work that truly makes me happy.’

“While it sounds trivial, thinking positive thoughts and surrounding yourself with positive people really does help. Dr. Steven Southwick, a psychiatry professor at Yale Medical School and Dr. Charney’s co-author, notes that optimism, like pessimism, can be infectious. His advice: ‘Hang out with optimistic people.’”

Rewrite Your Story…. Study after study has shown that we can benefit from reframing the personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves. In expressive writing studies, college students taught to reframe their college struggles as a growth opportunity got better grades and were less likely to drop out. A Harvard study found that people who viewed stress as a way to fuel better performance did better on tests and managed their stress better physiologically than those taught to ignore stress.

Don’t Personalize It. We have a tendency to blame ourselves for life’s setbacks and to ruminate about what we should have done differently. In the moment, a difficult situation feels as if it will never end. To bolster your resilience, remind yourself that even if you made a mistake, a number of factors most likely contributed to the problem and shift your focus to the next steps you should take.

Remember Your Comebacks. When times are tough, we often remind ourselves that other people — like war refugees or a friend with cancer — have it worse. While that may be true, you will get a bigger resilience boost by reminding yourself of the challenges you personally have overcome.”

Parker-Pope concludes: “The good news is that some of the qualities of middle age — a better ability to regulate emotions, perspective gained from life experiences and concern for future generations — may give older people an advantage over the young when it comes to developing resilience, said Adam Grant, a management and psychology professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “There is a naturally learnable set of behaviors that contribute to resilience….”

What specific behavior, if consistently practiced, would strengthen your resilience?

There is no substitute for resilient leadership

Resilient people are often called upon to be leaders, a responsibility that both draws upon their resilience and cultivates it for future use.

Early in my career I did not understand the importance of leadership. Schools, I thought, would improve if teachers were simply given the tools to do their work and the freedom to use them.

But then I had an opportunity to closely observe a school whose teachers and parents were frustrated and dispirited. Students performed poorly, and everyone felt hopeless about the future.

Eventually a new principal came to the school. Over the next 3 years things got better. Staff and parent morale improved, as did teaching and student learning.

That principal eventually went on to another assignment, and the school’s new principal was more like the first one. Things spiraled downwards into a hopelessness that felt more profound because of the school’s rollercoaster journey.

Later on in my professional development work I spent a great deal of time talking with teachers about teaching and learning.

I enjoyed those conversations immensely except when teachers were angry and cynical.

Without exception, I observed that those teachers were poorly led by principals or system administrators or union leaders. Or all three.

My work came to focus on principals and teacher leaders because without their skillful leadership teacher professional learning and teamwork were unlikely to occur in ways that would benefit all students in all classrooms.

School leaders to a very large degree determine:

What is your experience—is it possible to continuously improve teaching and learning without skillful leadership?

Emotions are contagious

Dennis Sparks

Emotions are contagious. Leaders’ emotions are particularly contagious.

That’s why I read with great interest a sign posted in a long-term care facility:

“Emotional Contagion is the transferring of emotions from one person to another. Residents with Alzheimer’s Dementia have a heightened sensitivity to emotional contagion. They tend to mimic the emotions of those around them. This is a way for them to connect with others even if they’re not able to understand their current situation. If we as caregivers are anxious or upset, residents will pick up and copy the same emotions even if we think they are not aware. Being calm and happy while providing care may go a long way in keeping our residents calm and happy as well.”

Like Alzheimer’s patients, individuals in high stress environments have a “heightened sensitivity to emotional contagion.”

And, unfortunately, many schools, for a variety of reasons, are pressure cookers of stress.

That means that it is essential that administrators and teacher leaders pay special attention to whether they are anxious or upset and do all that they can to bring their best selves to school each day so that they spread positive emotions rather than negative ones.

I offer 8 suggestions here for leaders on ways they can bring positive energy to their school communities.

What have you found helpful in bringing your best self to school each day, whatever your role may be?

8 ways to create positive energy in the school community

IMG_1365Visitors can often sense in a matter of minutes the positive or negative energy of a school.

Some schools feel welcoming, calm, and joyful. Others feel angry, stressful, and even foreboding.

Fortunately, administrators and teacher leaders can influence the energy and emotional tone of classrooms, schools, and school systems.

Here are 8 suggestions for creating positive energy:

1. Bring authentic positive emotions such as enthusiasm, hopefulness, and joy into the school community.

2. Use  formal and informal processes to celebrate the accomplishments and strengths of everyone in the school community.

3. Honor those who are not present by refusing to engage in gossip and other negative interactions.

4. Make certain that all meetings are engaging and productive.

5. Ensure that professional development produces meaningful professional learning by putting an end to “mindless” professional  development.

6. Make certain that all requests are carefully considered before making promises, and that once made, those promises are kept.

7. Whenever possible, use careful planning to prevent or minimize problems and the stress they cause.

8. Maintain an unwavering focus and consistency by ensuring that continuous improvement efforts are based on a compelling vision, communitywide values, and clear long-term goals and strategies.

What ideas or practices would you add to this list?

Is it possible for leaders with low emotional intelligence to succeed?


If one looks at failed leaders, they typically fail not because they lack intelligence, but rather because they lack wisdom and behave foolishly. – Robert Sternberg

Each week this summer I’m introducing a blog theme that connects popular and important posts from recent years. Each theme offers a number of perspectives on a perennial challenge of school leadership.

This week’s topic is “emotional intelligence.”

As Robert Sternberg says, “failed leaders” often do so because of problems with people of one sort or another—escalating conflicts that produce no positive results, inability to express feelings in helpful ways or to recognize and respond to the feelings of others, and authoritarian and controlling ways of working with others, to name a few common problems.

I encourage you to scroll through articles in this thread to find those that match your interests.

In addition, I encourage you to take a closer look at these essays:

“Choose healthy skepticism over cynicism”

“Why it’s important for leaders to choose the scenic path over the psychopath

“How leaders can cultivate positive emotions within the school community”

Leading for Results Means Cultivating Positive Emotions

Positive emotions within school communities are a bulwark against the inevitable challenges they face. (Photo: Dennis Sparks)

Emotions are contagious, and positive emotions resonate throughout an organization and into relationships with other constituents. To get extraordinary things done in extraordinary times, leaders must inspire optimal performance—and that can only be fueled with positive emotions.

—James Kouzes & Barry Posner

Leaders’ joy, enthusiasm, and hopefulness are contagious. Likewise, leaders’ sadness, anxiety, anger, fear, cynicism, and resignation can infect the school community. Leaders’ emotions can spread like a virus as one member of the school community picks it up and carries it to others.

In Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead With Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee use the terms “resonant” to describe leaders whose positive emotions create similar feelings in others  and “dissonant” for leaders whose negative feelings create downward flows of emotions and energy, a condition that some have called a “slow death spiral.” “The fundamental task of leaders,” they argue, “is to prime good feelings in those they lead. That occurs when a leader creates a resonance—a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people. At its root, then, the primal job of leadership is emotional.”

The good news is that leaders can develop their emotional well-being through a number of means. While we may have been influenced by genetics and early life experiences, we also have the capacity to continuous move in the direction of greater joy, peace, and overall emotional well-being.

Because significant change in schools begins with significant change in leaders, the first step in addressing the school community’s emotional resilience is to do an honest self assessment of your overall emotional state to determine where you stand along a continuum from hopeful, positive, peaceful, and enthusiastic to worried, angry, cynical, and pessimistic. You may also ask staff members to give you anonymous feedback in this area to better understand how you are perceived by others and how your emotions affect the school community.

No matter where leaders find themselves along such a continuum, research in “positive psychology” says that individuals can increase their emotional well-being through a number of means, one of which is cultivating gratitude. A simple research-based technique that you can use to increase your gratitude is to note in writing at the end of each day three things for which you are grateful. Practicing this discipline for as little as six weeks has been shown to produce positive emotional effects.

Research also indicates that the development and application of “signature strengths,” particularly when used to achieve purposes larger than one’s own self interest, fosters emotional satisfaction. Psychologist Martin Seligman provides a self-assessment inventory of signature strengths for your review.

Additional research indicates that happiness is increased by giving to others, a finding that is well suited to the values and daily responsibilities of educators. It is also important that you carve out of your busy schedule “unencumbered time” to provide balance and strengthen relationships.

Leading for Results “Six-Word Leadership Tool”:

Positive emotions are contagious; develop them.

To strengthen your leadership practice

• No matter our starting point, all of us can benefit from a periodic tune up of our emotional well being. Select one of the areas described above as a starting point for such a tune up.

• Develop a “six-word leadership tool” to summarize your learning or to express an action you will take as a result of this essay. Please add your tool to the comment section of this blog and share it with one or more colleagues “back home.”

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