Positivity is a powerful tool in ANY classroom! When the social and emotional systems of the brain are engaged in a positive way, learning is much more likely to take place. Complex thought takes place in the frontal lobes. Information “must pass through the reticular activating system and the limbic system to be acknowledged, recognized, connected with relational memories, patterned and ultimately stored in long-term memory” (Willis, 2007, p.18). Positive emotions open this pathway, while negative emotions and stress causes the pathway to go into survival mode (fight or flight), which in turn restricts flow to the frontal lobes making complex thought difficult if not impossible. Our goal as teachers is to maintain a positive, optimistic classroom to keep the learning pathway open.
With a positive learning environment in mind, there are many brain-based strategies we can use to increase learning. I consider brain-based strategies during lesson planning, while keeping in mind the learning styles and intelligences of my students. If during a lesson I notice that I’m beginning to lose their attention, I will adjust my strategy or pause for BrainSMART BrainObics or another crossover activity (see a demonstration of BrainObics here on BrainSMART’s website). I begin the year by stressing the importance of optimism and positive thinking on the brain, and then continue teaching and modeling the other BrainSMART thinking for learning skills which include: optimism, listening, focus, understanding space, understanding time, systematic search, systematic planning, memory, comparisons, and courage. Working on these skills together, with optimism (positivity) being the overarching theme, has made a remarkable difference in my students success. I teach them metacognition and we participate in Brain Awareness Week activities. They are so aware of optimism that they can tell you about a study that showed a pessimistic fourth grader presented with a difficult task would see his or her thinking reduced to that of a first grader. They will go on to tell you that an optimistic fourth grader will have the courage to continue or seek help to solve the difficult task (Wilson & Conyers, 2011). They cheer each others successes and offer support and encouragement when a classmate struggles. My students even tell their parents to be optimistic and courageous. 12 of my 21 students were reading below grade level at the beginning of the year. Now, NONE of them are below grade level (two are a mere one month behind where they should be), and ALL of them are effective metacognitive learners. That is powerful. That is optimism and courage!
I think strategies for increasing positive emotional involvement must include the thinking skills mentioned above. When students have the necessary tools to learn, they feel better about themselves. Success breeds confidence. Teachers must model and refer back to the strategies often. The I Feel Good strategy (also shown on the video linked above) is another important and effective tool to return students to a positive and optimistic state. Students can do the strategy alone or as a class. Success mapping (keeping track of student successes) is another go-to strategy for positive emotional involvement. When losing student focus, BrainObics is an amazing way to get the two sides of the brain working together and the blood flowing. I also use the opportunity to refocus students on metacognition by reminding them each time why we do BrainObics. BrainObics keep the energy of the classroom flowing. Probably the most important strategy to keep the energy positive and upbeat is by being that way yourself! I am a high-energy teacher. That is the only way to keep the attention of many classes. Moving around the classroom, being animated, doing BrainObics, and allowing state-changes (Scaddan, 2009), are all important contributions to the positive energy of my class.
It would be difficult to model authentic positivity if I were not feeling that way myself. One reason to feel so positive is that a teacher's job has meaning! We have the future of the world sitting in our classrooms every day. How exciting is that! If you model and teach optimism and positivity every day, you will see amazing results flow! Positivity is a powerful contribution to any classroom.
Conyers, M., & Wilson, D. (2011). BrainSMART 60 Strategies for Increasing Student Learning. (4 ed.). Orlando: BrainSMART.
Scaddan, M. A. (2009). 40 Engaging Brain-Based Tools for the Classroom. Thousand Oaks. CA: Corwin Pr.
Willis, J. (2007). Brain-Friendly Strategies for the Inclusion Classroom. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.