“Attitudes are contagious, is yours worth catching?” This is a pretty cheesy quotation that I often see on classroom posters. It is directed towards students, but I think the message needs to be heeded by educators as well.
Disney’s Inside Out is a wonderful movie with a variety of important life lessons (maybe future blogs). One of the main characters, Sadness, is a great representation of the attitude and demeanor I sometimes see in educators. By the end of the movie we discover the important role that sadness plays in adolescent emotional development. However, for the purpose of this blog, she will be used as the example of how not to look, act, behave, and speak.
In this scene, Joy and Sadness are trying to make it back to Headquarters to help Riley (the girl who they serve as emotions for). “I am positive you will get lost in there.” This is an example of how Sadness always looks at the worst case scenario.
Also important to note is that Sadness, having read the manual, knows how to get back to headquarters. But Joy has to literally drag her around to get the journey started. Besides not helping herself, Sadness’ negative attitude is now impacting those around her.
I have a theory. A school receives an anonymous donation. They are able to give each teacher in the building $1000. However, it turns out that a portion of the donation was supposed to fund a new projector for the conference room. The teachers are asked to give back $20 to purchase the projector. A small fraction of the teachers will complain.
My point is that no matter what the circumstance there will always be some who choose to be unhappy.
My hope is that this post helps those with Sadness tendencies reflect on the impact their attitude has on a school.
As a principal, I frequently make building rounds. I know that there are some hallways and classrooms where the teachers will be in the hallway greeting students, sharing positive stories with colleagues, and keeping an eye on things. I love traversing these areas, because the optimism is infectious.
Then there are the areas of the building where I dread going. In these spots the teachers will inevitably stop me. They won’t stop me to talk about a new idea for a lesson, to share about the progress a student is making, or to ask me about my family. Either the copier ran out of toner, they had to cover a class where the substitute did not show up, or an entire class bombed a quiz.
The wind has been completely taken out of my sails.
I am not saying that these are not concerns, but instead of rolling with it and being solution minded, they let obstacles ruin their day, and worse, ruin everyone else’s day.
I can’t imagine that the same teacher leaves the hallway and starts class with the positivity and enthusiasm necessary to engage students. I know for a fact that there are students in that class dealing with a lot more than a lack of toner. How are those students supposed to act when what is being modeled to them is unhappiness, malaise, gloom, and despair?
Student behavior is a reflection of teacher behavior. You ever see a science teacher who is completely in love with his curriculum? They get so animated by the content that they make it impossible for their students not to be excited about the next lab.
Not only does negatively impact the students, but other teachers as well. It could go one of two ways. Teachers around the Sadness teacher will choose to retreat to their room. This creates a school culture of isolation. The other thing that could happen is that fellow educators get “infected” by the teacher. They start to think maybe I should complain more about my circumstances. That is why in a school that utilizes a team model, you may see teams take on a common characteristic (good or bad).
The only way to fix it is to be aware of it. Education is challenging. There are things that will come up or you will be asked to do that are difficult, will cost you time, and weigh heavy on your emotions. But, how you choose to handle those situations will make the difference. Deciding to sulk, complain, and mope will only compound the issue. Meeting the challenge head on will not only make you feel better, it will inspire and motivate the students and teachers around you.
Be careful because the path of Sadness can sometimes lead you down the path of becoming the Eeyore Teacher.