Why it’s important to focus on the successes

When the going gets tough it can be hard to stop and celebrate the victories, but Tes News wellbeing expert Jo Steer explains why it pays to be positive.

Tes Editorial

Teacher holding a trophy

A guest blog from Tes News wellbeing columnist Jo Steer

I don’t know about you, but for me, the term "positive thinking" is just a little bit icky.

It conjures up images of happy-clappy types who go about proclaiming that everything is wonderful, while purposely ignoring everything that blatantly isn’t.

Of course, I know that this isn’t accurate. Or fair.

Because as much as it might grate against my inner British cynicism, there’s a whole lot of positives to be had by being positive. And for school leaders, taking a moment to pause and appreciate a job well done has a number of benefits, for the staff, students and school overall. Here's why.

It demonstrates to staff that they are valued

Where genuine praise is offered to staff either individually or in public, in person or via email – taking the time to acknowledge the achievements of staff makes a difference.

It tells the member of staff that their work has been noticed – that they are valued and appreciated – and it shows them that their school leaders care about them enough to make this clear. It strengthens relationships between staff and senior leaders, alongside boosting morale, job fulfilment and motivation.

Teaching can feel like a thankless profession sometimes, with so much expected and seemingly taken for granted. Moments where they were recognised will stand out to staff members looking back over their year.

It counteracts the negativity bias

As human beings, we have a natural negativity bias in the brain, causing us to notice the negatives more than the positives. It’s natural then, for us to focus on what we haven’t done as opposed to what we have; or what went wrong rather than what went fabulously well.

And boy is it easy to do this in teaching. Right?

I mean, I don’t have the exact figures, but I’d wager that a disproportionate number of teachers face daily battles with perfectionism, impostor syndrome, anxiety and in general have a sense of self-worth that is tied to productivity.

The point is that we need help in forming a balanced, realistic perspective. Encouraging staff to focus on individual, team and school success will help to counteract this pull towards the dark side.

In fact, a genuinely positive attitude modelled by the senior leadership team can seep into school culture, like the smell of freshly-baked cookies, boosting team spirit and individual self-belief. It might just make the difference between someone believing in themselves enough to go for a promotion or not bothering.

It ties tasks to a purpose

Teachers often cite excessive workload as their biggest job complaint – not only because it eats into work-life balance, but because the type of work they’re asked to do often feels detached from meaning and purpose.

Ultimately, most people don’t go into teaching for the money. They want to make a difference. Therefore, it’s important to remind them of where they have indeed made a difference – to the students, staff, school or community – whenever there’s an opportunity to do so.

We can learn from successes

People often talk about learning from failures and setbacks, but we forget that we can learn a great deal from successes too.

Taking the time to sit with success, to consider the who, what, where, when and why of it, can be incredibly useful. If nothing else, because it will hopefully allow you to replicate it. Or at least to pinpoint why we have wildly different results elsewhere.

Jo Steer is a wellbeing consultant working with schools. She is also a former teacher and Tes News columnist.