Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.
Everyone looks at situations differently. You may find people who are always carefree and painfully cheerful, looking at the world through their rose-colored glasses. Then there are those who are pillars of doom and tend to look for (and find) the negative aspect of almost everything. Or, we all know people who are so entrenched in knowing the facts that they lose sight of the opportunity of making a difference that is sitting in front of them. In any scenario, completely living in only one of these three mindsets can cause great problems in life.
Optimists tend to have unrealistic expectations and only see rainbows and sunshine. They believe that when things are bad they will improve, but they often fail to see the work that is needed to produce change. Optimists believe things will get better if they keep a positive attitude. While having a positive attitude is important for mental health and a productive classroom, it alone will not solve all our problems. A positive attitude can bring a perspective that change can happen, but fails to meet situations with the specific support that is needed to make improvements. Those who only live in optimism believe it will all work out in the end, and thus, fail to meet real challenges with real work.
Realists are rooted in truth. Yet they sometimes use that truth for a lack of action. They often have a dream or idea, but fail to act on it and then let reality get in the way. The problem with reality is that if you give it too much of your attention it will keep you stuck where you current are forever — you have to look past your reality to what your life could become. Change and innovation are both driven by imagination. Using your dreams to see past your perceived reality is how you create amazing things in your life. Often people live in realism because they are afraid of failure or change. In all honesty, the only thing we should be afraid of is never changing our reality and being stuck in sameness.
Pessimists often lack confidence, or display false confidence to hide their lack of knowledge or interpersonal deficiencies. Even when something good happens, they ignore it. Or, they believe the negative event happened by a fluke or stroke of bad luck. This type of behavior can lead to learned helplessness which has no place in our schools and is a horrific attitude to model for our students. When a person thinks they cannot bring about a positive change, it may lead to severe despair and destruction of the good work we need to be successful. Nothing good can come from a situation if we never search for the good.
To lead successfully in our schools, we have to be unwaveringly real about the problems we face, but relentlessly optimistic that we can make a difference no matter how difficult the problems are. Too often people use realism as an excuse for not being optimistic, or they use optimism as an excuse for not facing the real facts. Both are very weak mindsets and even weaker positions to put ourselves in. And, in my opinion, we have no place for pessimism in our classrooms and schools. Our students deal with enough struggles in today’s world without having a negative attitude standing in the front of a classroom.
Perhaps the best of both worlds is to be a realistic optimist – someone who tends to maintain a positive outlook, but within the constraints of what they know about the world. We must have both these points of view to lead effectively in our schools. We must be very realistic about the problems we are facing, and then make no excuses for those problems as we meet them head on. During these struggles, we then have to be optimistic that we can make a difference. Optimistic to a point that nothing can stop us from overcoming the obstacles we face in educating our students.
The next time you face a problem, a misbehavior from a student, a poor performance, or even just a bad day — be real about the problem and what is creating it- and then let nothing stop you from changing the world. As Margaret Mead reminded us, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”