A year ago, after this writer had conducted a half-day seminar for a group of over 130 teachers on my favourite topic ‘The Power of
Positive Psychology’, in one of the prominent schools in Bengaluru, one of the participating teachers came up to me and said, “Sir, your topic was really good, but there’s one problem, your ideas will not work with my unruly students.” I smiled and pulled her aside and spent some time discussing, explaining and offering a few suggestions that required her to change her perspective about the way she treated her students. I assured her I would be in touch with her through the year and assist her in her efforts. Reluctant but she agreed to give it a try.
Try she did and a year on, not only did she return a happy teacher, she now calls her students real gems, a far cry from what she called them a year ago: ‘unruly’. Now, what happened? Why this change in such a short time?
All credits to the power of positive psychology and its pioneering proponent Martin Seligman whose practical lessons I had asked the teacher to implement. And it’s not that the teacher had a Herculean task. All that she had to do was to change her perspective and look at her students with Love, Positivity and Care. I shall share here a few things she did that made a world of a difference. The suggestions offered here are useful not just in classes, but also in our workplaces, our homes and communities.
First, she listed down the positive strengths of individual students. She wrote at least 10 positive strengths of each of them. It was tough at first, but soon she discovered that she could write more than 10 positives in every person. Later she picked up one student after another each day and made everyone else to write 10 positive qualities of that person on a sheet of paper. She collected those papers and read those qualities aloud in the class. Every person started feeling good about oneself and started behaving in such a way as though he/she wanted to prove that he/she deserved those qualities attributed to them.
Second, she changed the duty of class monitors whose role used to be listing out the names of students who talked or behaved badly in class in the absence of teachers. Monitors were now told to write the names of students who behaved well or who did not talk in class. The teacher would reward well-behaved students with an additional 5 marks during the semester exams. In the beginning a few so-called ‘unruly’ ones continued to behave the way they were wont to, but soon all the students wanted to be in the good list of the monitor.
Third, the teacher introduced a ‘Kindness Board’ in class. This board would be publicly displayed and the board would have names of students who performed good deeds in class or anywhere. This incentivised students and made them do-gooders. Students looked for opportunities to perform good deeds like picking up paper shreds from corridors and dropping them in dust bins, watering plants in the school area, sharing their food with others, visiting their sick colleagues in their houses, etc. Every good deed would fetch them 5 ‘Likes’ on the Kindness Board after clearing it with their teacher. Soon the attitude of students changed and they competed among themselves to do good deeds and get more ‘Likes’ against their names on the board. Instead of diverting their minds to negative things, students now looked for occasions to help and perform kind deeds.
The teacher on her part made conscious efforts to love her students. She would address them as “my children” and would speak about them in glowing terms to others. Changes were dramatic. Students of this particular class soon became the talking point among other teachers. The changes were visible even in the academic scores of these students. This was positive psychology at work.
Today, teachers, parents and company bosses are all obsessed with introducing corrective steps, rather than enhancing strengths. This is so true even in the medical field: doctors are focused on diagnosis and cure instead of focusing on promoting people’s health assets — strengths that can contribute to a longer and healthier life. Rather than looking at what is WRONG in people, can we bring up a generation that is focused on RIGHTS (POSITIVES) of people? The difference will be dramatic.
A good car mechanic can repair a broken-down car, but a good driver can ensure his car is not broken down in the first place by taking care of his car and driving it the right way.
Do we want to be a good mechanic or a good driver? My teacher friend has the answer.