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5 Teaching Strategies to Help Students Think Like Optimists

Janelle Cox

The science is clear: Being an optimist makes you happier, heathier, and more satisfied in life. Who wouldn’t want that? Many people think that humans are born optimists. However, being an optimistic person is not a personality trait – it’s actually a skill that can be learned. Teachers can attest that some students see the world through an optimistic lens, while others, not so much. It’s easy to spot a pessimistic student -- they are the ones who always see the glass as half empty and view life’s challenges as a defeat. The optimists have a can-do attitude and see life’s challenges as an opportunity that they can learn from. Optimism is a mindset, it’s a way of thinking on the bright side of things. It can also be a powerful tool that can help all children living in today’s society. Here are a few teaching strategies to help your students think like optimists.

Teaching Strategies that Encourage Students to Take Risks

Fear and anxiety can get in the way when it comes to trying something new. While this is a normal reaction to have, it can have a real effect on the way a student thinks. If a student is afraid to take a risk because they fear they will fail, then you must encourage them to challenge themselves despite their anxiety. Let them know that they are not alone, and that everyone gets scared sometimes. By putting an emphasis on their willingness to try something even though they’re scared, you are helping them think like an optimist. Optimists aren’t afraid to fail, because they know that when they take a risk and fail, they can try again.

Focus on Students’ Effort

Another way to help students think like an optimist is to try and encourage their effort. Instead of trying to make them feel better, focus on how hard they worked or how they tried after a setback. If you noticed that the student worked particularly hard on a test but failed, then tried again and did a little better, then focus on how hard they worked. Optimists are better at bouncing back, so when you focus on a students’ effort, you’re teaching them that even though they may have not done as well as they wanted to, they will get it next time.

Only Allow Students to Speak in the “Positive”

Listen to how your students speak about themselves, and if they are speaking in the “Negative.” If they say “I’m not good at math” or “I’m a bad baseball player,” then they think that failure is caused by who they are as a person. They need to learn to assign the blame to an action, not who they are as person. They also need to learn to stop magnifying the negative. They can learn this by speaking in the “Positive.” Teach students to change their way of thinking to say, “I’m not that good at math right now, but with practice I’ll get better.” The more positive self-talk students say, the easier it will become.

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Let Students Learn from Their Mistakes

More times than none, students tend to think that because they were bad at something once, that they’ll always be bad at it. This belief will cause a child to easily give up. What you want to teach them is that it’s OK to learn from your mistakes, and the harder that you work at something, the better you’ll get at it. Teach students to try and put a time limit on how long the failure will affect them. When they have a realistic view that it won’t last long, then it’ll be easier to look at the bright side of the failure.

Teach Students How to do a Reality Check

According to Martin E. P. Seligman, the father of positive psychology, the best way to combat anxiety or giving up after a failure is to think like an optimist. Seligman believes that it’s how a person interprets what happens or the events in their life. In other words, when you encounter a negative belief, you must give yourself a reality check. For example, let’s say that you believe that you never get what you want. You must change your way of thinking and think like an optimist by looking at the facts. There must’ve been some point in your life that you’ve gotten what you’ve wanted before. By giving yourself a reality check, and looking into your past for “Facts,” you’re essentially turning your negative belief into a positive one.

To help students think like optimists, have them think of something negative, then look into the past for the facts that can help them turn it into a positive. In time, with a lot of practice, they’ll be able to train their brain into thinking more like an optimist would.

Teach your students to use their thoughts to create positive beliefs. Anytime that they encounter a negative thought, they have the ability to change it into something positive.

Do you have any teaching strategies to help students think more like optimists? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you on this topic.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.