Director of Lower School, Kate Juergens, selects this year's Lower School theme—optimism!
Last January, as I settled into the reality of a milestone birthday, my older (and perhaps wiser) sister, gave me a great gift: a desk plaque reading, “Today Will Be Awesome.” Likely given in jest, those four simple words have had a profound effect on my outlook (especially as I hobbled around in a walking boot due to a foot injury from running). Optimistic messages are everywhere: greeting cards, Instagram feeds, t-shirts, and posters. Some might argue that these positive idioms are so pervasive that they are easy to dismiss and overlook. But my tiny plaque got me thinking about optimism and the potential of its impact. Does optimism have real benefits? Where does it come from? Is it important to learning? Can you teach it? Turns out, optimism not only has tangible health benefits, it is also an important factor in effort, motivation, and potential. Admittedly, some positive messages may be silly or even cheesy, (i.e. You have to look through the rain to see the rainbow). But before you roll your eyes, the reality is that positive messages hold an important truth: Being optimistic leads to happiness.
Understanding optimism came from Positive Psychology, a field of psychology studying the positive aspects of human experience and what specifically has an impact on physical, emotional, and social well-being. Researchers have discovered that optimism not only contributes to a happier disposition, it also directly influences one’s health. According to an article published on Harvard Medical School’s Health Publishing website, various studies have found a correlation between optimism and lower blood pressure, lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and reduced risk of heart disease. What’s more, having an optimistic attitude pointed to increased longevity and improved immune function. Based on these biological benefits alone, having a positive outlook is a no-brainer. But, how does it connect to learning? Renowned psychologist and Stanford educator, Carol Dweck, proposes through her research that, “[...] the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.” She describes the “growth mindset” as a belief system in which you understand your talents and abilities to be a direct result of effort, not inherent skills that are “fixed” or unchangeable. Essentially, Dr. Dweck is saying that people with a growth mindset believe, optimistically I would argue, that their potential is limitless and that with time, effort, practice, and patience, achievement is possible.
Optimism is a part of the very fabric of excellence in education and innovation. At Cathedral, we use the word “TRY” many times a day: “Try using a different strategy,” “Try to understand how he feels,” and “Try a fruit or a vegetable at lunch.” We are constantly encouraging our students to try and take risks because we have the perspective and experience to know the good that can come from it. However, believing in oneself and having a growth mindset requires choosing an optimistic outlook, despite the potential for failure. Pioneers of industry are successful not only because of their resilience and perseverance, but also because they are inherently optimistic about future results. The question then becomes: Can we teach optimism? Happily, the answer is yes! Parents and teachers can both actively teach behaviors that promote optimism by doing the following:
- Modeling positive thinking
- Expressing gratitude and appreciating little things
- Accepting your mistakes and learning from them
- Focusing on the present
By focusing on the positive, we can instill in our boys a sense of potential and possibility. By encouraging effort over inherent talent, we can harness the boys’ belief in their capacity for growth. And by choosing optimism, we can, as a community, embrace each other with kindness and support each other in times of challenge. With this in mind, I’d like to announce that this year’s theme is Choose Optimism! I hope you will embrace it as I have and know that not only today, but this whole school year, Will Be Awesome!