Academic Optimism

October 3, 2019 By admin

I mentioned in the last blog that I was reading Bryan Goodwin’s Simply Better: Doing What Matters Most to Change the Odds for Student Success. I was introduced (p.121) to a term coined by Hoy, Tarter, and Hoy (2006)…academic optimism.

The power of optimism has been an interest of mine for several years. It’s a presentation I have done for teachers, parents, students, and communities and written about in earlier blogs.Optimistic behaviors can be identified and consciously practiced.

An example from Allan Loy McGuiness in the Power of Optimism:

“Optimists interrupt their negative train of thought.”

Being conscious of a negative thought, I can reframe it to provide self-talk that guides a productive behavior.

“I can’t be successful at this because it requires math” becomes “I will need to dedicate extra time to studying this science unit to master the math concepts involved.”

“I can’t stand that student” becomes “I need to know that student better and identify his strengths.”

Hoy and colleagues write that organizations can become steeped in pessimism.

“According to the pessimist view, voiced with a tired resignation,” These kids can’t learn, and there is nothing I can do about it, so why worry about academic achievement…” Academic optimism, in stark contrast, views teachers as capable, students as willing, parents as supportive, and the task as achievable”. (p.440)

Instructional leaders and coaches, mentors, staff developers, and PLC facilitators should all be taking on the task of creating organizations steeped in academic optimism. Leaders should be reframing gripes (pessimism) to goals (optimism).

Teacher’s Gripe:

“Too many students don’t care about their grades… there is no way to motivate them to work. Failing them isn’t a threat.”

Leader’s Sequence of Paraphrases to Create a Goal:

“You have a strong desire for your students to do well.”

“Grades just don’t seem to be it.”

“You see a need to find a different way to motivate your students.”  (goal)

For leaders, academic optimism means creating a staff that believes as individuals and as a group, they are capable of improving student achievement. Individuals trust their colleagues to work as hard as they do to make that happen.  As I’ve stated often, “Teaching is a Team Sport” and leaders need to build those teams.

Footnote: Academic optimism of schools: A force for student achievement American Educational Research Journal, 43(3), Hoy,Tarter, Hoy (2006)