Samantha Rodgers' blog

The Upside of your Dark Side!

‘The Upside to your Dark Side’, by Todd Kashan and Robert Bishwas-Diener (yes the son of Ed Diener one of the ‘fathers’ of Positive Psychology) is a fascinating, if not controversial, addition to the Positive Education movement library. In it the authors focus on the value of negative emotions in balance with the positive (remember that the desired positive to negative emotion is 3:1), and why acknowledging these emotions is crucial to our healthy development.

Early on, they give a detailed account of some of the ‘realities’ we currently live with:

  • modern people are less accustomed to hardship than our forebears – war, economic depressions, influenza epidemics, and other hardships
  • relative wealth and advances in technology mean we enjoy unprecedented comfort and increasingly view discomfort as toxic, unmanageable and intolerable.

One of the repercussions is that those most directly affected by this are children, as parents are increasingly involved in school, social life and recreation in an attempt to create a safe, hygienic and supportive environment. Helicopter parenting, tiger mothers, and cotton wool kids are all symptoms of our need to protect and push.

Kashan and Bishwas-Diener posit that we also shy from our negative emotions instead of embracing them for their importance and that we should be aiming for emotional agility,

One perspective is to accept our ‘wholeness’ and embrace, not just the feeling of positivity and our strengths, but also the negative aspects of life.
One interesting study cited in the book was conducted by Jonathan Adler and Hal Hershfield who investigated the science behind successful psychotherapy. They looked at 47 adults being tested for anxiety and depression, and wanted to know what happened before a client’s problems resolve, before their quality of life improves, and before they start liking themselves. They found that it was not a simple case of just willing and creating more positive moments, success in therapy happens when people start to become comfortable experiencing mixed emotions, and showing the capacity to experience both brought about the greatest gains in well-being.

The study also showed that experiencing more positive emotions alone did not lead to improving a person’s emotional agility.This is not to negate the importance of trying to build positivity, but provides a sensible voice as to why we shouldn’t ignore what is in integral and valuable part of who we are.

So much more in the book to ponder… worth a read.


Fake it till you make it!

Ann Cuddy has done some interesting research on the power of behaviour and how it affects our physiology. She shows how changes in circumstance for an animal can increase testosterone and lower cortisol in animals and gives some great tips for how we can ‘mimic’ success in our lives, until it affects our physiology. Power poses are the answer!

Bold claims, and definitely worth a watch and sharing with our students…

Catering for our Introverts

So much emphasis has been put on catering for the extroverts in our classrooms: we arrange our classrooms into group settings,  we think about ways to get students to collaborate and we reward those who speak up in our classes. Nothing is wrong with this, by the way, but we must spare a thought for the introvert in our classroom. With so much to offer, the introverted child must often adapt themselves to ‘fit’ into the mold of modern schooling. Learn more about the power of  introverts in this great Ted Talk by Susan Cain.

Grit Pie

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 6.01.59 amSo much work has been done based on Angela Duckworth’s concept of grit- in fact ‘resilience’ seems to be a key phrase on school development plans these days.

Here is a great Prezi presentation on a ‘Grit Pie’ by Kristen Goulet that can help you explain to your students how to work through thoughts that you have when things are not quite going your way. It shows how to reframe your thinking about an issue or concern and what you can do to bring about change.



Intrinsic motivation- ‘Drive’ by Dan Pink

Preparing for a  workshop on Positive Engagement in students, I came across this useful RSA clip that explains the essence of the book ‘Drive’ by Dan Pink. While using the business world as its focus, it is easily transferable to education and made me think about how often we tried to include autonomy, mastery and purpose into the learning experiences we create for our students. So often it can be about ‘covering the content’ rather than designing learning to motivate  intrinsically…


Attachment theory and its implications for teachers

Recently, I have been doing research into attachment theory- and its role in education.

Attachment refers to the way in which people relate to other people, and is formed in the first two years of life. Once established, it is a style that stays with people and affects how people relate to others.

Some of the earliest research comes from John Bowlby 1973, who wrote about attachment, separation and loss and focused on how infants become emotionally attached to their primary care-givers and become distressed when separated from them. He refers to these as contributing towards our “inner working models” of self and social life.

He also posits that this attachment characterises us from the ‘cradle to the grave’- that attachment plays an important role in not just the partners we choose, but all relationships we develop and how we parent our own children.

There are three major categories, secure, anxious and avoidant.


Connect                 Protect

This attachment is characterised by people who are trusting, comfortable and kind with themselves, feel a sense of belonging. They have a balance of closeness and independence. To use a see-saw analogy, they balance their need to protect them- selves from hurt with the need to connect with others.


Connect                  Protect

This attachment pattern manifests as people being clingy, worried about people they have relationships with leaving, as well as having a strong dependence on others. On the see-saw, they need to connect more than protect.


Connect                  Protect

This pattern indicates people very protective against being hurt, people who may suppress outward emotion, appearing distant and distrusting. They have a stronger need to protect than connect.

Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver, 1987 found that 60 %  of people have secure attachments, 20% have anxious and 20% have avoidant attachments.

So what does that mean in a school context?

Kennedy and Kennedy (2004) have done research in this area and have found the students with secure attachment histories are more likely to:

  • see themselves as supportive, helpful, and positive, competent and worthy of respect
  • relate more positively to both peers and adults, demonstrate greater resilience and engage in more complex play than other children
  • exhibit more flexible and socially appropriate emotional expression and control, more focused attention and participation in class
  • demonstrate better functioning goal-corrected partnerships, characterized by more mature perspective-taking, mutual communication of affect, and joint planning
  • report more satisfying interpersonal relationships and greater trust in others more prone to positive self-disclosure, and cope more adaptively with stressful situations.

Students with insecure attachments, either ‘anxious’ or ‘avoidant’:

  • use less effective strategies in stressful situations to self-regulate
  • may resist seeking help from others and demonstrate less dependence upon their social network, due to natural inclination or fear of being let down by them
  • limit access to their own feelings and view others as undependable or rejecting
  • fail to develop trusting relationships with others, seeing others as unable to provide emotional closeness and comfort, and thus feeling socially and emotionally isolated.
  • may show more externalizing and aggressive, antisocial behaviours

In addition, their research shows that  the quality of the teacher–student relationship may be the single most important factor for a student’s positive experiences of school. Especially for at-risk students, teachers may be their only positive, supportive adult model. Those teachers have a unique opportunity to help students foster positive representations of themselves, others, and relationships in general.


Accordingly, in the classroom, teachers need to recognise, understand and act upon the following:

(1) the impact of a positive teacher–student relationship on students, especially  ‘at risk’ students

(2) that interactions between students and the teacher will impact on their relationship and classroom behaviours

(3) that students’ behavior reflects their relationship history and strategies for coping with stress


Strategies that enhance the family’s and student’s connectedness to the school along with positive teacher–family relationships have been found to be positively related to increased student achievement, positive student attitudes, and self-concept, and positive parental and student attitudes toward the school.


Phew! This adds a whole new layer of the power a teacher has in the classroom, beyond their knowledge and classroom practice.

If you want to read the full article, here it is:

Flourish: Positive Accomplishment

This one is a teacher favourite – where we get to talk about growth mindset! Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University believes that people can be categorised in two ways: having Fixed or Growth Mindset.

Fixed mindset people are those who believe that talents and abilities are set in stone. They believe that you are either intelligent, or not, and it will never change. They feel that they need to prove themselves over and over and will often take the easier route if it guarantees success, even if it isn’t challenging or engaging. I used to be that person. I can easily identify that when I was at school, that’s how I felt. Right or wrong- that was how it was and I don’t think my school or anyone else encouraged anything different. We just didn’t know any better.

However with time and more life experience, I learned that I could get better at things. Learning became more important than ‘knowing things’. I changed from a fixed mindset – at least in some areas.

The key word that Dweck emphasises, when people fall into a fixed mindset- particularly when something is hard … is ‘yet’. The acknowledgement that I can’t do something at the moment- but that doesn’t mean that I won’t be good at it at all. It is a small difference in language, but a huge difference in mindset.Dr Norman Doidge uses a helpful analogy- the brain as a muscle. The more you use it- the stronger it becomes.

The course then went on to focus on character strengths and to see the accomplishments we have made through our key strengths. As a teacher I see plenty of students who have fixed mindset and those with low self esteem. They see themselves as their failures. Using something like the VIA Character strengths quiz forces students to see themselves in a positive light with a lot of strengths: love, zest, kindness, leadership, honesty, perspective, hope, and so on, that can be a real shift in how students see themselves, and the contribution that they make to the world around them. Of all the strengths that we studied, this one could well be the most powerful, especially in helping people recognise their own worth.

Flourish: Positive Meaning

This attribute has a lot to do with purpose- does your life have meaning, does it have a purpose? One of the first activities we did was to look at Hedonic versus Eudaimonic short-term and long-term activities. Leisure, rest, fun and enjoyment were balanced out with learning skills, life-long learning, and helping others. It was an interesting activity to tune us into how we spent our time and what quadrant we generally focused on. Being a teacher, I am more balanced in the quadrants than I would have first thought (as I definitely take my leisure time seriously)…

Research from Bonebright et al 200 and King et al 2006 found that people who can identify a source of meaning in their lives experience greater happiness and satisfaction, are physically and emotionally happier, are more resilient and feel a greater sense of control over their lives, than others who feel lesser ‘meaning’ in their lives.

Meaningful lives must feel worthwhile, but it must also BE worthwhile. That is why those who  show altruism seem to be more satisfied in their lives. Some people draw the notion of service from a variety of places: religion, charity, working in a service industry. Altruism doesn’t mean that you have to have a ‘big’ life, or giving millions to charity, it is more your outlook on life- are you generous with your time, your skills?

It was a powerful activity to then learning more about ourselves, who we are to others and what we give to others. Unlike Clarence in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, who felt that his life hadn’t really touched anyone else’s,  it was good to ask those questions of myself, and try to answer them! Another activity that seemed useful was to imagine the ‘future you’. Not necessarily your eulogy, but a moment in future time where you reflect on your life- what will you remember, what will you have done? How do you think you might be remembered by those around you?

Such great questions to ask yourself… and ones that definitely inspire me to be a better person.


Flourish: Positive Relationships

This one probably goes without saying- the better your relationships with others are, the better we feel!

The key to positive relationships is building security and the ability to explore, rather than the need to protect against being hurt (avoidant attachments) and feeling worried that the loved one will leave (anxious attachment).

Once very simple theory to consider is the ‘Bucket and Dipper’ theory by Don Clifton and Tom Rath. The idea is that we each have a ‘wellbeing’ bucket on our backs and a dipper that we can use to add to or reduce the amount in another’s bucket. Think aboututhe people in your life- do they add or reduce your level? Obviously, surrounding yourself with people who are likely to fill your bucket are going to produce more secure relationship that are better for your own wellbeing.

Another really important concept we covered in the course is ACR- Active Constructive Responding, Shelly Gable, when responding to good news.

Gable: Ways of responding

Obviously, we want to amplify good news by showing genuine interest, rather than ignoring’ stealing, deflating or understating the news, but while it sounds easy, it isn’t. Think about this the next time someone tells you good news. How often do we choose to do something other than amplify- it happens more often than you would think! How will you respond the next time someone gives you good news… and how much will it ‘fill their bucket’?



Flourish: Positive Engagement

Another element of positive psychology is that of positive engagement.

Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi (yep, what a name!) wrote a book in 1990 called ‘Flow’, that tries to capture and document that feeling of being ‘in flow’, in the ‘zone’, in the moment.

Rather than feeling best when we are relaxed or passive, he believes that the best moments of our lives are when we are in ‘flow’ and everybody has ways to achieve that feeling. For some it is sport, for others music or the arts. As a teacher I find the idea of flow to be fascinating and obviously, want my students to be able to experience flow. Simply put, it is when skill level and challenge level are roughly similar.FLow chart0 at 7.58.07 pm

Theoretically speaking, it doesn’t equate to ‘learning’, in fact it is probably best described as the moment a skill is mastered and the feeling of applying that new learning successfully. The big question is, how to differentiate  learning environments that allow all learners to match skill with challenge at any level. A challenging task but one well worth the effort!

The other fact that I found really interesting is that people tend to feel flow 54% of the time in work activities, and only 18% of the time in leisure. Considering we are planning to retire and ‘all’ of our time could be considered leisure, is to increase that statistic, at least for us!

One thing that  I have done is to write out a list of things that we enjoy doing that aren’t just passive: Learning a new instrument or language, gardening, reading on new topics (such as mindfulness) and learning new skills for renovationg our house should ensure that more than 15% of time is in flow, and it is definitely something that I will keep in my mind as we transition into our retirement!

Watch this clip of the juggler Chris Bliss to see someone truly in flow!

Chris Bliss: Juggling