Mindfulness & Wellbeing

How to Get Students Thinking Positively for Better Learning

If understood and properly applied, positive thinking works.

It's challenging to get students thinking positively about learning sometimes. When you're young and impressionable you're experiencing a multitude of sensations and experiences you don't always understand.

Being a student is tough, so struggling with learning can seem like the end of the world.

As teachers, you're in a unique position to guide your students through more than just the day's lesson. You're helping them learn to manage life lessons and skills for long-term success. Additionally, you're teaching them that useful failure is a real thing. Ultimately, the whole idea of teaching is to teach your students not to need you anymore.

Once they leave us they should go forth knowing they can succeed and thrive using what we've taught them. In order to do this, we must ensure they are lifelong learners. That means we must get students thinking positively about not just learning but also about failing and trying again.

Positive Thinking: You Just Think You're Doing It Wrong

When Norman Vincent Peale published The Power of Positive Thinking in 1952, people were divided on the credibility of the New Thought movement. While some firmly believed in the doctrines it proposed, others remained skeptical. However, the idea of thinking positively has flourished amid continual scrutiny and derision. Thankfully Peale's book uses science and logic rather than theoretical musings to demonstrate its benefits. The message is clear:

if understood and properly applied, positive thinking works.

The big misconception about positive thinking is that it ignores what is really happening at the moment. This is a fallacy because

true positive thinking is about thinking on purpose, not living in denial.

It's a practice that allows us to accept and live with turbulent emotions and mental states while keeping a firm focus on our end goal.

Positive thought lets us overcome mental and emotional barriers, and gives us the tools to manage them. It doesn't mean ignoring them and pretending they're not there. Consequently, when we get students thinking positively we help them develop these tools themselves. That's how we can empower them to fall in love with learning.

You may have seen the above image somewhere before. If you have, you know it's a great demonstration of how positive self-talk makes a difference to our outlook. The way to get students thinking positively about learning experiences is through simple tools like this. Above all, it's crucial students understand that, in the moment of crisis, they have the ability to choose what they think.

The Power of Choice

There's an old saying: no one can make you feel bad without your permission. It applies just as much to what we say to ourselves as what others say to us.

All of us have the incredible power to choose how we think.

Our journeys are shaped by the thoughts we think and the feelings we feel, and these are all our own personal choices to make.

What we choose shapes our lives and that is our inner power. It can serve us or hurt us, but the choices remain ours.

What happens to your students' thought patterns in a time of difficulty with learning? Do they panic and seek help, or does their resolve strengthen? Do they shut down or do they strive to find a way to solve the problem? It's in those time you can facilitate learning by how you get students thinking positively.

For example, some kids fear looking stupid in front of their peers when they struggle with learning. Kids can be harsh, after all. As a result, they tend to stay quiet and reserved, even when they know they know the answer. It's that immobilizing "what if I'm wrong" mental block that prevents their progress. You can encourage the student to think critically about their predicament by asking:

  • What is it you fear the most about being wrong?
  • Has anyone ever actually called you stupid for being wrong?
  • Do you know anyone who doesn't make mistakes? (We all make them.)
  • How can you turn a mistake into a positive learning experience?