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Chapter 17: The Transformative Mindset and Making One’s Thinking an Ally

From Transformative Classroom Management. By John Shindler. ©2008

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In this Chapter:

·         Connection Between Our Thinking and Our Classroom Management Outcomes

·         How to Have an Unsatisfying Day

·         Exploring the Fundamental Factors in Our Thinking that Affect Our Experience

·         Examining the Nature of Our Problems

·         Sources of Negativity

·         How Negativity in Thinking Manifests Itself into Classroom Management Dysfunction

·         Changing Our Patterns of Thinking

·         Adopting a “Yes” Mindset

·         Beyond a Positive Attitude

·         Promoting Energy Flow In Teaching

·         Cultivating Our Sense of Purpose – and as a Result a Transformative Mindset



Note to Reader: This chapter is intended to challenge you to reflect more deeply on the relationship between your thinking and how it translates into your classroom management. As we examine it more closely, we find that the thinking that we do, how we feel throughout the day, our effectiveness with students, and the source of those things that we refer to as “problems” are all connected. However, I do not ask you to take any of it on faith, or adopt any set of values. In fact, I encourage you to be skeptical and question every idea in this chapter. If the ideas are valid, you should experience their validity first hand. None of the content in this chapter is intended to be philosophical or ideological. It is intended only to be practical and explore the technical aspects of how our thoughts impact our work as teachers. Some of the ideas in this chapter may seem unfamiliar at first, so it may be helpful to allow yourself time to reflect upon them. Changing patterns of thinking takes time.




“Some days just seem to drag on forever.”


“Those students make me so mad sometimes and I bet they do it on purpose.”


“It is odd, I am around people all day, but a lot of the time I still feel so isolated and lonely.”


“I thought teaching was going to be more satisfying, but for so much of the day I just feel dissatisfied. I am beginning to understand how people get burned out.”


“I am doing my best to teach these students but they seem to always be letting me down. I feel disappointed in them so much of the day, with the exception of a few that are my hard workers.”



In Chapter One we characterized the natural state in the classroom as one in which we and our students worked in harmony in a functional and satisfying environment. As you have explored the previous chapters, you have likely recognized that creating a functional classroom environment is no accident. However, with an intentional investment, a sound set of tools and enough time, we can bring function to nearly any context. Likewise our natural state of mind while teaching is one in which we are at ease, in the moment, engaged in our work, and feeling a sense of connection with our students. However, just as the natural classroom condition is uncommon, so is this natural state of mind. What is more normal is a state of mind that is one some level stressed or bored, feeling some degree of threat from students, parents, and administrators, wishing it was doing something else, looking forward to later in the day, and feeling somewhat isolated and alone. This normal but ultimately dysfunctional state of mind contributes to problems with our classroom management as well as our own personal unhappiness.


While we have many challenges and real problems to face while teaching, most of the experience of things being “problematic” during the day takes place in our minds. Teaching is difficult work, but doing that work is not the reason that we feel distress in our jobs. The majority of what gives us grief comes from how we think about things, rather than any of the very real challenges that we deal with in a day. In this chapter we will explore many areas of our thinking and examine how our mental processes can make all the difference related to how we experience and interpret our jobs, our students and what we find meaningful.



Chapter Reflection 17-a: Very likely there are readers who are at this point highly skeptical or are ready to skip to the next chapter. It can feel insulting to have someone imply to you that all the very real difficulties that are put on you as part of your job are in your mind. Yet the purpose of the chapter is not to condemn the way that we as teachers think, but to find ways to free us from all those thoughts that keep us from enjoying our profession.


Chapter Reflection 17-b: At this point, it might be useful to informally construct a map of your emotions throughout your last day of teaching (or working with others). What were the most common emotions, what were the repetitive thoughts? Keep these thoughts and emotions in mind as you continue with the chapter.



How to Have a Generally Unsatisfying (Thinking) Day

Typically we judge a day of teaching as better or worse relative to how well the students behaved. Granted, students do have better days and not so good days, but as Haim Ginott (1972) observed, we are the ones who “make the weather in the classroom.”  And we interpret the events and give mental labels to what goes on in our class. So depending on how we interpret each of the thousands of events that occur in a day, it will have a great deal to do with the lessons that we take away from those events as well as the way we feel about them.


Moreover, to a great degree our thinking will define our experience both subjectively – how we feel about things, and objectively – the feelings we project, how we perform, and the effect we have on others. It may not be immediately obvious, but with certain kinds of thinking, we can ensure that we have mostly unsatisfying and uneasy days; and with other kinds of thinking we can ensure that we have a mostly enjoyable and content experience from a day in the classroom. To examine this idea more concretely, it may be helpful to consider the two descriptions below (Table 17.1) and reflect on the powerful effects each type of thinking can have on the experience of teaching (or coaching or parenting).


Table 17.1: Comparison of Thinking That Will Either Lead To a Largely Unsatisfying or Largely Enjoyable Experience from a Day of Teaching


Thinking that Will Lead to a High Degree of Unease and Dissatisfaction

Thinking that Will Lead to a High Degree of Peace of Mind and Contentment

Begin the day by thinking about how long and predictable it will be, how much you are looking forward to it being over, and how relieved you will be when you can go home.


Begin the day grounded in the moment. Enjoy the processes and tasks in which you find yourself, and be present to and aware of your students.

Recall other classes and/or other schools where you envision the students being much better. Compare your students to these past classes or other students and look for their faults.


Accept your students for who they are. Do not judge them as better or worse, just accept where they are at this point in their learning and personal growth, and attend to what you can do to help them succeed in your class.


Begin to wonder what your “problem student(s)” will do today to irritate you. Look for things that they do that confirm your expectations.

Assume all of your students are going to do the best they can given their conditioning, what they are reacting to in their lives in and outside of school, and above all, the relationship that you have previously developed with them.


Let your emotions be dictated by your reactions to external events. When a student does something that you do not like, or when the students are not meeting your expectations, assign them bad intentions, and let yourself get angry and disappointed.

Be aware of the connectedness of all events throughout the day. Keep in mind what you are projecting to the class. Try to project a positive expectation for all students. When things do not go well, assume responsibility for changing the cause, or helping improve the situation. Take on a “Yes” mindset.


Hold resentment for the students that are making your life difficult “on purpose.” On the surface pretend that everything is fine, but allow your inner dialogue to blame and judge the students that are causing you to be miserable. Resent that they are in your class and tell yourself that they are to blame for how you feel.

Above all keep in mind that you choose your emotional reactions to events. What you feel has come about by the way that you have interpreted events. Especially watch for feelings of defensiveness and threat. Be aware of what you are defending in yourself. It is usually something rather small or petty. If you shed the need to defend your self-image, the students stop being the enemy.


At lunch find another teacher or staff member to complain to. Tell them about how the students are acting the same inappropriate, inattentive, and disrespectful way they did the day before. Paint a vivid picture of the parents as a useless and unsupportive lot, who are ultimately the cause of all of your problems. Reflect on how if it was not for how they raised their kids, you would not have half the problems that you do.

At lunch, take the opportunity for at least a moment for yourself. Find the present moment and allow yourself to just be, eat, and enjoy the company (or the solitude if you so choose). Spend only a moment or two reflecting on what happened in the morning and what adjustments your want to make. And as you think about the rest of the day, keep your awareness of the moment and do not let your head get in the habit of being lost in thoughts of past events or future uncertainties. Plan in the moment, eat in the moment, and then when it is time to go back to class, maintain your awareness in the moment.


After lunch keep your locus of control as external as possible. Hope the students act better, and look forward to times in the day when you do not have them with you. Anticipate that things will go poorly and when they do, let yourself react with your habit of getting angry and shaming, blaming, and lecturing your class. Be sure to project your passive aggressive disappointment and sense of superiority. Phrases such as “when will you ever learn” will make you feel less responsible, and justified in caring less.

As the students come into the room after lunch, take a moment to appreciate how unique and talented they are. As your attitude of respect and appreciation grows you can see it being reflected back to you. As you begin to feel more connected and closer to the students, you feel the sense of responsibility as a little overwhelming. When you feel this way, you shift your attention away from you and your ego as the “teacher” and back to the moment, the task, and being fully present to the students. You focus on doing one thing at a time, doing a good job of each task, and letting the outcomes take care of themselves.


As the students respond to your attitude of judgment and disapproval (that you mistakenly think you have successfully disguised) with coolness and a lack of respect, be sure to assign them the traits of lazy and disrespectful when you make assessments about their character. When you assign these qualities keep the locus of causality and responsibility on the students, don’t consider what part your attitude has played in creating their response to you and the unsatisfying classroom climate. As the feelings of loneliness and isolation creep in, long for situations in your life where you are loved, or classes that gave you the love you deserved.

Focus your teaching on what is being successful. Show respect for your students by projecting high expectations for their performance and their interactions with one another. Do not keep your positive recognitions (see Chapter 8) or your appreciation to yourself. Use the power of the collective sense of ownership and responsibility to the community to guide your thinking in matters of behavior. Show your pride in the group and give them concrete examples of the progress that they are making. However, no matter how successful you are being, avoid thoughts of comparison to other teachers. You recognize that once you begin to judge and compare, you poison the well.


When you go home from after a long day of teaching, run over and over in your mind all that students have done to you—the willful disrespect, the lazy unmotivated performance that reflects badly on you, the intentional misbehavior. Be sure to assign the students bad intentions for their actions. Give yourself reasons to justify your defensiveness, but unconsciously beat yourself up for being inadequate. Alternately recall bad episodes from the day, and long for the end of the year or at least the weekend. Dread that you have to go back and teach tomorrow.

Pretend that you “just leave it all behind” when you leave the classroom. Ignore the way that your negative feelings affect the way that you feel physically. Try not to notice how your unconscious mind does not want to give up the negative thoughts and the need to defend yourself. Just ignore the way your mind continuously tries to compensate for your sense of disconnection and inadequacy, and attempt to fill it with some diversion or addictive behavior.

Tell yourself that everything is fine, and don’t pay any attention to how easily your body and mind react with anger when someone or something says or does something that triggers one of the many things that irritated you during the day.

If you have grading or planning to do, let yourself wallow in the resentment that you feel for doing it. Put it off, but complain up to that point about how you have to do it.

When you go home, practice being in the moment. If you have planning or grading to do. Do it as soon as you can. Don’t ruin the moment with worry about what you need to do. It leads to resentment of the task and the habit of worrying instead of doing.

When you are not engaged in schoolwork, be in the moment. It may be tempting to cycle your day through your mind, but as you notice what you are thinking about, you will find that it is pretty repetitive. It is much better to be present to who you are with and what you are doing. It will make your time away from teaching much happier and your time as a teacher more effective.


When you are grading papers, be in the moment. No matter how repetitive, enjoy each paper. Avoid trying to “get through them.” As you learn to enjoy the task, and be in the moment while grading, you will find that the time does not drag as before, you enjoy the task more, and you do not carry the resentment of grading back to the class the next day. And it is a great exercise to practice staying in the present moment.



Chapter Reflection 17-c: As you examine each list, which one best characterizes how you typically think in a day? What is your emotional reaction as you read each list?



As you compare the two lists in Figure 17.1, keep in mind that both columns were referring to a comparable day in a comparable school. There was nothing different about either context. The descriptions had nothing to do with either where or who was taught. But as you read the experiences described in each column, you probably recognized dramatic differences between them. If one were to approach the job with the orientation on the left, it is certain to produce a sense of unease, stress, and dissatisfaction. Unfortunately, for many teachers the experience characterized on the left most closely resembles the normal state of mind. As a result, the longer they teach, the less they want to be doing it. In contrast, the column on the right depicts what we might characterize as thinking that will lead to the natural condition. While this condition is uncommon, it is realistically attainable by any of us. In this chapter we will examine how to take steps in this direction.


Exploring the Fundamental Factors in Our Thinking that Affect Our Experience

To make sense of why each of us can have such a dramatically difference experience from a day of teaching, we will need to examine some of the various potential thought process, patterns and reactions that take place in a day of teaching. To begin, it will be useful to explore three factors that are fundamental to determining the quality of our thinking: our approaches to 1) time, 2) causation of events, and 3) awareness.


1.      Time--Where is Our Thinking in Relation to the Present?

Most of us rarely consider where our thoughts are relative to the moment. In fact, most of us assume that our attention is in the present. However, check on yourself at various points during a typical day and observe where your thinking is in relation to time. If you are like most of us, your mind drifts between thinking about what has happened in the past and what might happen in the future. Most of us give very little attention to the present. So what is the problem with that? Simply put: everything. The only place that we can find peace, a clear sense of our intention, and be free of the mental noise that fills our head is in the moment. The past is where regret, blame, guilt, obsession, victimization and resentment live. Those feelings can only exist if we allow our minds to dwell in the past. Likewise we will not find peace of mind in the future. The future is where anxiety, boredom, fear, dread, anticipation and projection of problems all dwell, as well as the delusion that the future will bring relief from our problems. The future has not happened yet, but often we allow ourselves to experience negative emotions because we manufacture a future reality that is unpleasant. Or just as mistakenly, we often miss the moment because we are anticipating something in the future that we misperceive as more important. We need to make the present moment our friend. Avoiding it is the cause of most of our perceived problems and suffering.



Chapter Reflection 17-d: If you are having a difficult time recognizing where your attention is at any moment, it may be useful to take part in an exercise. Simply sit in a chair for 15 minutes or longer and as best you can eliminate all distractions (e.g., computer, TV, others, radio, etc.) and let your mind go where it wants. Simply observe your mind, and notice what it is doing. How long does it take before it wants to think about the future (e.g., what you need to be doing, what event is coming up, etc.) or gets caught up thinking about a past event (e.g., what happened that morning, other times that you have tried to sit quietly, etc.)? You might try to just stay in the present and see how long you are able to.

After doing this exercise, what did you find out? Were you surprised at how little time your mind wanted to spend in the present?



Internal LOC,Hostile,Passive,3 









External LOC



2.      Causation – Where do We Place Responsibility and Ownership?

As discussed earlier in Chapter 2, the primary factor making up the vertical axis in the teaching style continuum related to function and effectiveness, and arguably the single most predictive characteristic of the success of a teacher will be the degree to which he or she has an internal or external locus of control (LOC) (Shindler, Jones, Taylor & Cadenas, 2003). Effective teachers tend to be those who attribute the cause of their success and failure and that of their students to what they do. In other words, to be effective we need to have an internal LOC related to what we do. However, to be both effective and enjoy peace of mind, we need to have an internal LOC related to how we think. We need to take responsibility for our thinking and recognize the cause-and-effect relationship between our thinking and everything else including our success, the quality of our environment, and our level of peace of mind and job satisfaction. On the one hand, if we believe that the “real world” is unsatisfying, something external will always thwart our best efforts, and “those students” will always disappoint us, those beliefs will cause us to make it so. If, on the other hand, we recognize that most problems are caused by our own minds, and our self-limiting thinking and in a very real way we create our own “real world” with by our attitude, we can find that things not only seem better, they work out better.


What our mind in its survival mode tell us it that: “If I take responsibility for what is, it will be too overwhelming. My students’ needs are endless. This job is endless. It is so big. I can never really succeed. If I accept that I am responsible, I will feel inadequate, guilty and/or overwhelmed. I cannot be held responsible for what happens to my students. It is not my fault, I cannot control everything.” These thoughts torture us, and make us feel guilt, inadequacy, and ultimately like finding reasons to become less responsible. As a result, there is a temptation to externalize, blame, complain, become negative, tune out, and view the students as the problem. While this is understandable and normal, it is still dysfunctional.


To achieve peace of mind, instead of externalizing our responsibility to cope with our sense of unease (a strategy that will never succeed for long), it will be more effective to change our thinking. First, we need to take responsibility for our thoughts. We need to become skilled at recognizing the messages that want to come in. Practice drawing your awareness to the moment and “what’s important now” (WIN) and away from the urge to fight “what is.” We do not need to take responsibility for everything that is happening in the situation, we just need to take responsibility for ourselves and for the fact that the present is the only moment we have. Second, when we access the present, we will notice that a more clear sense of our intentions will follow. What is right, necessary, and important will ultimately come to us as we free our thinking from the habit of creating problems and making the moment something that we need to run from. Third, while we need to trust our intentions, we must give up the desire to control. When we examine the need for control, it becomes clear that it is not so much a function of necessity, as it is the ego trying to make a world consistent with the picture that it wants. Deepak Chopra (1994) identifies the ability to lose attachment to the outcome as one of his Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. When we let go of the need to cling to the outcome, we free ourselves from the torture of guilt. Our mind will tell us that we need to be attached to the outcome or things will not turn out. It will be useful to recognize this ego-based message from what it is--a mental fiction. As we examine it more closely, we find that most of our need for things to be consistent with our mental picture of how things should be is fear-based. Letting our egos get attached to things working out a certain way will not do anything to improve the outcome, but will go a long way toward making us miserable.



Chapter Reflection 17-e: Reflect on the events of your day. When did you find yourself feeling attached to things turning out a certain way? How did it make you feel: stressed, nervous, guilty, helpless, inadequate, upset at others? Did your feelings of attachment make things turn out any better?



3.      Awareness –- Where Do We Place our Attention?

Where is our awareness throughout the day? Is it on the many negative thoughts that recycle through our minds on a continuous basis? “That student is such a problem.” “How did they score so poorly on that test, I did a good job of teaching it to them?” “Why is it so hard to get them to listen?” “We would be so much better off without this Principal.” “How am I supposed to teach effectively without ___?”


Count the number of time in five minutes that you have one of these negative thoughts. You will be surprised. Furthermore, count the number of times in a day that the same handful of negative thoughts recycle themselves through your mind each day. Note that you do not have to try to bring them into your awareness, they find a way of dominating your thinking--unless you do something about it.



Chapter Reflection 17-f: Reflect on the following questions:

1.       How much time am I spending with my awareness truly in the moment?

2.       Am I letting my compulsive and negative thinking pull me out of the moment, into a past defined by resentment, regret and irritation, or into a future filled with dread or an illusion of relief from our current situation?

3.       If my conscious mind is filled with this compulsive thinking on a continuous basis, what am I programming into my unconscious? And what will it look like when it surfaces in my behavior?



Reflect on how often you shift your awareness from what is important now (e.g., your students, investment in your teaching, appreciating what is good about the moment, etc.) to an “imaginary audience.” It is common when teaching for our minds to leave the present moment and allow our egos to become our audience. One of the manifestations of this is when we become self-conscious. Instead of being attentive to our students and the task at hand, we shift our attention to how we think we appear in the eyes of others. The practical result is that our actions become stilted and tentative. Another manifestation is what we might call the “commiserating ego.” If we examine them closely, we find that our egos are a highly attentive and appreciative audience. They always commiserate with us when we have disparaging thoughts about students (e.g., “they are just not that smart,” or “they are not as good as other students” or “how are they not getting this?”). They are amused at the backhanded comments that we make to students who are not aware that they have just been put down. They are always there to complain to about how our job is not as good as it should be, how things are unfair, and how since it is not our fault, we are justified in daydreaming and entertaining ourselves in whatever way will allow us to cope with this unsatisfying moment. When we find ourselves playing to our “imaginary audience,” it will be a clear sign that we are not in the moment and are acting unconsciously.



Chapter Reflection 17-g: Reflect on the last time that you played to your imaginary audience. What form did it take?



As much as possible, it will help to have your awareness in the moment and what you are doing right now. That may be planning for the future or analyzing the past, but if we do it in the moment, the ego is less likely to take charge of the process. When your awareness is in the moment, you will feel it in your body. Your breath will become deeper and slower and you will feel an ease and clarity.



Chapter Reflection 17-h: Take a moment and intentionally move your attention into the moment. Focus on being completely present to the task in front of you or the people that you are with. Notice how you feel when the mental noise slows down and your attention is in the now. What else do you find in this state? Keep it in mind for later.



Exploring Dissatisfaction

On the one hand, feelings of dissatisfaction are useful. They serve the purpose of helping us recognize what could be better about our practice and ourselves. Our job is to help students get better. If we are satisfied with them staying the same, we are not doing our job. Our sense of dissatisfaction helps us set goals and clarify our sense of purpose. Moreover, there is a great deal of support for the idea that the best teachers are those that are least satisfied with the status quo (Fullan 1993; Glickman, 1998). Research suggests that good teachers want to make a difference.


One the other hand, a perpetual feeling of dissatisfaction is going to contribute to our unease and speed up the process of burnout. If we feel that we are not doing our job well enough, or that our students are not learning fast enough, or that the job of teaching is a thankless profession, we will be unhappy and/or begin to deteriorate both physically and emotionally. Teachers who leave the profession typically leave because they cannot live with the perpetual sense of inadequacy (Hargeaves, 1994).


So how do we work with that voice inside that says “I want to make a difference” in a way that will not lead to our own downfall. First, we need to resist the temptation to become resigned. That is a lose-lose proposition. When we say, “I tried my best, but nothing is ever good enough, so I will just give up,” we become both unfulfilled and ineffective. Second, we need to distinguish the type of change-oriented thinking that is helping us move forward from that which is making us unhappy. Our goals are probably not making us unhappy. They are likely giving us a sense of direction and focus. Intention is a word that we have used throughout the book. Intention implies a clear sense of purpose, a deliberate movement toward a goal, but with a firm grounding in the moment. If we act intentionally, we move with confidence. The problem is becoming attached to the outcome. It is easy to assume that the two ideas go together: setting an intention and wanting things to work out the way that we envisioned. But they are not related. Initially, the idea of letting go of the end result can appear foolish. It seems like things are going fall apart if we do not make sure that they turn out the right way. But as you explore your thinking, you will notice a distinction between the ego--the part of you that wants to control and needs things to turn out a specific way, and the actor--the one that is working for a quality outcome. The reason that the thought of an unsatisfying outcome makes us stressed and fearful is because our ego has told us that we will be less of a person if we fail. When you look at this more deeply, you see that it is an unhelpful delusion.



Chapter Reflection 17-i: You might test out the idea that fear of the bad outcome is a mental fiction. Recall five things at different points in your life that you were very concerned about (including the most recent). 1. Did your anxiety make the outcome any better? 2. Did things work out eventually? If they did not, was the outcome something that in the end was survivable, if not acceptable? Was your attachment to a particular result useful? Or was it just a source of needless stress?



So, as the voice of dissatisfaction comes in, we can use it purposefully. It can clarify our intention and motivate us to work toward change. But when the voice of the ego come in and wants us to wrap our self-concept up with the many outcomes in our day, we need to become skilled at recognizing it but letting it tell us what to do or how to feel.


Examining the Nature of Our “Problems”

Teaching is an involving profession. There is always something to do, a challenge to meet, and an ever-present need to plan and prepare. Students bring a great deal of unpredictability and even dysfunction into our classes. But as we observed in Chapter Two, these are really not problems as much as they are challenges, and simply part of the job. However, we can make them into “problems” as a result of how we interpret and perceive them. It is possible to interpret our day as a series of “one problem after another.” It is also possible to view our day as simply work that needs to be done. When we make our challenges into problems, and we interpret the events of the day as problems we become our own enemy. Making the job of teaching into a series of problems is a very effective way to have mostly miserable days. However, if we learn to notice the tendency in our minds to want to turn our work into problems, just by the act of noticing, we can reduce some of that sense of struggle, and as a result, move through our days without the mental stress and strain caused by a mind filled with perpetual problems.


In most cases, the difference between a functional and healthy vs. dysfunctional and unhealthy approach to our work, will involve how we interpret various events as either problems or challenges that simply require action. The size of the event is rather insignificant, but our interpretation of the event will be. For example, we may be teaching and notice that our students are doing more talking than we want them to during an activity. The problem-based interpretation is to get upset, get negative, and label the event as a problem. A more functional interpretation is to simply recognize that something needs to change and then to take the action required to change it (see Chapter 12, related to gaining attention). Moreover, even if the challenge is considerable, such as a student who is having substantial issues and/or has even become uncontrollable in our class, viewing it as a problem will not help. We simply need to take action (see Chapter 15 related to dealing with difficult students). That action may require a long-term intention including a complex plan of action, in addition to something that we need to do immediately; we do not need to label it as “bad,” take it personally, or feel victimized. We simply need to act.


In fact, if we turn an event or student into something that is “bad” it will make things worse, not only for our sense of peace but for the quality of our classroom management as well. Part of the problem is that when we label, conceptualize and personalize the event, we shift toward an external causality, we get out of the moment, and we shift into a fear-based mode of thinking. The result is a pattern of negativity, and a sense of isolation and separateness.



Chapter Reflection 17-j: It is normal to look at all the problems in our lives and at work as a finite quantity. We did not do anything to create them, they just are. But ask yourself the question; “If my problems were all magically solved and removed from my life, how long would it take before I created a whole new set about the same size and the same type as those I have now?



What is the Problem with Negativity?

Most of us spend a great deal of our day engaged in some form of negativity. Sometimes it is subtle, and other times it is rather debilitating. This negativity can take many forms such as complaining, passive aggressiveness, perpetual disappointment, blame, a sense of unfavorable comparison, cynicism and fatalism. Moreover, spending time in schools themselves can actually help fuel these negative states of mind. Many of us work within climates that are rather toxic and draw us into a sphere of negative energy. Spending prolonged time in many faculty lounges can have the effect of “acclimatizing” us to these subtle forms of negativity until they all seem rather normal and even necessary. While it is common and normal to become accustomed to negativity, it will be useful to recognize that it has little if any value (aside from bonding us to others who have also become trapped in a pattern of negativity). We may perceive it as valuable because our minds tell us it is useful and necessary. But upon closer examination we will see that it is entirely a mental game and destructive to both our peace of mind as well as our effectiveness.



Chapter Reflection 17-k: Consider the last thing that you complained about. Recall how it felt to complain. As you examine it more closely, can you identify what it was that your ego was feeling the need to protect? Was it your sense of self? Did you need to excuse yourself for a lack of action (that you feel you should have taken earlier) to alleviate some guilt? At the root of all negativity is an effort to avoid taking responsibility. Can you identify what it was in this case?



Most forms of negativity have two primary causes. First, they can result from a lack of acceptance and the desire to avoid “what is.” Instead of taking responsibility for the moment, and saying “yes” to our reality, we promote negativity when we rationalize the need to say “no” to the present in the form of denial, defensiveness, unease, displeasure, etc. Second, negativity results from a lack of courage to take positive action (that the ego disguises as superiority). Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to take constructive action, we choose to be passive. As a result of that choice, we feel dissonance, so we use some form of negativity to cope with the feelings of guilt or failure. As discussed in Chapter 12 (see Figure 17.2/6.2), this manifests itself in the classroom when we choose negativity over action. For instance, many times a day, we recognize a state of affairs that is inadequate and could be improved. We can typically then proceed in one of two directions. We can initiate action, change the situation, and as a result be able to recognize that a change has been made--which leads to an emotional state where negativity is unnecessary (Sequence A). Or we can see the need for action, rationalize why that action is not necessary, and then later recognize that the problem still persists--the result is the need for negativity to cope with the sense of guilt and the need to defend one’s self image (Sequence B).


Figure 17.2/6.2 – Roots of Negativity: Sequence of Events Related to Why We Feel Either Negativity or a Sense of Resolution

Sequence A.

Problem – action taken – change – ability to positively recognize behavior.

Sequence B.

Problem – inaction – problem remains - distress – negativity.



Chapter Reflection 17-l: Recall the last time that you felt negative: e.g., defensive, complaining, disappointed in the students, touchy about your performance as a teacher, etc. Reflect on what you were defending. It is likely that there was a point in time that you could have acted, but did not? Is it possible that your negativity was a form of beating yourself up or displacing that anger onto your students?



When we allow our negativity to take over, we spiral into a pain cycle that is capable of doing major damage to ourselves and everyone around us. We therefore must begin by accepting that there is no value in being negative. We must accept that we are not perfect and will get into negative moods, but to keep in mind that the thinking that tempts us in that mood is probably unhealthy. Our mind may be telling us to be angry or assign bad intentions to someone, complain, blame, feel sorry for ourselves, or take revenge on a student or even the whole class. But the better we get at noticing these messages, the less likely we will be a slave to our unconscious conditioning. And we will simply want to use a more intentional voice inside of us to guide our actions.


So what do we do when we recognize the voice of negativity emerging?

  1. Do not fight it. Just accept the emotions. Do not feel like you need to blame yourself or someone else for feeling negative. Just bring the thoughts into your awareness. When you are in the act of noticing negative messages, you see them for what they are--simply thought forms and nothing that you “need” to listen to. As a result of just noticing the feeling, it will lose its power and control over you. Moreover, avoid being in denial of what you feel. Denial is the most counterproductive state existing.


  1. Listen to what the negativity is telling you. When you feel the negative thoughts coming in, it will be educational to ask yourself, “What button just got pushed?” “What am I defending?” “Is there some inadequacy I feel the need to project?” “Is there some hurt or vulnerability at the root of the emotions?” Let the emotions tell you what is really at the root of your negative reactions. Emotions are valuable information. They are the most accurate window into the mind that we have. But it will be useful to refrain from labeling the emotions as “good” or “bad.” Just accept that they are there at this time. They are real, but keep in mind that they are not who you are. So, what can you learn from them?


  1. Choose to take positive action. In any situation we have only three functional/healthy choices (in contrast to the thousands of dysfunctional/unhealthy choices: e.g., being negative, becoming reactive and unconscious, etc.) :

§         Accept the situation. Stop fighting the idea that it needs to be different. Say “yes” to what is.

§         Take action. Tap into your inner sense of intention and do something to improve the situation. Taking aware, deliberate action will feel very positive, as well as potentially leading to solutions to the problem.

§         Remove yourself from the situation. Take a time out. Find another place to be. Wait until you have found some inner peace, and the negativity is not doing the talking.


Stress, Anger, and the Need to Be Right – Dysfunction Disguised as Normal Patterns of Thinking

Most of us accept a regular amount of stress, anger, and the need to be right as normal and inevitable. While these states defines much of our daily experience and for most of us are very familiar, they do not need to define our efforts throughout the day.
While in some form these will always creep in, if we approach these states intentionally and raise our level of consciousness, we can spend much less time in them than we do at present; in fact, increasingly less.


Exploring the Nature of Stress

For some of us stress is a constant companion. For others it comes in episodes. We feel it in the body as a sense of unease and tension. Our breathing becomes shallower; if we were to measure it, we would find that the level of cortisol in our blood is elevated. Stress, at its essence, arises from wanting things to be different than they are. This includes wanting life to work out in a certain way in the future, and fearing that it will not. Like other forms of negativity, stress has no useful purpose. In fact, it will be counter-productive. When we are stressed it rubs off on others. Our level of stress is inevitably projected out onto our class and makes the students uneasy. When we are stressed our minds are more scattered and less grounded in the moment. When the climate of a class has a chaotic quality, it is often the result of the teacher’s stress level.


If we find ourselves in a stressed state quite often, we might want to practice a mindset in which we ground ourselves in the moment and focus on doing one thing at a time. In reality we can only do one thing at a time, so we are not missing something if that is what we do. It is impossible in this moment to be doing something in the future. But the stressed mind will do its best to try, and will tell us that it is important to become obsessed with the potential problems that the future may bring.


Instead of allowing our minds to fixate on the imagined future, it will be more effective to tell ourselves to stay in the moment and do what we can right now to prepare. Have we done the planning and preparation that is necessary? If we have, then it will be useful to stay in the moment and let go of attachment to things turning out a certain way. If our stress is related to having to complete a large project, or from not being fully prepared for the future event, instead of conceiving the task as vast and expansive, take one piece at a time. The larger we make the job, the more likely we will be to experience stress and/or let ourselves translate that stress into procrastination. Doing one thing at a time grounds us in the moment and helps take practical steps toward reaching our goal or improving the chances that a good outcome will happen.


When our stress takes the form of worry, it can be paralyzing. Brian Tracy suggests that to counteract worry, we should go through a series of mental steps. First, imagine the worst case scenario for what we are worried about. Second, resolve to accept that we could live with it if it were to happen. Third, take action to help bring about the best possible outcome.



Chapter Reflection 17-m: Reflect on the last time you felt stress. What was it about? Did the stress improve your outcome? As you examine it now, do you recognize the appearance of the voice that was telling you that you needed to want the future to be a certain way? What was that voice saying?



Exploring the Nature of Anger and Resentment

Most of us experience some subtle forms of anger throughout the day. It may feel like defensiveness, disappointment, resentment, or regret. While, it is normal, it will take its toll. There is a misperception that we just need to “just let it out.” This theory is called catharsis. Yet, consistently research has shown that catharsis is not effective at reducing angry feelings and actually tends to increases the tendency to get angry. In one such study, Bushman (2002) found that venting anger by hitting a punching bag actually increased the subjects’ long term levels of anger. Moreover, the study found that when subjects ruminating over their anger, the level of anger increased as well. Therefore, we could conclude that “holding it in” is as unhealthy as “letting it out.”


It is useful to recognize that the feeling of anger is simply the body’s response to one of our thoughts. Therefore, if we change the thoughts we reduce the anger. But much of our motivation for staying angry comes from our misperception that it is useful. For many of us, we view anger as a motivational emotion. It energizes us to take action, be assertive, get “pumped up.” But the reality is that we can be assertive or energized without the anger. In fact, the anger will simply make us less conscious in whatever we are doing.


But What if They Deserve It?

There is an old saying that “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” When we externalize our anger the effect is that essentially more pain was just introduced into the equation of the class. Using the hot coal analogy, what we have done by doing this is that we have first burned ourselves when we let our thinking become anger. Then, if we throw that hot coal into the class, we burn our students. Yet we can be assured that at some point, in some form, that coal will come back at us again. So when we externalize our anger in the form of giving pain (e.g., lectures, guilt, shame, put-downs, threats, punishments, etc.), we get burned at least twice. When our students “make” us mad, our minds tell us to get back at them, because “they deserve it.” However, if we examine reality more closely, it becomes clear that this reasoning is dysfunctional. If a student has done something that calls for a consequence, then a logical and related consequence is deserved (and not pain). Any disciplinary action performed in anger (and using a pain-based logic) will create less function in the room and drag us down the continuum closer to a 4-Style management environment.



When we get angry it feels inevitable and as if it were determined by our situation. As we examine it more closely, we find that we have a great deal more control than we assume. Moreover, we see that the mechanism in our mind that makes it happen is rather predictable. We see that in actuality, the external context is not making us angry, but how we are thinking about it. Understanding its three parts can be helpful in raising our level of awareness of this anger-producing mechanism. First, to create anger we need to take an event out of the larger context of the world, and narrow our focus to just that event. Second, we need to assign intentions to the object of our anger. As we examine anger as well as all other forms of negativity, we can recognize a strong relationship between the intentions we assign to others and the degree of harmful thinking that we experience. Third, we need to assume that the anger “just is,” rather than seeing it as the result of something that we have chosen--one of a thousand thoughts we could have attended to and only one of the many feelings that we could be feeling right now. Figure 17-3 outlines how our perceptions relating to these three variables will translate into dramatically different results in situations that face us with the opportunity to get angry.


Figure 17.3: Comparing a Healthy vs. Unhealthy Response to a Situation in which We Might Become Angry at a Student




Setting the Context

Examine the event within a narrow context. Look at the event and the student in isolation. Let your ego do the talking (or more likely ordering), and let it bring your attention into a narrow, personalized event.

Acknowledge that the student is acting in a larger context. They may be reacting to something we or someone else has done. Open up your awareness and see that this is only one of the hundreds of events going on right now.


Assigning Intentions

Assign the student bad intentions. Tell yourself that the student did what they did for a malicious reason. They did or said what they did as an attack on you.

Assign the student the appropriately high level of unconsciousness. Keep in mind that our job is to be the conscious one in the equation. Assume that the student is doing the best that they can with the level of awareness that they have at this point in their lives. Somewhere in the back of your mind, recall your own level of consciousness at that age, and some of the things that you thought and/or said.


Choosing Our Emotional State

Become unconscious and allow your ego’s response to the threat take over. Feel angry. Feel justified in being angry. Run the event over in your mind a few times and work yourself up, until you feel the emotion through your whole body.


Recognize the anger arising in you. Make a choice not to let it “become you.” Choose to shift your awareness to something else. Recognize that you choose your emotions, by what you choose to attend to. Forgive the student for being a little unconscious today, and move on emotionally.


Practical Considerations

Hold on to the feeling. Allow it to come out in the form of passive aggressiveness or hostility. Feel justified in getting the student back in the form of a put-down or teasing. Wish ill for the student, and put less effort into teaching him/her.


If the student has done something that has violated a class rule or expectation, give him/her a consequence. If not, make an effort to connect with the student when you feel less hurt. If you have something to say to the student, say it assertively using “I” statements and then let it go.


Example Scenario: You have created a lesson that you feel is highly valuable for your students. Early in the lesson, most students are responding well. They are on task and enjoying the lesson. However, one student seems to be uninterested and uncomfortable. You turn to the student and ask a question and they say, “I am sorry but I just think this is boring.”


Application to “Boring Comment” Scenario


Immediately narrow your focus and make your whole reality become this one event. Lose track of all the other students or the fact that the student may have a lot of reasons for being disagreeable today. Take the comment personally. Allow your feeling that they have just expressed dislike for something that you hold dear to take over. Make it about you and them. Assume that they said this just to offend you and make you angry. Allow your feeling of anger to overwhelm you. Let the anger do the talking. Project onto the whole class your feeling that “they do not deserve your best effort, because you do not deserve to be treated this way.” Find ways to get back at the students later in the day (e.g., brainstorm ways to lower their grade). Put less effort into your teaching.

Keep in mind that most students are enjoying the lesson, and it is going fine. Accept that not everyone is going to share your love of this topic. Give the student a break. It is okay to get bored. Notice your temptation to get angry. Allow it to pass. Shift your focus to “what is important NOW (WIN).” Stay positive, or at least internally find the “yes” mindset inside you. Comment to the student publicly or privately that it is okay to be bored, but comments like that are not good for the class. You invite constructive criticism, but that sounded like just complaining and was not a very effective way to express his/her feelings. Internally, forgive the student for being young and unconscious. Shift your energy back to doing the best job of teaching that you can.


Examining Our Need to Be Right

Much of our stress and/or problem-making comes from the need to be right. You might be saying, “But I am the teacher, don’t I need to be right?” Yes, certainly, we should know what we are talking about, and be accurate and well-informed. We need to be experts and a source of good information. So in one sense, we should try to be correct most of the time. But it will be useful to separate “being right” into two entirely separate categories: 1) having good information and helping students arrive at sound, well-informed conclusions, and 2) the need of the ego to mentally defend itself from a perceived threat.


A good place to recognize the difference will be in the body. How do we feel as we discuss or defend our position? Are our minds clear and light, our breathing easy and our bodies relaxed? Or do we feel our heart rate increase and the level of adrenaline increase? Do we feel our awareness narrow as our desire to win the point rises? To clarify this distinction, it might be useful to reflect on how we have felt physically in different situations in which we have held different views from others.


First, consider a scenario in which you are engaged in a casual conversation with students and one student suggests that he thinks the school would be better if it were not so purple. You are confused because the school is clearly beige by all other accounts. You are pretty confident that your senses tell you that the school is not in the least bit purple. Imagine yourself in this situation. How would you feel and react? The student is clearly wrong and you are confident in your knowledge. You would probably feel little or no defensiveness as you tried to help the student recognize that the school is really beige rather than purple, or as you simple walked away feeling concerned for the student’s ability to perceive color accurately. In this case, it is likely that your physiology would remain unchanged, and your awareness would shift quickly to something else.


Second, recall a recent situation in which you felt personally challenged: for example, a student or colleague may have disagreed with your opinion, or someone took exception to the way that you were doing something (maybe one of your classroom management strategies). How did you feel? Possibly you felt your adrenaline level rise and a great desire to defend your ideas in the strongest terms. Hours later, you may still have been feeling offended and running your argument over and over in your mind long after the students have gone home.


In both scenarios, our view of reality was challenged directly. What another said was in direct conflict with our views. Yet in the first scenario there was little if any ego reaction. However, in the second scenario, our ego was very involved. As a result our mental reaction to the comment became personal. Our ego said that, in effect, our very self was under attack, and so what we hear is “if I am proven wrong, I will cease to exist.”  Our ego also tells us that we will feel better when we win the argument (either in our minds or with that person). But while our ego feels very motivated to engage the argument, and tells us that it is a good thing, our body is telling us that it is not. Our body is the true indication of our emotional state, and our body is telling us that our need to be right is making us miserable, even though our mind is skilled at convincing us that everything is fine--or at least trying to stay unconscious and keep fighting.


If, when presented with conflicting information we engage in a rational process of inquiry, we are using our minds. However, if we find that hours later we are still fighting the mental argument or defending ourselves, it is evident that our ego is locked into a game of survival, and we are being taken along for the ride. We are unconscious and our ego has the keys to the ignition. As Eckhart Tolle (2003) suggests, “Most of the time we are not using our mind at all, it is using us.”


To remedy this normal but highly destructive pattern, we need to be intentional about bringing about a change in our thinking. First, we will need to become skilled at noticing the feeling of defensiveness. At first this may seem impossible, but over time it gets easier. Second, we might want to introduce a more healthy set of thoughts as we feel the urge to defend. It may be effective to keep in perspective how small the argument is and how there are so many other matters that could warrant our attention. If our argument is with a student, we might want to bring to mind how much our views have changed since we were that age, and how even experts might disagree on this point. Third, we will want to try to stay in the moment and conscious. As we do, we will be aware of the reaction going on in our body, the tendency for our focus to narrow, and the transparency of the message that our ego is giving us to dig in and win. Finally, get used to not taking yourself or your thoughts so seriously.



Chapter Reflection 17-n: When you are in an especially peaceful state of mind, reflect on the last time that you felt the need to argue or cycled a defensive thought through your mind continuously. Resist the temptation to revisit the argument; instead, just reflect on what you were feeling at the time. What were you defending? What did you fear would happen if you could not convince yourself or the other person that you were right? Why did you NEED to be right?

The ego-driven aspect of any disagreement is often much easier to see in others. The next time you see someone arguing what you believe to be a very small point with great energy (and then having trouble letting go of it later) reflect on the degree to which their need to be right was ego-driven.



How Negativity in Thinking Manifests Itself into Classroom Management Dysfunction

Given that, as Ginott observed, we create “the weather” in the class, the quality of our thinking will be the major determinant of what kind of weather it will be. Creating a mind that is more in the moment not only leads to less stress and strain throughout the day, but also leads to better classroom management outcomes. The effects of our thinking on our class can range from the subtle to the profound. On one level, negativity of any kind will create a shift in our attention away from what is important now, and will project itself to our students. We are usually a lot less successful at hiding our negative thinking than we think. As we discussed in Chapter 3, a good amount of what we teach is “who we are.” We set the tone in the class and so when we allow disappointment, anger, resentment, defensiveness, comparison, complaining, stress, or depression to define our energy, our class will take on that quality. Conversely, when we project a present-moment awareness and a positive energy, our students respond in kind. On another level, negative thinking can manifest itself very directly into classroom management dysfunction. Prime examples include the ways in which our sense of disappointment and defensiveness play out in how we interact with our students.


When we allow disappointment to take hold, we allow our egos to run the class. Instead of putting our attention on the action that we can take to help them learn and function, we allow ourselves to become more passive and project the message “if you do what I want, I will be happy, and if you don’t, I will withdraw my affirmation.” This is often a subtle act and a subtle message, but the effect is to promote a shift in your students’ orientation toward an external locus of control (you). It may not be on the level of conscious attention, but disappointment will have the effect of decreasing the level of motivation in the class and disempowering our students.


When we feel threatened or defensive, we become drawn into the past and out of the present. Our tendency will be to want to fight back, or withdrawal into the role of the victim. When we fight back, we have engaged in a power struggle and pain exchange with our students. When we become a victim, the effect is that our students lose faith in our leadership and the integrity of the social contract. Our management approach shifts toward the 3-style each time we take the role of the victim.


As we examine the ways in which our minds like to become negative, we will see that each negative thought process will manifest itself in some form of dysfunctional action. When we allow negativity to define our thinking we tend to be more personal and less consistent. We are more prone to making our students into a “They” and ourselves in the “We,” which gives us a false feeling of separateness. Negativity leads us to become more passive aggressive and less active. And it narrows our perception and limits our ability to recognize the dynamics in our class clearly. As a result we are less conscious of the “socially constructed” level aspects of the classroom reality (Recall Chapter 3) that are operating with the class, and as a result more determined by factors of which we are unaware.



Chapter Reflection 17-o: Reflect on the classes that you have observed recently. Did you see evidence of a relationship between the negative thoughts of the teacher and classroom management or motivation problem in the class? Save your observations here for Chapter Group Activity #2 at the end of the chapter.



Examining the Effect of Our Mental Scripts

We all have a series of mental scripts swimming around in our unconscious minds. Most of them are rather subtle, while others can define our entire outlook. Most of these scripts are formed very early in life, but are often solidified in the adolescent years. It has been said that we go into teaching to re-write the scripts of the years we would like to change or relive. Whether this is true or not for you, examining the underlying scripts in your unconscious can be enlightening and hold the key to our ongoing struggles.


These scripts can be healthy, unhealthy or rather neutral. For example, we may be carrying around a generally positive script that tells us, “If I work hard good things will happen to me.” Or else, someone might have convinced us when we were young that we were capable, and as a result we developed a script around that concept. Whether healthy or unhealthy, true or false, once these scripts are accepted as true in our unconscious minds, they are burned into our self-images, and require a great deal of counter-programming to change.


Very commonly, in the course of our teaching, we discover that less-than-healthy scripts tend to define our thinking. One of the realities of teaching is that it is difficult to disguise who we are and that includes the contents of our unconscious minds. In most cases, teaching will bring it out whether we want it brought out or not.


Some of the more common problematic mental scripts include:

“I don’t deserve respect.”

“I will never get what I want.”

“I am no good.”

“You can’t trust people--they are selfish and dishonest and will always let you down.”

“If I act impossible to please, it will shift the attention away from me and my sense of inadequacy.”

“If I am not likeable, nice, and agreeable, I will lose others’ love.”

“Popular kids will hurt me.

And probably the most common script that teachers have: “I am a fraud and I will be found out at some point.”


Most importantly it will be useful to simply become aware of these scripts. Awareness alone will go a long way toward gaining ability to grow out those scripts that we feel are limiting our growth and performance. In addition, it will be useful to self-program our minds with more healthy and accurate messages. For example, if we recognize a tendency to question our legitimacy and/or lovability, we may want to reprogram ourselves with some forms of the message that “we deserve love and respect.”  Simply repeating the message to ourselves silently can have a powerful effect on our unconscious beliefs over time. Becoming aware of the concrete evidence that contradicts these unhealthy scripts will be helpful as well. For example, if we believe that we need to be likeable or others will leave us, we might be intentional about recognizing the evidence related to all of those students, friends and family who like us no matter what--and for a lot of reasons other than our efforts to be nice.



Chapter Refection 17-p: Examine the scripts in your own unconscious. What messages are they telling you? What affect do you see it having on your teaching? What are the counter-messages with which you will want to reprogram yourself to be happier and more effective?



Changing Our Patterns of Thinking

To cultivate more functional and harmonious forms of thinking, in most cases we do not need special skills or even any help from others. To begin, it will beneficial to acknowledge the fact that the dysfunctional thinking going on in our minds is not unique to us. Each teacher, like every other person, has some level of mental negativity that is holding them back. We need to resist the temptation to deny that our negative thoughts and tendencies exist at all. This will be counterproductive. Denial will simply fuel our unconsciousness, and while it may alleviate some pain in the short-term, it will compound it in the long run. Likewise, it will not be useful to fight our feelings or be hard on ourselves for having certain feelings. As we discussed earlier, our feelings are simply information. They can teach us a great deal, including what we need to work on. Moreover, we do not need to dissect our pasts to bring about change. We simply need to do a better job of being in the moment we are in. It will be more effective to practice increasing consciousness and to place our attention on forming new patterns rather than looking in the past for answers.


Two things begin to occur simultaneously when we become more in the moment and increase our level of awareness of how our thinking is affecting us and our classes. First, we notice how much that thinking has caused the suffering we have experienced, and in the act of noticing we see how the patterns that have brought us grief can be changed. Second, we notice that the students become less frustrating to work with, less threatening, and more enjoyable to be around. As we begin to change, our situation changes along with us. In other words, both our real and imagined problems begin to lessen.


In the next sections we will examine avenues toward promoting habits of mind that will bring us peace and make us more effective with our students. These avenues include cultivating an attitude of “yes,” encouraging a positive energy flow, finding our inner voice of intention, and developing a sense of purpose.


Taking on a “Yes” Mindset

One of the most effective ways of making the shift away from whatever negative thought or state of mind that we are experiencing into a place that is going to be more functional and enjoyable, is to take on a “yes” frame of mind. A “yes” frame of mind is one in which we say “yes” to “what is.” We say “yes” to the moment. Eckhart Tolle (2005) refers to this inner “yes” as one of the portals to accessing the present moment. It is a state of acceptance. We say “yes” to the life that surrounds us rather than wanting things to be different, or wanting to be in the future. A “yes” frame of mind says that we are going to rise to the occasion and take action as opposed to putting it off or being passive. We are saying “yes” to quality and acting with intention.


The artist needs to say “yes” to the moment to be able to access the creative energy within him or her, or what they create will be uninspired. The athlete needs to say “yes” to the moment and commit to what they are doing, or else they will perform poorly, make mistakes, or even increase the chance for injury. The “yes” does not need to take any extra effort. It is not about trying harder. It is about being in the moment and tapping into the life force in that moment. In effect, we are saying “yes” to life itself.


Without being consciously aware of it, we approach most things with a subtle or not-so-subtle “no” mindset, and a rejection of life. While we tend to view our mental activity as neutral, if we examine it more closely, we will see that most every thought is defined by either a “yes” or a “no” attitude. Most of the time the effect is very subtle, but each of these small thoughts ultimately adds up to larger and more significant outcomes such as a mental outlook and/or a physical manifestation in our bodies, and is ultimately projected onto the classes that we teach. In Figure 17.4 we examine some of the ways that a “yes” mindset contrasts with a “no” mindset.


Figure 17.4: Contrasting Characteristic Thoughts of a “Yes” vs. “No” Mindset


Thoughts that Characterize the “Yes” Mindset

Thoughts that Characterize the “No” Mindset

“I am in the moment. The moment is good.”


“I want something else, or to be somewhere else.”


“There is endless wonder in the world around me, if I only notice it.”


“I already know how things are going to go. I have been there and done that.”

“When I say yes, I feel an ease and clarity in my thinking. As a result, I find my intention more evident. I feel a clearer sense of direction.”


“I want a diversion. I am bored. My work feels tedious.”

“I see the human possibility in my students and the others I interact with. I see learning all around me.”


“I see all the limitations that keep my students from doing what I want them to do. Why do I have to work with such a flawed group of people?  After a while, each group just seems like the last. I already know how they are going to act. And I am usually right.”


“When I look out at my situation, I feel a thankful attitude. I get to do a meaningful job, and make a difference. The list of blessings is endless when I really look at it.”

“I never get what I want. I feel like others are always letting me down. Maybe the worst part is that I am sure they all do know what I want, but no one cares enough to do it”


Taking a “yes” orientation is by no means being passive or even necessarily agreeable. When we say “yes” to life, we have to say “no” to a lot of other things. It means saying yes to action, which means that we need to walk away from some unhealthy situations, or take an assertive position against something that we believe is wrong. When we say “yes” to life, we say “yes” to the fulfillment of potential, and that means we are saying no to such things as mediocrity and irresponsibility.


Is working from a mindset defined by “yes” the same as being optimistic? Not really.

Being sunny and optimistic is probably preferable to being sour and pessimistic. But neither optimism nor pessimism is rooted in a “yes” attitude. A pessimistic perspective says, “I know things will turn out badly. I just expect it to be that way and I am rarely disappointed.” Whereas an optimistic perspective says, “I hope things turn out well. I like it when they do, and so I will have faith that a good outcome will occur, and I will get what I want.” Do you hear “yes” in either of those statements? A “yes” mindset has little to do with believing that we will or will not get what we want. It is not about the outcome, but rather the process. Both optimism and pessimism are basically ego-based mindsets. And neither will lead to a long-term growth or fulfillment.


Exploring the Idea of Being “Positive”

What about being positive, does that come from a “yes” attitude? Certainly, having a generally positive attitude can potentially be rooted in a “yes” mindset. And when it comes to the job of teaching, sending out positive energy has many benefits. For one, it produces repeated deposits into the “emotional bank account” of the relationships that we have with others (Covey, 1989; see Chapter 3). The positive energy that we emit will come back to us in some form. The result is a positive effect on our lives, our teaching, and our relationships within the school. Therefore, being a source of positive energy for others tends to be worth it. We find evidence for this when we observe people we know who project a positive energy. What we usually notice is that they seem to be surrounded by positive energy from others.



Chapter Reflection 17.p:  Bring to mind someone you know who has a very positive attitude. How would you describe the way that others respond to them? What are the implications for teachers and coaches?



While there is an undeniable value to projecting a sincere positive attitude, we need to take a closer look at where it is coming from. It may sound contradictory, but often a positive attitude can be the flipside of negativity from the same dysfunctional coin. As we examined negativity in the section above, we found that the mental act of being negative is rooted in a “no” of some kind, and a denial of “what is.” In the same way a positive attitude can be a mask for a deeper sense of non-acceptance. One can be acting in a positive and socially acceptable manner, while inside they struggle with their authentic thoughts and feelings. Here is a test: after spending a class period trying to be positive, do you feel joy, ease and as though good energy has moved through you? Or do you feel as though it took a lot of effort to “act” positive for that amount of time?  In teaching, on some days it may be necessary to “act,” but if we are doing it on a consistent basis, we need to examine what is going on inside. Acting is exhausting, it is difficult to maintain, and no matter how much we want to deny it, our students can sense when we are acting. When we get home from a day of “acting positive,” we feel drained. Moreover, whatever we were disguising through the day is there to greet us when we get home.


Why do we feel the need to act? The answer is pretty complicated and usually subjective, but it typically relates back to the idea of acceptance. Ask yourself a few questions, “I pretend to like the students, do I really like the students? What is keeping me from letting myself really care about them?” “I act like I am committed to the classroom social contract, am I?” “Am I afraid to be real with the students? What is the terrible cost that I am afraid to pay by being myself?” The answers to those questions can raise some difficult emotions, but as long as we refuse to acknowledge them, the conflict will take its toll on us, our energy level, and our effectiveness with students.


Making the transition from less acting to more authentic engagement will inevitably involve an intention to be in the moment and present to our students. It is a strange paradox--our ego tells us that if we were not acting, a negative, depressed, boring, dispassionate, or inappropriate person would come out and show itself. Actually, when we say “yes” to the present, we do not have to act like we are engaged. It happens naturally. When we are in the moment, we are not focused on our own problems, but the action that we are taking at that time, and therefore there is no room for boredom. When we are aware and tune into the reality of what we are able to do in a moment of teaching, we will discover an inherent joy. Any job that is done with an attitude of “yes” can be joyful, but teaching is especially rewarding because of the profound experience of promoting the growth of young people.


My Experience

Our attitude will go a long way in defining our situation. As we observed earlier, we make the weather in the room. We can confirm this idea simply by examining any classroom. What we find is that over time the students and the climate of the class will mirror the attitudes and dispositions of the teacher.


I have experienced this phenomenon firsthand a few years ago. After teaching many sections of classroom management pretty successfully, I began the next quarter with the attitude that I could just show up and the students would somehow receive the quality of instruction that the previous students had. At the same time, I have to admit that my attitude had deteriorated as I had spent a great deal of time in the schools and had become frustrated with the classroom management practices that I had seen as well as with what I interpreted as the faulty assumptions that were at the root of those practices. On the first day of class, as I interacted with the students, I heard many of those flawed assumptions coming out of their mouths. And without being aware of it, I began to treat this class with less respect and put less effort into it. I found myself complaining about them to others (breaking my primary rule: never to talk negatively about students), and developing a negative expectation about them. Predictably, they responded in kind. They took few risks when responding and did not laugh at my few efforts at humor. In the end, the quality of their work was sub-par and uninspired.


As I read the course evaluations, I was shocked. I thought that I did my usual excellent job teaching and that I was a likable and positive person. Above all, I thought that I was able to hide my unconscious lack of respect for them. I clearly was not. I learned a painful but powerful lesson that quarter. When we give respect, we get it back. When we don’t give it, we should not be surprised when we don’t get it.


The following quarter I knew that I needed to change my attitude. I started right off by validating each new group of students. I did not rest on my previous performance, but made an effort to make the content of the class meaningful and fresh. I projected a positive expectation and a respect for their ideas. As I changed my attitude, my situation changed along with my mindset. The students put more energy into the class. They listened and stayed more focused on the task. They volunteered more and took more risks with their ideas. They reflected to me a respect and even a feeling of admiration. As a result, I was able to respond to the positive energy that I received with an increased amount of positive energy of my own. I enjoyed the quarter a great deal, and by all indications so did the students. And the class’s written comments read as though these students had had an entirely different instructor than the students from the previous term. In many ways they had.



Thinking that Leads to an Energy Flow

We have all been in a situation in which we felt “in the flow.” In teaching, it is often the experience of everything clicking. In this state, we lose track of time, and we become immersed in our task as our energy flows out. We feel this and we are leading the students effortlessly. The creative energy in the room is palpable. At the end of the time, we feel energized and alive. One the other hand, we have also experienced times (likely many more of them) when there was no such flow of energy. In this state, we feel as though time drags; we have to really work to get positive results of any kind. And at the end of these days we feel fatigued and/or as though our energies are stuck inside us, frustrated and unsatisfied.


So what is the difference? Why do some days boost our energy and others drain it? Like everything else, most of the difference is related to our thinking. Granted there are external factors such as weather, the energy level of our students or the curriculum and testing requirements. However, when we examine events in which there was a flow of energy, we find that they have common ingredients and most of them are controllable by how we approach things. Here is a list of some of ingredients that contribute to our experience of energy flow.


1.      Saying “Yes” to the Moment. Recall how you felt in those situations in which you were in a “groove,” and you felt like things were “going somewhere.” Time became relative, and you became completely immersed in the present. Contrast this to times that you felt the day was dragging. You were likely very aware of how fast the clock was moving, and that it was probably not moving fast enough. When we say “yes” to the moment, we tap into a source that is not bound by time--the place where creativity and insight are born.


2.      A Focus on Giving. When we find ourselves in the flow within collective settings, we are probably putting great attention on the needs of others. Our awareness then goes out to the group and we forget about ourselves for a while. When this happens in the classroom we do not feel so much that we are the origin of our teaching as much as a conduit of the knowledge that came from a larger creative source. These moments of flow are in sharp contrast to the times we feel as though we are pulling teeth to get students to learn. It will be useful to check in on our thinking periodically, and ask ourselves the question “Am I teaching for them, or for me (i.e., my ego)?”


3.      A Clear Intention and Acting with Purpose. Confidence is basically the absence of fear. As soon as we become fearful for whatever reason, our focus shifts from the moment and the emergent sense of intention within us and creates a defense response against the object of our fear. Commonly, we spend a lot of time in our teaching thinking about all the things that might go wrong (in the form of fear of failure, negative expectancy, the general fear that we are not quite sure how things are going to turn out with our lesson, or even paranoia that the students are thinking ill of us), and fearing a problem will arise. This fear kills our confidence and our flow. When we tap into the moment and act with a clear intention, fear tends to dissolve.



Chapter Reflection 17-q: This constant voice of fear may not seem obvious at first, but take any two-minute stretch of time and listen to the messages that run through your head. How many are related to fear of some kind, especially the fear of a potential problem? If we want less fear, denial or fighting it will be ineffective. We need to simply allow the thoughts of fear to come, recognize that they are there, and maintain focus on what you are doing and staying with your clear sense of intention.



4.      Allowing One’s Humanity to be Expressed Fully. Reflect on those times in and out of the classroom in which you felt a flow of energy. It is likely that you felt a sense of integrity and as though your whole self was involved in what you were doing. Can you recall a feeling of flow in cases in which you allowed only parts of yourself to come out and suppressed your personality, emotion and passion? We have all heard the clichéd advice: “Don’t smile until Christmas.” The assumption in this advice is that if we reveal our humanity, the students will see who we really are and find a way to attack us. However, if we spend the whole day defending against being human, the cost to our sense of well-being is great (not to mention the fact that it is ineffective--as we discussed in Chapter 7). If we give ourselves permission to be human and express ourselves authentically, we will feel a great deal more flow in the moment and at the end of the day the realization that our energy has moved through us. We do not need to be an experienced teacher to act authentically. We can be authentic from day one. Granted, it will be much easier to trust that this is possible if we become expert at the technical aspects of teaching, especially our technical classroom management (discussed in Chapter 12).


5.      Cultivating a Reciprocal Energy Flow. Time flies when we are having fun. Fun is a basic human need. So are power, freedom, love, self-efficacy (see Chapter 7 for discussion of these basic needs). When our own basic needs as well as those of our students are being met, we will feel a sense of reciprocal energy flow. It is difficult to feel a sense of flow when we look out at a group of young people who are frustrated and/or tuned out. The energy must go both ways in the classroom. We can feel a sense of flow ourselves, when we are engaged in our favorite hobby or a creative endeavor. So finding a sense of flow when we are doing the independent tasks in our jobs can make a substantive difference to how we feel each day. For example, if our planning feels creative, we will feel that it is less of a burden, or if we enjoy what the students write when we are grading papers rather than viewing the task as entirely menial, we will enjoy it more. In the classroom, flow will require everyone in the room. Therefore, we will be more successful if our teaching involves a shared sense of growth. When the activity is promoting a “psychology of success” (see Chapter 8) and the group is engaged in the moment, time flies, and we feel a psychological movement in the activities.


We can tell that we are in flow when we feel that we lose track of time, we feel energized and alive, and we feel a sense of love emanating from within. When we spend more of our day in that state, our bodies will feel a difference, and we will find that many of the trials and problems that we have gotten used to dealing with on a regular basis lessen.



Chapter Reflection 17-r: It may be useful to reflect on times in your life that you have felt a flow. What was going on? Describe the experience.


Chapter Reflection 17-s: Reflect on why any of us feels the need to repress students. What do we accomplish by doing so? What are the mental messages that are telling us that this is a good idea? Is it that “I will lose control,” or “If I show my humanity they will see I am weak?” Most of these mental messages are rather subtle. Can you detect them in your thinking?



Cultivating Our Sense of Purpose--and as a Result a Transformative Mindset

So what do we use to guide our actions instead of all the mental noise and the reactive voice of the ego in our head? We simply need to listen to a deeper source. When we clear away all the noise, the fear and the distractions, what emerges is a clear sense of intention. When we say “yes” to the moment, we have access to this inner source of motivation--our inner life force. We could call it many things, but here we will simply refer to it as the force inside us that provides us with intention. It exists between fearing and wanting, future and past. It is at the heart of our innermost self. It is the voice of our inner life force. When our mind is clear and we ask ourselves, “what is important now? (WIN)” our intention is waiting with an answer. When we access our true intention, we access our true state--our natural state.


Moreover, each time we access this present moment intention, we get a clearer sense of our larger sense of purpose. In that sense, intention and purpose work together. We could say that our intention answers the moment-to-moment questions, whereas our sense of purpose answers the larger questions. When our action is guided by this clear intention, even if what we are doing is challenging or menial, we do not feel that it is pointless, insignificant, or mercenary. We get value out of everything we do. When the voice of our inner intention is audible, we get a glimpse of a larger sense of the meaningfulness of what we are doing. Our intention illuminates our gifts and uniqueness. It clarifies how we can best make a contribution. Our true sense of purpose is simply a reflection of that illumination.


Just as when our ego is fighting the present moment and wanting to be somewhere else and making our work feel boring and unsatisfying, when our sense of purpose is rooted in an ego-driven source, we will struggle to achieve a sense of job satisfaction. Therefore, if we find that our reasons for teaching are rooted in such things as enjoying a control over others, feeling important, or just because we liked the schedule, we may be motivated--but we will never be satisfied. When our sense of purpose is ego-driven it leads to feeling separate, alone, unsatisfied and a misperception that our work is meaningless. Many teachers feel dissatisfied and look externally for a sense of purpose. They believe that when they attain a more powerful position, transfer to a better school, or get a raise, they will be become satisfied and complete. What they usually find is that the sense of meaninglessness follows them to their new situation.


We can only find our sense of purpose by listening to our intention. The more we listen to our intention, we more we learn about what we truly value. Moreover, we discover our gifts and the ways that we can make a difference. Fullan (1993) found that the most successful teachers were those who reported feeling a sense of “moral purpose” in their teaching. It is true that we may get paid the same amount with or without approaching our work with a sense of moral purpose, but will our work be as fulfilling and meaningful if we don’t?


When our actions are guided by a clear sense of purpose that grows from present-moment intention, our work will be transformative. Whether we are alone, or working with one student or roomful of students, we will have the effect of raising the level of awareness around us. We share a light with others. Our inner “yes” affects all that we do. Mahatma Gandhi said it best in these words: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” When we act with present-moment intention, we change the world one action at a time. It is much less important to invent a grand image of our ideal future than it is to simply “be the change” in this moment. When we do what we love, and love what we are doing, meaning and purpose emerge naturally.



The job of teacher is in itself a great teacher. It provides us with an avenue for growth that few other professions can. Our teaching mirrors us to ourselves, and so opens up doors for growth that are invaluable. Much of the time we would never have volunteered to learn the lessons that come with this work. However, when we take advantage of the opportunities to grow and avoid the temptation to resign ourselves to perpetual coping, we find that these opportunities for growth, though often painful, are in fact true gifts. We come out the other side more compassionate, mature and conscious. When we become more conscious it is reflected in our teaching. When we say “yes” to our jobs, we find that they say “yes” back to us.


In the next chapter, we examine the 4-Style teaching approach, and discuss how one can move from this style of management up the continuum to one that is more effective and functional. This chapter will be most relevant to those who would characterize their approach as a 4-Style, or those who find that they are tempted to include 4-Style ingredients into how they manage.


Journal Reflections

1. Take this opportunity to reflect on how you see your purpose as a teacher, and how it has evolved over time. What are the areas in which you would like to grow and improve? What do you see as the current internal and external road blocks to your goals?


2. What forms of negativity do you recognize arising in yourself on a regular basis? Have they become part of your identity (e.g., victim, complainer, critic, angry person, dissatisfied person)? In other words, do they thread through the story line of your life?




Chapter Activity (Group)

1.. As a group, discuss your observations related to Chapter Reflection 17-o, in which you were asked to reflect on a class that you have observed recently. Did you see evidence of a relationship between the negative thoughts of the teacher and classroom management or motivation problem in the class?



Chapter Activity (Partner or Individual)

1.       When your parents were upset, stressed, overburdened, or angry--how did they act? How did your parents view human nature? Do you share their view (consciously or unconsciously)? Did the parent with whom you most identify have trouble setting boundaries or being consistent? Imagine that parent as a teacher. What advice would you give them so that their tendencies do not cause them to falter or fail?

2.       Reflect on some of the parent “tapes” that run through your mind (e.g., you are not smart, you are the special one, you are in the way, if you do what I want I will love you, if you mess up I will shame you, etc.). These tapes turn into buttons that student can push to trigger our insecurities or pain reactions. What are the parent tapes that you recognize that you need to be most aware of?

3.       Examine some of the common states of mind that you find yourself having in a day. Pay special attention to the states of mind that you take on when you are tired, stressed, or under pressure. Share with your partner some of those that you consider to be beneficial as a teacher and those that you judge to be less beneficial (e.g., victim, overly critical, disappointed, blaming others, acting superior, acting helpless, etc.). What might you do as a teacher to keep from allowing these kinds of unconscious tendencies to undermine your effectiveness and/or sense of satisfaction?



Chapter Activities (Individual)

1.       Steven Covey, in the book Habits of Highly Effective People, describes a useful exercise for clarifying one’s sense of purpose. The goal of the exercise is to boil one’s life purpose down into as few words as possible. See if you can state your purpose in 30 words or less.

2.       One of the most effective exercises for counteracting negativity is to reflect on those things for which we are thankful. We can do this at anytime. Some possible situations include:

·          When you feel exasperated with your job or your students

·          Before you go to bed at night

·          Right now. See how many you can list in five minutes


3.       For some of us, it is difficult to recognize the degree to which the “noise machine” in our heads controls our thinking, and how difficult it is to stop our compulsive thoughts. It may all seem normal. A useful indicator of how much our minds are in control is when we try to stop thinking. There are very few people who are able to go 10 seconds without an involuntary thought entering their mind. Test this for yourself. Simple try to stop thinking for 10 breaths. Every time a thought enters your mind start over. If you are like most people, you will get the point of the exercise long before you ever reach 10 breaths without thinking.


4.       Try the following exercise for bringing some serenity to your thoughts and to help you perceive your environment more clearly--as non-threatening and in harmony. First take a few seconds to bring your awareness into your body. It will be useful to focus on your breath, stay in the moment, and tune in to your inner body (it may be useful to visualize one part of your body becoming luminous and warm). As you breathe, bring your awareness inward, notice the sense of peace that you feel. Locate that peace inside in a single point (e.g., your heart or one of your hands). Take as long as you need to achieve a quiet mind and to be able to focus your awareness on that one spot. Next, slowly shift the focus of your awareness outward, move the location of your focus to a spot outside of yourself and then eventually to a global sense of everything that you see in your environment. Project your sense of peace and perfection onto whatever you observe. Just appreciate what you see without any judgment. Notice the perfection of life around you (even if it seems to be less than perfect to the mind). Maintain your focus there for a while. Next, bring that spot/point and your awareness back in to your body. Feel the perfection coming back to you. Stay there for a while. Breath. Be in the moment. Next, notice how the sense of separateness between you and your environment begins to dissolve. In the remaining time that you have, allow your awareness to move back and forth as it will without letting your mind take over. When you are done, attempt to bring that peace of mind and sense of connectedness back to what you do afterward.





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