The sad, stressful year of 2020 has finally come to an end. What will 2021 bring? Who knows, but how it goes for us will be greatly influenced by our perception and mindset. Will we focus on the positives or the negatives? That is a choice we will all have daily. Some people are trying to predict what is going to happen and forget where the focus needs to be. Since we don’t know the future, let’s plan for the present. Focus on our goals, while not letting others drag us down. Let’s control the controllables.
Each day, teachers face many unpredictable situations and obstacles. It may be a driver cutting us off on the way to school, students fighting on the playground, or having to cover a sick teacher’s class during our prep period. These alone are all things that could ruin the day for some, but they don’t have to be. All of them were beyond our control. I ask my students all the time: “Can we control what others say or do? No, so there is no reason to get upset. Let’s control what we can and make it a good day.” If we are always letting things that we cannot control affect us, then we are going to have a lot of bad days. There are always going to be a few people around you trying to annoy you or get you off your desired path. It is like comparing ourselves to others, which is the thief of joy. We cannot control others, but we can control our thoughts and actions. As much as possible, choose happiness.
When I think of controlling what we can control, I think of the analogy of going to the gym with earbuds in. The idea is when we put our earbuds in, we focus on what is important to us, while not allowing outside negativity to drag us down. While we need to be aware of what is happening around us, we also must work on not letting outside noise interfere with our goals. Some might consider that selfish, while I consider it self-car Blogger Katie Reed said, “Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you.” If we are not taking care of ourselves and constantly letting others drain us and wear us down, how are we supposed to be taking care of our families and students?
So how do we teach our students this concept of being happy and controlling what we can? This can be done through video clips, role play, and using positive reinforcement. When we observe our students having positive mindsets and overcoming challenges they might not have envisioned, we can praise them. This shows that we notice them making a tough situation more pleasant. For example, maybe a student volunteered to work with another who did not have a partner, even though that student would have probably preferred to work with his/her best friend. That empathy and open-mindedness are powerful. The right thing to do is not always the easy thing to do. I often ask my students, “Who wants to make more friends? Being open-minded and happy is an easy way to do that. People love being around fun, happy people. YOU can control that.”
Putting this concept of perspective into real-life scenarios help students understand as well. I tell my students that I count how many green lights I get on the drive to school, rather than getting mad about the red ones. I cannot control the lights, but by counting the green ones, I choose to see the world from a more positive, grateful perspective. I tell them I am happy to get any piece of pie even if my favorite, cherry, was not available. It is important to appreciate the little things we get like green lights or a piece of pie. Suddenly, we start to feel better. At first, we may have to consciously tell ourselves, possibly out loud, to focus on the positives and to breathe. This self-talk and choosing to stay positive will eventually become a habit and natural.
What will 2021 bring? Nobody knows for sure. Regardless of what is happening around us in the world, our mindsets are a choice. I understand what you are thinking. “Some days are nearly impossible to stay positive!” I get it. I would also challenge you to look back on those days and ask yourself, “How many of these negative moments were out of my control? Did I control what I could, or did I allow others to drag you down? As teachers and role models, let’s set an example for our students. Let’s control the controllables, and let’s choose happiness.