Toxic Positivity in Education, Part 2

by | Sep 8, 2020

In Part One

In Toxic Positivity in Education, Part 1 we explored:

  • What it means within an education setting
  • What it looks like in schools
  • Systemic causes of it
  • The impact of it on the staff, students, and the success of  schools

If you missed the article, click here to check it out.

Correcting toxic positivity in education

Today we are going to roll up our sleeves and look at what steps might we be able to accomplish to help correct the trend of toxic positivity in education.

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We accept that this is a systemic issue – not everywhere, but in many schools – and it won’t just go away overnight however taking steps to combat toxic positivity in education can potentially make a big impact.

Actionable steps

A lot of internet lists offer unactionable steps; unrealistic tips that are essentially ineffective without a major system overhaul.

The following steps were crafted to make decreasing toxic positivity acheivalbe.

Step 1

This starts from the top down.

teachers vs. principals

As was mentioned in Part 1, the power structure plays a role in the existence and persistence of toxic positivity in schools. Therefore, we look at what’s being done first by those that hold power when wanting a change (this goes for all change). 

We ask:

Do the persons in power lead with authenticity?

Do they strive to create systems and dialogue that align to their own character and value?

As a person in power – whether that be principal, vice/assistance principal, director, superintendent, or even a teacher leader – leading with authenticity will decrease the prevalence of toxic positivity.

When staff are included in real conversations and exposed to the vulnerable humanness of their leaders a culture is developed that encourages authenticity.

Step 2

Check yourself

teacher thinking about new methods during pandemic

But what if you don’t consider yourself as a person of power in your current position?

Change can still start with you. 

Check your language and your disposition. Every person in education makes a difference and by modeling anti-toxic positivity you can create a wave of change.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Am I responding authentically?
  • Am I validating what the person is feeling?
  • How can I support this person?

Use phrases such as:

  • “This is hard. I’m here for you.”
  • “I see you are stressed. I am listening”
  • “Things are tough right now. I’m sorry you’re going through this.”

Avoid phrases such as:

  •  “Positive vibes only”
  • “Failure is not an option”
  • “Everything’s going to work out just fine”

Just by your thoughtfully curating your own responses and language, you can begin to model a new, more authentic approach to communication in your school. The change will not come overnight, but you may be surprised how this simple act can make a difference.

Step 3

Be bold – Not negative

fun in college class

Combating toxic positivity doesn’t mean turning to negativity.

Negativity has its own list of detrimental effects on schools. However, if you are surrounded by toxic positivity it may feel uncomfortable to break from the trend.

Here are some simple tips for finding courage and being bold when those around you make statements that attempt to invalidate yours or others’ feelings:

  • Break the ice: If you know you and/or your colleagues are in a tense or stressful situation (like right now) – say it. It’s obvious, but often in climates that are filled with toxic positivity the obvious is never stated and therefore no authentic conversations or solutions are discussed.
  • Ask the important questions: If there is an elephant in the room – ask about it. I can’t tell you the number of staff meetings I have attended where I know that there is something major that colleagues are thinking about, but the whole staff meeting is geared in another direction. Be bold – not rude, not negative – there are undoubtedly others who will benefit.
  • Demonstrate Empathy – If the goal of combating toxic positivity in education is authentic expressions and validation in communication then open demonstrations of empathy are a must. Mirroring in conversations is an effective tool to show validation, listening and empathy.

If you have other ideas for combating toxic positivity or want to share your own story, please feel free to leave a comment below or message me directly.


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