This blog is set up to give STEM Academy families tools to think about learning in positive ways both in and OUT of the classroom.

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A common image when thinking about optimism is the glass half full. The chemist would say the glass is full, ½ liquid and ½ gas. This image doesn’t fully capture what optimism is, how it is learned, and how it can be used to improve your life. To do this we need to look at research, Disney movies, and anecdotes from prisoners of war.

            Martini E. P. Seligman professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania is one of the leading authorities on learned helplessness and its relation to optimism and hope. Here is a 23 minute video on the new era of positive psychology. talks about optimism as a strength of will. “Optimism is being hopeful about future outcomes combined with the agency to shape that future.” It is important to see this definition in two parts. Hope for the future, and the agency to shape the future. Looking at optimism with a growth mindset recognizes that bad things happen, but they are often temporary and how can I change my situation through new efforts or strategies? There is a genetic component to optimism, but genes are not destiny. “This isn’t your traditional “glass half full” optimism (which some might call blind positivity) because optimistic people seek to directly connect their own power and actions to the future they want. For example, after getting a bad grade on an exam, an optimistic student believes that studying harder or differently will earn her a better grade on the next one. Another critical part of optimism is not “catastrophizing” a situation. For example, when a friend doesn't want to play that day, the optimistic kid imagines that his friend is having a bad day, not that no one wants to be his friend.”

Growing up I loved the Disney movie Pollyanna. This 1960’s movie about an excessively cheerful and optimistic orphan Pollyanna, both made me smile, and scratch my head.

The glad game was cute, as was the scene where the Pollyanna is excited to get a Christmas gift only to discover that in the gift is an old pair of crutches. She initially looks understandably disappointed but then exclaims, “At least I don’t have to use them. Pollyanna’s name has morphed into a noun to describe an excessively or blindly optimistic person, and Pollyannaish adjective; unreasonably or illogically optimistic. Pollyanna misses the point of what true optimism is. It is natural to get upset when bad things happen. We shouldn’t respond with blind optimism as Pollyanna does, but must exercise our agency to shape the future for the better through new efforts and strategies. We must realize that, with a growth mindset our current situation is not set in stone, written in our genes, and outside our control, but we can influence our circumstances for the better.

Our third example comes from a prisoner of war the late Vice Admiral James Stockdale. He was the highest ranking naval officer to be held prisoner during the Vietnam War. Jim Collins writes about the Stockdale Paradox in his book Good to Great, “The Stockdale Paradox is named after admiral Jim Stockdale, who was a United States military officer held captive for eight years during the Vietnam War. Stockdale was tortured more than twenty times by his captors, and never had much reason to believe he would survive the prison camp and someday get to see his wife again. And yet, as Stockdale told Collins, he never lost faith during his ordeal: “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

Then comes the paradox: While Stockdale had remarkable faith in the unknowable; he noted that it was always the most optimistic of his prison mates who failed to make it out of there alive. “They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

What the optimists failed to do was confront the reality of their situation. They preferred the ostrich approach, sticking their heads in the sand and hoping for the difficulties to go away. That self-delusion might have made it easier on them in the short-term, but when they were eventually forced to face reality, it had become too much and they couldn’t handle it.

Stockdale approached adversity with a very different mindset. He accepted the reality of his situation. He knew he was in hell, but, rather than bury his head in the sand, he stepped up and did everything he could to lift the morale and prolong the lives of his fellow prisoners. He created a tapping code so they could communicate with each other. He developed a milestone system that helped them deal with torture. And he sent intelligence information to his wife, hidden in the seemingly innocent letters he wrote.

Collins and his team observed a similar mindset in the good-to-great companies. They labeled it the Stockdale Paradox and described it like so:

You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.

AND at the same time…

You must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

For me, the Stockdale Paradox carries an important lesson in personal development, a lesson in faith and honesty: Never doubt that you can achieve your goals, no matter how lofty they may be and no matter how many critics and naysayers you may have. But at the same time, always take honest stock of your current situation. Don’t lie to yourself for fear of short-term embarrassment or discomfort, because such deception will only come back to defeat you in the end.”

Posted by Chris Chopp  On Jun 02, 2017 at 9:26 AM
This month our family focus is on gratitude. I’m grateful to work at the Comstock STEM Academy. I’m going to give you a little glimpse into some of the awesome things happening around our school. Truly showing gratitude starts with recognizing the benefits we receive from others and then it results in an outward action to make your work, home, & physical environment better.

Last night was a board of education meeting that started with two students on the world champion Stryke Force First Robotics team talking about their experience. A sophomore said when I saw the score, and I saw we were world champions I started shaking and I couldn’t feel my legs. The sense of pride and excitement was palpable. Teachers were honored for the impact they have on students by receiving excellence in education awards. A speech language pathologist shared a moving testament to how the school district, the superintendent, and her staff supported her this past year. I left the board meeting feeling blessed to be a part of this school district.
I walked around the school with six families yesterday and talked with them about why our school is a dynamic exciting place to send their child to school. I shared our vision of giving students a solid academic foundation and fostering a love of learning. We visited a middle school science class that was getting ready to dissect sheep hearts. Students were “gloving up,” and donning their lab coats and goggles, a third grader on the tour cringed a little, and the 5th grader stood up a little straighter and leaned in, in anticipation. I asked, “Do you want to see the heart?” His eyes lit up. In kindergarten students greeted visitors with a smile and talked about how much they like recess, hot lunch, and math. First graders were reading books, and working together in learning centers. Second graders were busy sharing the data they collected from a walk to Morrow Lake, and debating if a tree that grows in the water was a land plant or an aquatic plant. Third graders were learning about geometry and discussing polygons. A shy preschooler told one of the students I can draw a cube, and the students said, “Wow that is pretty hard, I can only draw a cylinder” We walked into fourth grade and I thought the students were taking a test. The teacher said we just read two stories, one about “The Case of the Missing Necklace” and the other about “The Case of the Missing Homework.”  After reading the source articles students were full of ideas they wanted in include in their rough drafts titled, “The Case of the Missing Hamster.” 5th graders were mapping out food webs, and debating if plants ate sunlight, or how did they get their energy? Visiting the art classroom Mr. G. took a freshly fired first grade flower out of the kiln. It looked like a new species of purple, glassy, hibiscus.

Last week after school 40, 3rd through 6th graders from Let me Run, and Girls on the Run ran a practice 5k in 40® and rainy weather. We were soaked, and we had a blast. Many students ran further than they ever have before. Parents and coaches ran, or cheered in the rain. I’m grateful to encourage, and run with our teams.
Ran 5K...

Girls on the run alumni

Throughout the day teachers work to excite, encourage, and challenge students and that doesn’t happen by accident. Behind the scenes teachers come in on weekends, during the summer, and in the evening (two of them missed board recognition because they were at school planning and prepping for the next day). They bring papers home to grade and plan once their own kids are asleep, and the dishes are done. They spend their own money, or work extra to write grants and go to the public library to fill their rooms with books, and resources to provide opportunities for students. They shove food in their mouth in 15-20 min by the time they drop their students off at recess and warm up the leftovers they brought for lunch. I was a teacher for 10 years before I became the director of the STEM Academy, I know. Teacher thank you for all you do to make the STEM Academy an exciting place to go to school!

This month let’s recognize and appreciate the benefits our kids receive from their teachers. Let’s show them a little love and tell them they are appreciated. Write them a note, bring them an apple. Smile and say thanks.

To learn more about gratitude watch this 4 minute video from Dr. Robert Emmons of UC Davis. 

Dr. Robert Emmons of UC Davis talks about Gratitude from Character Lab on Vimeo.

Posted by Chris Chopp  On May 09, 2017 at 10:40 AM
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