Learning to adopt a positive attitude is invaluable, says Olivia Buchanan, headmistress at Falcons Prep Richmond.

When we look back on our past two years it may not be as we expected, in fact, I can be certain that none of us predicted any of what was going to happen! However, we can choose to reflect and remember in one of two ways.

We can look back with disappointment and frustration, focusing on all the things we couldn’t or didn’t do, the people we didn’t see, the obstructions and suffering, or – and my personal choice – we can identify the positives, the opportunities still given to us, the strength we found and the skills we developed not just as individuals but as a community. 

The past few years have been unrelenting for children, they have experienced a childhood unlike any others before them. They have been told, and learnt, how to be resilient, dig deep and adapt, and for the most time, they have done so with an ease us adults can but admire! 

We know that the decisions adults and education leaders make today will have a lasting impact on the health, wellbeing and happiness of our future generations. How we decide to respond is key to providing the right learning opportunities, to focusing on the importance of a positive mindset, of optimism!

UNICEF’s recently published The Changing Childhood Project highlighted that optimism peaks in late youth and diminishes rapidly throughout the rest of our lives. But why is that so? Does our fading optimism come naturally from life experiences? Do the challenges we face overpower the optimism of youth? Or is it because optimism is a practice, a skill, that some people hone and choose to maintain?

In times of difficulty or change (and remember, change is not synonymous with negativity), it is our strength of character and our resilience which determines our success. 

Einstein once said, ‘In the midst of every crisis is great opportunity.’ We are all in control of our choices, our reactions and what we decide to do with what is put in front of us. Of course, there will always be things we can’t control, that is life, and wouldn’t it be boring if we could control everything?! However, how we react is in our control, it is our choice to make.

Happy boys out on on the sports pitch

Instead of focusing solely on resilience and the need to ‘dig deep’ as an isolated approach, we should be supporting our children to understand and appreciate the power of optimism. Here at Falcons Prep Richmond, we often talk about innovation, the power of mistakes and the importance of a positive mindset, about the five learning habits of curiosity, creativity, independence, risk taking and resilience. We speak about these attributes and traits as skills that can be honed, something that we develop and all have the ability to achieve.

So how can we better support and teach the skill of optimism? We believe that it comes down to the culture of your school or community. It is about what you choose to celebrate, is it the outcome or the journey? At Falcons, learning is an adventure and we embed skills such as reframing, taking action, showing gratitude and being mindful into our curriculum.

The best educational experiences not only build skillsets but they develop a mindset that promotes optimism, innovation and self-belief. A curriculum that encourages pupils to work harder, have a go, to not be afraid of making mistakes and to always try again. 

But what about the staff? Covid-19 gave the teachers the opportunity to demonstrate and develop our own learning habits. It highlighted the importance of having a community, the need to connect, collaborate and learn with others. Very quickly as a school, we decided to accept what was dealt to us and use it as a chance for further reflection and growth. Going back to ‘normal’ won’t work. The world has changed. Our children have changed and the possibilities for learning have changed. 

Rather than pressing ‘pause’ and then ‘start’, we decided to press ‘reset’: recognising what we do well and what we want to keep, while being open to change and continued improvement. 

When struck with the inevitable challenges we have two choices; to focus on the negativity or look forwards and create new opportunities. We choose the latter. We choose optimism.

Olivia Buchanan is head at Falcons Prep Richmond.

See Falcons Prep Richmond’s online listing here.