How to flourish

Why invest in resilience in the classroom?

Resilience acts as a buffer for mental well-being. First, it provides a buffer against stressors and difficult experiences. Second, resilience restores your mental wellbeing when it has been dented: it allows you to ‘bounce back’ after setbacks. Investing in resilience is very important. Investing in your own resilience and that of your students works. You can build resilience in different ways.

What is resilience?

No single clear definition for resilience can be put forward based on the literature. Three elements recur:

  1. the presence of adversity;
  2. a process of adaptation and adjustment;
  3. rebound and recovery.

“Resilience can be thought of as the process by which a person adapts positively to stress or adversity that potentially unbalances him or her, and through which functioning and mental well-being are maintained or regained. This process comes about by effectively mobilising personal and environmental resources” (Soyez et al.,2023).

References

Soyez, V., Baetens, I., Theuns, P., Van Droogenbroeck, F., & Devarwaere, S. (2023). Weerbaarheid en veerkracht bij kinderen en jongeren: Conceptanalyse en ontwikkeling van een meetinstrument. Departement Cultuur, Jeugd en Media. https://publicaties.vlaanderen.be/view-file/58877

How does the resilience process work? Illustrate it with a spring!

It is often helpful to explain what resilience is using a spring. Below you can find more explanation, feel free to apply this to your students (Soyez et al.,2023).

Figure 1: Resilience performs two important functions in maintaining your mental well-being. First, it provides a buffer against stressors and difficult experiences. Second, resilience restores your mental well-being when it has been dented: it allows you to ‘bounce back’ after setbacks. We can best illustrate this using the example of a spring.

Figure 2: The weight represents a setback. This setback will weight on you and will impact your functioning (the spring). The buffer function of resilience will help determine how strong the impact of the setback is on your mental well-being and, in other words, how far the spring collapses.

Figure 3: At some point, the spring does not collapse any further. This is the maximum impact of the event (or of the weight on the spring). After this tipping point, the spring will spring back. We can talk about resilience when the spring returns to its original level (recovery) or even rises higher (growth). In other words, your functioning or mental well-being is restored.

Figure 4: Both internal and external resources can support the resilience process. Internal resources are about skills, problem-solving ability, coping skills, … External resources are about your social network, access to support, …

Sometimes rebounding fails (temporarily). When you go through a very intense experience, for instance, or when a setback (however small) is to strong, because you already had so many other setbacks. In such cases, rebounding is difficult, or your spring may even remain depressed. At such times, extra support is crucial. 

How do you build more resilience?

Experiencing setbacks?

In a sense, resilience and difficulties, setbacks or stress are inextricably linked. A person’s resilience becomes apparent only when he or she faces stress or setbacks. Moreover, you can only become more resilient by learning to deal with stress and setbacks.  

Tip – Link to research

This was demonstrated, for instance, in a long-term, large-scale study conducted by Seery and colleagues. People who had experienced some setbacks in their lives generally reported better mental health than people who faced many setbacks, but also than people who had no setbacks. The former group of people experienced less negative stress and higher life satisfaction. And they were also found to be more resilient: they experienced less negative impact from recent setbacks.

Being ‘able’ to experience setbacks is one condition for building resilience. Of course, this does not mean that you have to start exposing yourself to traumatic events or deny that setbacks can also have a negative impact on your mental well-being. It does give the hopeful message that people are not necessarily only negatively scarred by experiencing setbacks, and can even emerge stronger from them (Keinan, Shrira & Shmotkin, 2012).

References

Keinan, G., Shrira, A., & Shmotkin, D. (2012). The association between cumulative adversity and mental health: Considering dose and primary focus of adversity. Quality of Life Research: An International Journal of Quality of Life Aspects of Treatment, Care & Rehabilitation, 21(7), 1149–1158. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11136-011-0035-0

Barger, J., Vitale, P., Gaughan, J. P., & Feldman-Winter, L. (2017). Measuring resilience in the adolescent population: a succinct tool for outpatient adolescent health. Journal of Pediatrics, 189, 201– 206 e203. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2017.06.030

Schiele, M. A., & Domschke, K., (2018). Epigenetics at the crossroads between genes, environment and resilience in anxiety disorders. Genes, Brain and Behavior, 17, 1–15. https://doiorg/10.1111/gbb.12423

Flourishing /resilience skills!

To cope with these setbacks, some skills are needed in the first place. A lot of skills or competences that are important to strengthen our mental well-being also contribute to increased resilience.

Several skills are important. These are reflected in the steps of the toolbox. Some examples are emotion and stress regulation, flexibility and coping with setbacks. By training these skills, you gradually learn what can be helpful and what cannot. You develop confidence that, when something arises, you will get out of it. But skills alone are not enough. Context and environment also play a role.

How to build resilience in the classroom?

Resilience / flourishing building work in the classroom

With the above in mind, we looked for ways to do general resilience-building work in the classroom. We would like to give you the following starting points and exercises you can use to work resilience-building in the classroom. 

Here you can find an overview:

A. Be aware of how you are doing.

Why invest in awareness in your classroom? 

  • Students indicate a need for teachers who ask how they are doing, a simple question and then getting recognition is enough, they see this as an important aspect of being human. In our project, we had young people write letters to teachers about what they needed. This was a key point they made.
  • Reflection about yourself and being able to express this is very important, it is the starting point when your resilience is put to the test.
  • By examining how you are doing, how students are doing, things can be expressed, not every day is perfect and that is perfectly normal, sometimes young people have the idea that everything has to be perfect and it is taboo to indicate that sometimes things are not going as well, in this way the taboo can be broken and you can even destigmatize, because remember: ‘it’s okay not to be okay’, the slogan of our project committed to breaking taboo.
  • Recognizing, acknowledging and experiencing emotions is very important in order to be able to regulate them, this will be explained further in another staircase of the toolbox.
  • Becoming aware of your thoughts, emotions and behavior is helpful because they all interact with each other. 

Sometimes teachers find it threatening to ask behind emotions, yet it can be important info you can take into your lesson. There are other options as well. For example, you can ask about your students’ lifestyle or motivation. You can ask directly or indirectly, such as through digital facilitation. Find a way that you feel comfortable with as a teacher and that meets the needs of your students. Here are some examples. 

You can check how you are doing or your students are doing in several ways, below we briefly explain this and provide some tools and sample exercises.

  • Reflection about yourself and being able to express this is very important, it is the starting point when your resilience is put to the test.
  • By examining how you are doing, how students are doing, things can be expressed, not every day is perfect and that is perfectly normal, sometimes young people have the idea that everything has to be perfect and it is taboo to indicate that sometimes things are not going as well, in this way the taboo can be broken and you can even destigmatize, because remember: ‘it’s okay not to be okay’, the slogan of our project committed to breaking taboo.
  • Recognizing, acknowledging and experiencing emotions is very important in order to be able to regulate them, this will be explained further in another staircase of the toolbox.
  • Becoming aware of your thoughts, emotions and behavior is helpful because they all interact with each other. 

Sometimes teachers find it threatening to ask behind emotions, yet it can be important info you can take into your lesson. There are other options as well. For example, you can ask about your students’ lifestyle or motivation. You can ask directly or indirectly, such as through digital facilitation. Find a way that you feel comfortable with as a teacher and that meets the needs of your students. Here are some examples. 

You can check how you are doing or your students are doing in several ways, below we briefly explain this and provide some tools and sample exercises.

The How we Feel App: Helping Emotions Work for Us, Not Against Us. A journal for your wellbeing

Life is an emotional rollercoaster. We experience a full range of emotions each moment of every day. Navigating these emotions in a way that leads to overall well-being takes practice. The how We Feel app was designed to help users identify and track their emotions, learn what causes them, discover helpful regulation strategies, and identify patterns. Built by scientists, designers, engineers, and therapists, the How We Feel app helps users recognize, understand, and regulate emotions at the touch of a finger.

How We Feel users start by checking in with how they are feeling in the moment and then tagging or journaling about factors they believe are contributing to their current emotional state. Since emotions are neither good nor bad, users are then given the opportunity to explore strategies to feel the way they want to feel through helpful videos and activities.

The visually stunning application design is inspired by the Mood Meter, a tool used to support the development of a nuanced emotion vocabulary. Widely recognizable in over 4,000 pre-K to 12 school communities across 27 countries, the Mood Meter is one of four tools used within RULER (RULER is an evidence-based approach to social and emotional learning (SEL) developed at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence), the evidence-based approach to social and emotional learning developed at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Also be sure to check this one out.

Exercise - How We Feel
How We Feel
Title
How We Feel
Subtitle
A journal for your wellbeing
Target
Students and or teachers
Brief description
How We Feel is a free journal for your well-being created by scientists, designers, engineers, and psychologists.

Over time, you will learn precise words to describe how you feel, spot trends and patterns, and practice simple strategies to regulate your emotions in healthy ways.
Instructions for user
You need a smartphone and have to download the free app. Instructions are in the app.
Theoretical Background
The How We Feel product team is led by Ben Silbermann, co-founder of Pinterest. The team includes current and former Pinterest employees who are passionate about creating a more emotionally healthy world. Our scientific team is led by Dr. Marc Brackett and his team at the Yale University Center for Emotional Intelligence. The Center offers training to schools to help educators, students, and their families better understand and manage emotions.

(To learn more, visit rulerapproach.org or read Dr. Brackett‘s book, Permission to Feel. They were inspired by leaders in emotional intelligence research and practice, including Peter Salovey, Jack Mayer, David Caruso, and Marvin Maurer, and leaders in emotion science, including James Russell, Lisa Feldman Barrett, and James Gross.)
Duration
Daily “10 or more on voluntary base
Material and content
Smartphone and internet
Weblinks
https://howwefeel.org/
https://medicine.yale.edu/news-article/the-how-we-feel-app-helping-emotions-work-for-us-not-against-us/

A study by The Greater Good Science Center suggests there are 27 distinct emotions – at least (Cowen & Keltner, 2017). And that does not even include combinations of emotions. With so many emotions, how can one navigate the turbulent waters of feelings, without getting lost?
The answer: with an emotion wheel.

Through years of studying emotions, American psychologist Dr. Robert Plutchik proposed that there are eight primary emotions that serve as the foundation for all others: joy, sadness, acceptance, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, and anticipation. (Pollack, 2016)

So while it’s hard to understand all 34,000 distinct emotions, we can learn how to identify the primary emotions and act accordingly. It’s especially useful for moments of intense feeling and when the mind cannot remain objective as it operates from an impulsive “fight or flight” response. (Watkins, 2014)

The ability to identify one’s emotions is also a skill related to emotional intelligence (Salovey & Mayer, 1990). Those high in this skill can communicate more detailed emotional experiences and use a greater emotional vocabulary. Research has found that helping individuals expand their emotional vocabulary can help them regulate their emotions more effectively (Kircanski et al., 2012).

The Feeling Wheel was designed by Gloria Willcox (1982) and is a great starting point for those who find it challenging to identify their emotions.

You can use the wheel for:

Exploring the emotions you are feeling at any given moment of the day. Daily self-reflection where you identify the emotions you experienced throughout the day. Exploring deeper and longer-term emotions that may be affecting you. It must be noted that you can experience a diverse number of emotions simultaneously, and that the wheel should not be used for avoiding emotions or replacing ‘negative’ emotions with ‘positive’ ones. Instead, the goal is to identify your emotional experience, accept it as it is, and communicate it if you wish.

How to use the feeling wheel

  1. Take out the Feeling wheel when you want to explore the emotions you are experiencing.
  2. Begin with the more general emotions in the center of the weel e.g., sad.
  3. Move towards the outer emotions and identify the specific emotions you are feeling.
  4. Accept the emotional experience and self-reflect.
  5. If you wish, communicate your emotions to others in a healthy way.

Interpreting Wheel of Emotions

Primary: The eight sectors are designed to indicate that there are eight primary emotions: anger, anticipation, joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness and disgust.

Opposites: Each primary emotion has a polar opposite. These are based on the physiological reaction each emotion creates in animals:

  • Joy is the opposite of sadness. Physiology: Connect vs withdraw
  • Fear is the opposite of anger. Physiology: Get small and hide vs get big and loud
  • Anticipation is the opposite of surprise. Physiology: Examine closely vs jump back
  • Disgust is the opposite of trust. Physiology: Reject vs embrace

Combinations: The emotions with no color represent an emotion that is a mix of the 2 primary emotions. For example, anticipation and joy combine to be optimism. Joy and trust combine to be love. Emotions are often complex, and being able to recognize when a feeling is actually a combination of two or more distinct feelings is a helpful skill.

Intensity: The cone’s vertical dimension represents intensity – emotions intensify as they move from the outside to the center of the wheel, which is also indicated by the color: The darker the shade, the more intense the emotion. For example, anger at its least level of intensity is annoyance. At its highest level of intensity, anger becomes rage. Or a feeling of boredom can intensify to loathing if left unchecked, which is dark purple. 

This is an important rule about emotions to be aware of in relationships: If left unchecked, emotions can intensify. Herein lies the wisdom of enhancing your emotional vocabulary: it’s the bedrock of effectively navigating emotions. The wheel of emotions helps us look at literacy through a broader lens. Literacy means “a person’s knowledge of a particular subject or field.” So enhancing emotional literacy means not only having words for emotions, but understanding how different emotions are related to one another and how the tend to change over time. 

References

https://positivepsychology.com/emotion-wheel/#what-wheel-of-emotions 

Cowen AS, Keltner D. Self-report captures 27 distinct categories of emotion bridged by continuous gradients. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Sep 19;114(38):E7900-E7909. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1702247114. Epub 2017 Sep 5. PMID: 28874542; PMCID: PMC5617253. 

Watkins, P. C. (2014). Gratitude and the good life: Toward a psychology of appreciation. Springer Science + Business Media. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-7253-3 

Pollack, D. (2015, November 12). Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions Cheat Sheet. Retrieved from https://www.cheatography.com/davidpol/cheat-sheets/plutchik-s-wheel-of-emotions/pdf/ 

Watkins, A. (2014). How Controlling Your Emotional Responses Can Improve Your Performance at Work. Retrieved from https://trainingmag.com/how-controlling-your-emotional-responses-can-improve-your-performance-work 

Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1989-1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9(3), 185–211. https://doi.org/10.2190/DUGG-P24E-52WK-6CDG 

Willcox, G. (1982). The Feeling Wheel: A Tool for Expanding Awareness of Emotions and Increasing Spontaneity and Intimacy. Transactional Analysis Journal, 12(4), 274-276. https://doi.org/10.1177/036215378201200411 

Kircanski, K., Lieberman, M. D., & Craske, M. G. (2012). Feelings Into Words: Contributions of Language to Exposure Therapy. Psychological Science, 23(10), 1086-1091. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612443830 

Exercise - Emotion Wheel
   
Title
Emotion Wheel
Target
Students and or teachers
Brief description
The emotion wheel can be used with students of all ages who are struggling to express their current feelings. By identifying an image they can convey their current feelings. Using the wheel regularly throughout the day will help children and young people see the changing nature of their feelings and can help reduce anxiety around feeling a certain way.

Depending on the age and competences of your students, you can use a simpler or more complex wheel.
Instructions for user
Print the emotion wheel and cut out, if necessary place the splitplen on the wheel to indicate the emotion that applies. Sometimes it is even enough to have an exploratory conversation about all types of emotions.
Theoretical Background
Robert Plutchik (1927- 2006) is the founder of the wheel of feelings. He is an American professor and psychologist who has done a lot of research on feelings and the process of psychotherapy. In his second wheel, Plutchik identifies six basic feelings. The familiar feelings like angry, scared, happy are captured in the centre of the circle. The further out you go in the circle the less intense the feeling is. Looking from the outside in, you see, for example, that successful hangs on pride and proud hangs on powerful.

Plutchik, R. (1988). The Nature of Emotions: Clinical Implications. In: Clynes, M., Panksepp, J. (eds) Emotions and Psychopathology. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4757-1987-1_1
Duration
Depending on the aim
Material and content
Scissor, split pin, paper, printer
Weblinks
https://mentallyhealthyschools.org.uk/media/2001/emotion-wheel.pdf https://humansystems.co/emotionwheels/ https://www.6seconds.org/2022/03/13/plutchik-wheel-emotions/ https://positivepsychology.com/emotion-wheel/#what-wheel-of-emotions
 

B. Be kind to yourself in difficult moments.

Why invest in self-compassion in your classroom? 

We often judge ourselves more harshly than we judge others, beating ourselves up over our faults, flaws, and shortcomings. That makes us feel isolated, unhappy, and even more stressed; it may even make us try to feel better about ourselves by denigrating other people. Rather than harsh self-criticism, a healthier response is to treat yourself with compassion and understanding.

Most people are more strict with themselves than with others, we see this with young people too.

For example, when they fail, young people often recognise a voice telling them, “Can’t you ever do anything right?” Others are not likely to say that to the young person, but he says it to himself.

When you are too self-critical, we see a strong link with depression, among other things. Self-criticism in mild forms can lead to gloom and sadness and not believing in yourself. It can also lead to selffulfilling prophecy (a self-fulfilling prophecy) where young people are so used to thinking negatively about themselves that they prefer to hang out with people who confirm their negative self-image which, of course, is not conducive.

Getting young people to become aware of their thinking patterns can provide great insight. The recognition that many young people think this way makes a class group a great opportunity to practice this. Below are some examples of exercises.

Theory; What is the meaning of (self-)compassion? 

Compassion, also known as compassion, is the ability to be present and open to pain and suffering, both your own and that of others, in a kind way.

Having compassion with others, usually works. But having compassion with yourself is often a lot harder. But why have compassion for others and not for yourself? Treating yourself as you would treat a good friend when things go wrong leads us to self-compassion.

Self-compassion means looking at yourself in exactly the same way when you are struggling or failing, or when you don’t like something about yourself.

American Kirstin Neff did research on self-compassion. You can find a lot of info on her website. We list some important aspects below.

Self-compassion consists of 3 elements

1. Self-kindness vs. self-judgment (deadling with self-criticism)

Self-kindness means being mild to yourself in the moment you fail or feel you fall short. Not everything can always go perfectly and you will encounter difficulties, but self-criticism keeps you from being mild to yourself. Often you yourself are unaware of the little voice in your head that comments everywhere and all the time, otherwise known as your inner critic.

It can be helpful to divide the inner critic’s criticism into 3 categories:

  1. Criticism of your appearance (‘you are too fat for this garment’)
  2. Criticism of your performance (‘now you have failed to meet that deadline again’)
  3. Criticism of your social behaviour (‘why are you always so quiet?’)
2. Common humanity vs. isolation (failure is human)

When things don’t go your way, it is often accompanied by a feeling of isolation. For instance, you think that only you have trouble getting your work done on time, while your colleagues do it easily. You develop a kind of tunnel vision at that point. Being aware in that moment that you are not alone is important. Those with self-compassion recognise that suffering and failing are part of being human. It happens to all of us and in your failure you are therefore not alone, but just connected to others.

3. Mindfulness vs. over-identification (viewing feelings with attention)

Taking your feelings as they are, not ignoring them, but also not crossing over into self-pity. It is a balanced way of dealing with your emotions by putting your own experiences in a broader perspective. You observe your thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or ignore them. For example, you cannot feel compassion if you ignore your pain. But you shouldn’t let your feelings consume you either. You look at them mindfully, staying in the here and now.

Exercise - Exploring self-compassion through writing
   
Title
Exploring self-compassion through writing
Target
Students and or teachers
Brief description
Self-compassion reduces painful feelings of shame and self-criticism that can compromise mental health and wellbeing and stand in the way of personal growth. Writing in a self-compassionate way can help you replace your selfcritical voice with a more compassionate one–one that comforts and reassures you rather than berating you for your shortcomings. It takes time and practice, but the more you write in this way, the more familiar and natural the compassionate voice will feel, and the easier it will be to remember to treat yourself kindly when you’re feeling down on yourself.
Instructions for user
First, think of something about yourself that makes you feel mildly ashamed, insecure, or not good enough. It could be something related to your personality, behavior, abilities, relationships, or any other part of your life. Once you choose something, reflect on how it makes you feel. Sad? Embarrassed? Angry? The next step is to write a letter from yourself, to yourself, expressing compassion, understanding, and acceptance for this part of yourself that you struggle with. As you express your thoughts and feelings in the letter, try to be good to yourself and be as honest as possible. Write whatever comes to you, but try to write in a way that makes you feel nurtured and soothed. Keep in mind that no one but you will see your letter and there is no “right” or “wrong” way of doing this exercise.
Theoretical Background
Neff, K. D. (2023).  Self-Compassion: Theory, Method, Research, and Intervention.  Annual Review of Psychology, 74:193-217. PDF
Duration
5–15 minutes per day. Try to do this practice daily for a week to start. Later, you might try it once per week, or at least once per month—whatever works best for you.
Material and content
Paper, pen
Weblinks
https://self-compassion.org/exercises/exercise-3-exploring-self-compassion-through-writing/ https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/self_compassionate_letter Podcast: https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/self_compassionate_letter
 
Exercise - How would you treat a friend?
   
Title
How would you treat a friend?
Target
Students and or teachers
Brief description
Reflecting on how kind you are capable of being toward others can remind you that you are also capable of being kind toward yourself—and that you deserve compassion, too. By treating yourself with this kind of sympathy and understanding—rather than beating yourself up—you help yourself bounce back from challenging situations with greater resilience.
Instructions for user
Research suggests that people are usually harder on themselves than they are on others. Rather than motivating them to succeed, this often makes a mistake or stressful situation even more stressful—to the point that they’ll simply avoid new or challenging experiences for fearing of failing and eliciting a new wave of self-criticism.

This exercise asks you to notice the differences between the way you typically treat the people you care about and the way you typically treat yourself. It also asks you to consider why there may be differences between the two, and to contemplate what would happen if you treated yourself as compassionately as you treat others. Research suggests that treating yourself more compassionately can benefit your physical and mental health.
Theoretical Background
Neff, K. D. (2023).  Self-Compassion: Theory, Method, Research, and Intervention.  Annual Review of Psychology, 74:193-217.  PDF

Haukaas RB, Gjerde IB, Varting G, Hallan HE, Solem S. A Randomized Controlled Trial Comparing the Attention Training Technique and Mindful Self-Compassion for Students With Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety. Front Psychol. 2018 May 25;9:827. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00827. PMID: 29887823; PMCID: PMC5982936.
Duration
15 minutes. While it may be hard to find time to do this practice every time you are struggling with a difficult situation, an initial goal could be to try it once a month.
Material and content
Paper, pen
Weblinks
https://self-compassion.org/exercises/exercise-1-how-would-you-treat-a-friend/ https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/how_would_you_treat_a_friend

Podcast:
https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/how_would_you_treat_a_friend
 

Tip

More exercises on self-compassion: https://ggia.berkeley.edu/#filters=self-comp 

C. Seek out the positive.

Why invest in looking for the positive in your classroom?

When we talk about psychology, we often start from the symptoms, and how they can be solved or reduced. Positive psychology takes a slightly different view of this. It is about what you would like to achieve, and what qualities you can use to make this happen. It is then about what you find positive, what your strengths and strengths are for which you are grateful and much more.

Unlike traditional psychology, positive psychology focuses on the positives in your life. In other words, the so-called strengths. Think of pleasant emotions, positive experiences, good qualities, fine thoughts and feelings that make your life worth living. This promotes your well-being and increases your resilience; it allows you to flourish and makes you happy(er).

Please note that this does not mean that you can no longer have sadness or experience difficulties. That sounds too simplistic. The idea of positive psychology is that when you focus on the positive things in your life you are better able to deal with adversity, pain and sadness. That in itself sounds logical, because positive thoughts lead to positive emotions, and they just feel nicer than negative ones.

What is the meaning? What does positive psychology stand for?

Positive psychology is a branch within psychology where the focus is on where you would like to go, rather than on the symptoms and what is not going so well. As the name implies, positive psychology focuses on things that are going well or things that can help someone grow. Here you can think about a person’s positive attributes.

Exercise - Use your strengths
Use Your Strengths
Title
Use your strengths
Target
Students and/or teachers
Brief description
While working to improve shortcomings is important for well-being, it is also important to nurture our strengths and put them to use. Reflecting on these strengths can help remind people that they do have important positive qualities, and this reminder can build confidence and self-esteem—and, in turn, increase happiness. Putting strengths to use can help enhance them, and using strengths in new and different ways can reveal how useful these strengths can be in a range of contexts.
Instructions for user
Sometimes we give our weaknesses and limitations more attention than our strengths. Yet research suggests that thinking about personal strengths can increase our happiness and reduce depression. This exercise asks you to identify one of your personal strengths—a positive trait that contributes to your character, such as kindness or perseverance—and consider how you could use it in a new and different way. Recognizing and exercising these strengths can make them stronger and better equip you to meet life’s challenges.

Take a moment to think about one of your personal strengths–for instance, creativity, perseverance, kindness, modesty, or curiosity. Consider how you could use this strength today in a new and different way. For example, if you choose the personal strength of perseverance, you might make a list of tasks that you have found challenging recently, then try to tackle each one of them. Or if you choose curiosity, you might attempt an activity that you’ve never tried before.

Describe in writing the personal strength you plan to use today and how you are going to use it. Then, go ahead and do it—act on your strength as frequently as possible throughout the day.

Repeat the steps above every day for a week. You may use the same personal strength across multiple days, or try using a new personal strength each day.

At the end of the week, write about the personal strengths that you focused on during the week and how you used them. Write in detail about what you did, how you felt, and what you learned from the experience.
Theoretical Background
Seligman, M. E., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421.
Duration
Every day for a week. Time required each day will vary depending on how you choose to exercise your strengths.
Material and content
Paper, pen
Weblinks
Link to the PDF
Exercise - Goal visualisation
Goal Visualisation
Title
Goal Visualisation
Target
Students and/or teachers
Brief description
This exercise makes goals feel attainable and manageable. When you believe that you will be successful at something, it encourages you to work harder toward achieving that goal—and this greater effort increases the chance that you will actually succeed. Plus, the more you succeed, the more confident you will be about future goals. Remember, though, not to get down on yourself if you don’t succeed right away or perform perfectly. With repeated practice, you may feel greater confidence in your ability to achieve important goals in your life, and this can have a significant impact on your general mood, as regularly completing the goal visualization exercise helps you develop a more optimistic mindset.
Instructions for user
When we face a daunting task, sometimes the hardest part is getting started. To help you overcome that big initial hurdle, this exercise asks you to describe a short-term goal and to visualize the steps you will take to achieve it. In the process, it helps build your confidence that you will be able to reach that goal. Having confidence in your ability to achieve your goals is a key component of optimism, which research links to greater health and happiness, including lower rates of depression, a better ability to cope with stress, and more relationship satisfaction.

Identify one goal that you would like to achieve in the next day or two and briefly describe it in writing. Make sure that this goal is realistic and doesn’t take up too much time (e.g., “tidy up the hall closet” rather than “clean the entire apartment top to bottom”) and something that is important to you (e.g., “spend more time with the kids” rather than “learn about the life cycle of the common fly”).

To help you visualize how you will go about accomplishing this goal, write down the steps that you will take to get there. These steps might include preparing your space to help you stay motivated and focused, scheduling time for the task, and breaking down the task into small steps.

Remind yourself that it’s OK if you don’t do everything perfectly, or complete the entire task.
Theoretical Background
Sergeant, S., & Mongrain, M. (2014). An online optimism intervention reduces depression in pessimistic individuals. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82(2), 263-274.
Duration
10 minutes daily for 3 weeks
Material and content
Paper, pen
Weblinks
Link to the PDF
Exercise - Meaningful photos
   
Title
Meaningful Photos
Target
Students and/or teachers
Brief description
Taking time to recognize and appreciate sources of meaning through photography can help make them more tangible and serve as a reminder of what matters most to you. This greater sense of meaning can, in turn, inspire us to pursue important personal goals and give us a sense of strength and purpose when coping with stressful life events. The use of photography might also benefit people who are more visual than verbal—something for therapists, parents, or teachers to keep in mind as they approach conversations about meaning, purpose, and values in life.
Instructions for user
Research suggests that finding greater meaning in life helps people cope with stress and improves their overall health and well-being—it’s what makes life feel worth living. But finding meaning in life can sometimes feel like an elusive task. In our day-to-day lives, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture—we tend to focus more on the mundane than the deeply meaningful. Yet research suggests that there are potential sources of meaning all around us, from the moments of connection we share with others, to the beauty of nature, to the work that we do and the things we create. This exercise helps you bring these meaningful things into focus—literally. By having you photograph, then write about, things that are meaningful to you, it encourages you to pay closer attention to the varied sources of meaning in your life, large and small, and reflect on why they are important to you. Over the next week, take photographs of things that make your life feel meaningful or full of purpose. These can be people, places, objects, pets. If you are not able to take photos of these things—like if they’re not nearby—you can take photos of souvenirs, reminders, websites, or even other photos. Try to take at least nine photographs. At the end of the week: If you used a digital camera, upload your photos to a computer. If you used a nondigital camera, have your photos developed. Then, once you have collected all of your photos and items, take time to look at and reflect on each one. For each photo or item, write down a response to the following question: “What does this photo represent, and why is it meaningful?”
Theoretical Background
Steger, M. F, Shim, Y., Barenz, J., & Shin, J. Y. (2013). Through the windows of the soul: A pilot study using photography to enhance meaning in life. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 3, 27-30.
Duration
15 minutes per day for one week to take the photos. One hour to do the writing exercise. While it is not necessary to take a photograph every day, assume that the photography will take you a total of 90 minutes over the course of a week, with an additional hour for the writing.
Material and content
Smartphone, camera, pen, paper
Weblinks
Link to the PDF
 

References

Tejada-Gallardo C, Blasco-Belled A, Torrelles-Nadal C, Alsinet C. Effects of School-based Multicomponent Positive Psychology Interventions on Well-being and Distress in Adolescents: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Youth Adolesc. 2020 Oct;49(10):1943-1960. doi: 10.1007/s10964-020-01289-9. Epub 2020 Jul 18. PMID: 32683592.

Seligman, M.E., Ernst, R.M., Gilham, J., Reivich, K., &Linkins, M. (2009). Positive education: positive psychology and classroom interventions. Oxford Review of Education, 35, 293-311. doi: 10.1080/03054980902934563

D. Assume connection in the classroom.

Investing in group dynamics in your classroom?

  • Pay attention to group dynamics

Pupils are social beings and need safe and warm relationships in the classroom. Positive group dynamics in the classroom play an essential role in pupils’ well-being and the learning climate in the classroom. By paying attention to positive group formation from the start of the school year, you help pupils to feel well surrounded.

Pupils in a positively formed class group are emotionally involved and take responsibility in the classroom. They cooperate more efficiently, use all their talents, show respect for other pupils’ individuality and give honest feedback.

Pupils in a negatively shaped class group are more likely to argue with each other, regularly rebel against the teacher or be oppressed by a dominant pupil. These pupils do not respect each other, do not want to cooperate or do not take responsibility. They mainly waste their energy on the struggles in the classroom, reducing their ability to focus on the task at hand.

  • Group needs & aspects in group process

Positive group development systematically builds a safe group climate in which you can be more yourself show your vulnerable self and face challenges. It is a law in group dynamics that says: “safe, warm relationships can only develop in a positive group form.” What does the tip just entail: As a teacher, you can have a big impact on the group form and therefore your pupil’s mental wellbeing. Pupils’ behaviour is triggered by some powerful, but not always expressed, group needs. There are three that come up a lot in group dynamics:

  1. Belonging, finding a place in the group
  2. Having influence over group norms, where you go with your class
  3. Receiving and giving affection, support and friendship

Which group need really comes to the surface, really lives in the group, you can notice by listening carefully, looking closely for some clues or signals in the group process.

Here are some of them:

  1. Looking at the group structure, ‘who is interacting with whom?’ ‘What groups are being formed?’ ‘What is being talked about?’
  2. What group topics are already safe to talk about? Can we already talk about communication? Or can we already talk about each other’s behaviour and feelings?
  3. The relationship with you as a teacher, are they dependent, is there resistance or can you make them work autonomously

If you pay little attention to these group needs, you will suffer the consequences later on. And you may find yourself spending less time teaching.

Once you have noticed the group needs, the trick as a teacher is to adapt your teaching methods to those group needs. You can think of it as a catalyst or accelerator. In the beginning you put some time into it, but afterwards you will reap the benefits.

  • Pupils become more autonomous.
  • Learners give each other feedback more easily.
  • Pupils see their own personal goals in your learning material.

If you as a teacher take care of the class group, the pupils take care of each other’.

  • How to guide positive group formation?

Look at your students’ behaviour through group (dynamic) glasses and read your class group.

Every class group goes through a number of phases with typical characteristics. Like a ship at sea, your class group surfs a number of waves throughout the year: phases with group needs that will temporarily demand a lot of attention. If you do not pay attention to these waves, the turbulent waters will linger longer or grow into a storm. Keeping course on your own lesson goals will then become very difficult.

If you look at the right signals, such as the group composition, the interaction with you as a teacher and the type of discussion topic, you will be able to notice which phase your class group is in and which underlying group need is important at this moment. Responding to this need by adapting your role and working forms accordingly will propel group formation further in the right direction.

A different teacher role fits each phase. To a role belong certain goals and tasks that benefit the development of the class group. Under each phase, you can read more about which role you play as a teacher, and which goals and tasks are associated with it.

Adapt your teaching methods. Choose work forms that explicitly work around group dynamics themes such as getting to know each other, appreciating differences or giving personal feedback. In addition, choose cooperative work forms that combine subject content and group formation. A win-win!

With cooperative or group dynamic work forms, you make conscious use of the group composition. You structure pupils’ interaction and roles to suit your class group. This way, you give them a safe and challenging framework to work together and learn from it.

Throughout the group dynamic phases, you can discover a social-emotional learning line: as the group develops, pupils feel more secure in increasingly larger subgroups. For each phase, we list some suitable examples of work forms.

Make the group process discussable. Increase your group’s self-awareness by asking the right questions and using active review work forms. Awareness helps students take more ownership of group formation, in a positive way.

At this stage, the class group has not yet come together, but already exists in the imagination of the classmates. Students create expectations about what the group will be like and how they can or should behave. Often at this stage, the management determines the composition of the group. She already has a first great opportunity here to determine positive group formation…

How to recognise the phase?

Pupils are totally dependent on the information and instructions they receive from the school and from you.

Pupils want to fit in from the start and ask themselves questions such as: “What will the class atmosphere be like?”, “Will the classmates like me?”, “What will the teachers be like?”,… This stage can create tension and uncertainty.

What is your role?

You are the designer, taking into account positive group formation before the group meets.

Methods / forms of work

Better prevention than cure! Pupils are often put together for study or organisational reasons. However, when composing the class group, it is worth considering what dynamics you create by placing certain pupils together. Decisions to put pupils together or apart are usually taken only after things have gone firmly wrong. Together with your school team, consider what problems, vulnerabilities and opportunities to expect. What combinations of pupils (don’t) click?

Adapt if prevention is not possible! The class group has been assembled and you know your pupils’ vulnerabilities, potential problems and opportunities. What can you do to deal with potentially difficult group dynamics? You can choose to provide vulnerable groups with more time from the start and throughout the year for, for instance, positive introductions, making shared agreements or teaching positive social skills.

In the orientation phase, pupils get to know each other and test how to behave in order to belong. This phase occurs mainly at the beginning of the school year, but may also recur briefly after a school holiday or when pupils join or leave.

How to recognise the phase?

The class group consists of loose individuals or safe duos and trios. Students form these duos and trios based on superficial similarities such as hobbies, music choice or clothing style.

Sometimes pupils display negative behaviour to fit in. For example, they act tougher because they know fellow pupils are watching.

Pupils are very dependent on you as a teacher for practical information and what behavioural norms apply. Pupils therefore wait and watch carefully how you interact and respond. They are very sensitive to equal treatment.

The conversations remain superficial and will often be about the task, the result, a skill or knowledge. In large group, it is still unsafe to say anything personal.

Pupils keep dissenting opinions to themselves for the time being, to keep the peace or because they are afraid of what the others think of them.

What is your role?

You are the leader who manages the group.

During this period, you set the right tone by installing positive norms. At the same time, you can also make the class group resilient to the group emergencies that will follow. You build an important foundation here that you can fall back on and build on later in more difficult times, which is why people often talk about ‘golden weeks’. Take charge and install agreements and rules, you will thank yourself afterwards!

Methods / forms of work

  • Support emotional safety and connection, e.g. by facilitating positive introductions;
  • Give information and clarity and make agreements;
  • Set a good example: walk your talk!
  • Teach social skills and set positive norms;
  • Use cooperative teaching methods.
Exercise - Introduction, connection and energisers
   
Title
Introduction, connection and energisers
Brief description
These work forms help your students get to know each other in a positive way. They also increase the group’s interconnectedness and positive self-image. In the orientation phase, it is important to introduce pupils to each other within a clear structure and encourage connection. The work forms below increase the interconnectedness and the positive self-image of the group. When to use? These work forms can be used at the start of the lesson or as energisers in between. It is important that, as a teacher, you act as a leader by offering a lot of clarity and structure, about the assignment on one hand and about manners on the other. This ensures safety among the pupils.
Instructions for user
Example 1
Each pupil has a blank A4 sheet hung up in the classroom with his/her name at the top. That sheet should be full, but he/she should not write on it himself/herself. The pupils walk around the classroom. They spontaneously form pairs and exchange a different ‘fact’ about themselves. The duo partner writes this fact on the sheet. The pair that within 10 minutes collected the most facts about each other has ‘won’.

Example 2
Have students respond to situations or statements to get to know each other more deeply. Here, many variants are possible:
  • The ‘corner game’: in each corner of the classroom, a pupil devises simple statements to ‘lure’ pupils to their corner: ‘I like to read’, ‘I like to eat spaghetti’. Students who agree with the proposition, change angles.
  • Blackbox: a box contains all sorts of questions and/or propositions: ‘Who will you take to a desert island?’, ‘What is your biggest dream?’, ‘What gives you energy?’ Students answer these questions in the class group or in small groups.
  • Comfort-stretch panic zones: on specific situations, students answer by standing in one of the following zones, comfort (=this situation feels ok for me, I always do this and I don’t learn anything), stretch (=this situation is exciting for me, and learning), and panic (=in this situation I block and I learn nothing).
  • Add subject-specific questions to the questions so that you can get a better idea of students’ abilities yourself. For example: what am I really good at in French? Which topics interest me in Anglo-Saxon literature? What do I find difficult in science?
Weblinks
Introduction, connection and energisers
 

In the influence phase, pupils want their own opinions and interests to count and feel responsible for the group. To achieve this, pupils want to influence the course of events in the classroom. They do this by standing up for their own opinions; they name differences in the group. This sometimes leads to conflicts and tensions. Often these discussions are not about content, but rather about who is in charge. 

How to recognise the pase?

Pupils are split into subgroups or cliques, often disagreeing or competing with each other. They look for allies and opponents. Pupils argue fiercely, for example, about things that happened in the playground or propositions you put to them. This is not about being right but about being vindicated. The struggle for influence can interfere with the effectiveness of cooperation or quality of the task.

This phase is sometimes called the adolescence of the group. Students show passive or active resistance to you as a teacher. They put off acquiring more responsibility and independence from you. They want to place their own standards next to/against yours.

Pupils sometimes feel that ‘it’s hard going’ and ‘it’s always a hassle’ when the class group works together or consults.

The class group talks about division of roles, agreements, how to reach a decision, tensions and frustrations. The cliques gossip about the other groups or the teacher.

Both for you and the pupils, this phase can be a difficult period: you may face a lot of headwinds and things get difficult. In this phase, the group seems to regress, perform less, hang together less, but make no mistake: the class needs this tumultuous phase to grow into an autonomous group.

What is your role?

You are the process facilitator, staying firm despite the turmoil.

Methods / forms of work

Stay calm and firm. Students’ overreactions and resistance are part of this phase and are focused on your role as a teacher, so don’t take them personally. Do continue to actively listen to what pupils want to tell you.

  • Support pupils to appreciate differences and deal constructively with conflict.
  • Encourage self-organisation of the group in your forms of work and make it negotiable: dividing and taking on responsibilities and roles, making agreements, making decisions and using the social skills learned.
  • Varify the subgroups and invite pupils to work with lesser-known peers as well.

At this stage, students are open to hearing the personal story and qualities behind the differences they notice among themselves. Psychological safety in the class group is now high enough to discuss behaviour, feelings openly. Pupils work more relaxed, effective and closer together on goals.

How to recognise the phase?

Pupils seek out other pupils outside their former clique. They are open to exchange. In doing so, pupils feel that although everyone is different, everyone is equal and worthwhile. This all leads to a closer class group.

The class group works together more effectively and performs better in a relaxed atmosphere. Pupils make better use of each other’s talents and ideas. They dare to give and receive honest and constructive feedback. They also have more energy to focus on the task at hand. In addition, pupils regain interest in the teacher’s person and expertise.

The class group provides more safety to discuss deeper topics such as behaviour, feelings, personal goals, conflicts and underlying motivations.

What is your role?

You are the coach who challenges the group.

Methods / forms of work

Give more and more responsibility and autonomy to the (sub)group when using (cooperative) forms of work.

Help the class group achieve its own individual and group goals within the framework of your subject. This way you teach pupils to take more control of their own learning process.

Make time to discuss assignments where pupils work together after and give them the opportunity to give each other feedback. Feedback is an important catalyst in the learning process, both of subject and social-emotional competences. It provides self-knowledge and clues to the next learning step. At this stage, learners provide the most rich information and are also most open to it. So make full use of this opportunity. 

Once the end of the school year is in sight, the group will prepare to break up. The transition to another study choice, secondary or higher education makes the end even more definite. Group members of positive groups regret this and anticipate it by softening the bitter pill.

How to recognise the phase?

The students put things into perspective: they didn’t actually think the group was that great after all, other friends are cooler after all, they’re glad the group is finally breaking up, …

Or the students stick together even more tightly and postpone the goodbye. For example, by being inseparable during the last days of the school year: lying close together on the grass, hanging out after school,…. Everyone agrees to have a reunion (soon).

There is a chance that the norms and agreements will fade, as students wonder what is the importance of group rules if the group is going to break up soon anyway?

What is your role?

You are the coach who helps to say goodbye appropriately.

Methods / forms of work

Evaluate together the goals and methods achieved.

Look back at events throughout the school year.

Remember the meaning the collaboration has had for the students and support them in the reality of saying goodbye.

Farewell with a ritual or tangible reminder of the class group.

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