Optical Performance



I’ve been voraciously learning about the role the brain has on student achievement. While I profess to be no expert, I am deeply intrigued by neuroscience studies that continue to validate the influence of brain development and its neuroplasticity. Angela Lee Duckworth made great headlines in her TED talk on the power of passion and perseverance. Daniel Goleman is a prolific expert on emotional intelligence, and Ellen Galinsky, author of the highly acclaimed book, Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs, teaches us how to foster the most important skills children will need to be successful in life. All of these experts rely on strengthening one of our body’s most important muscles— the brain.

Armed with this enlightening information, I delved further into the specific realm of optimism and student achievement. We all know the half glass theory—view it as half-empty, you’re considered a pessimist. View the glass half-full, and you’re considered an optimist. While this is an overarching simplification to a complex topic, I do believe understanding levels of optimism, or lack thereof, can be a solid indicator on how students can improve their academic performance, and how we as adults can optimize our own performance. Of no surprise, research supports this theory.

If you’ve not yet familiarized yourself to TED Talk presenter Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, then I highly encourage you to do so. Shawn makes a cogent case for the power of positivity by using research-based evidence sprinkled with hilarious commentary that will surely trigger a few positive synapses in your own brain. I found myself reflecting on his comment about how the brain works, “If you can raise somebody's level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage. Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise. In fact, your brain at positive is 31 percent more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed.”

Equipping our children with neurological lifelong tools like optimism, which can be practiced and improved over time, may not only make them happier but studies show it will help them perform better in school. It will help them better overcome obstacles by viewing challenges as learning opportunities and it will develop resilience when they’ve persevered through a difficult circumstance. To be clear, I’m not suggesting a Pollyanna view of the world but rather a healthy dose of balanced optimism that can help children and adults choose a more positive outlook.

The Education Foundation of Sarasota County believes student achievement is much more than academic attainment alone. It includes preparing students with the skills and resources to be responsible, contributory, global citizens by integrating the whole brain with the whole child.

One final thought: Since optimism can be learned at any age, it may behoove us as adults to reflect on ways in which we can become even better role models for our children. If living by example is a valuable teaching tool, then perhaps we should each consider how our own glass is viewed. Sir Winston Churchill states: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” So, what kind of glass do you see?

Jennifer Vigne is president of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

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