Where Does The Line Between “Toxic Positivity” And “Toxic Negativity” Lie?

As always, I started my Friday morning reading the blog posts highlighted in Doug Peterson‘s This Week In Ontario Edublogs post. One post that I returned to a few times since yesterday morning was Michelle Fenn‘s one on toxic positivity. I could really relate to the line when she says, “teachers excel at wearing stress and being busy as a badge of honour.” Many years ago, I read a blog post by Dean Shareski on “being busy,” and since then, I’ve tried hard to eliminate this phrase from my vocabulary. I’m far from perfect with doing so, but I am getting better thanks to Dean. I know that the Coronavirus has changed how schools operate and classrooms run — among many other things — and at times, this can increase an educator’s workload. I understand why educators might feel overwhelmed and frustrated. I’ve read numerous tweets where teachers share these feelings, and thinking about these tweets from a Self-Reg perspective, I can see and hear the stress. I keep returning to this favourite cartoon of mine.

Just as Michelle indicates in her post, we all need empathy right now. I’d argue that educators, administrators, parents, and kids need people to feel what they’re feeling. If ever there was a time to improve at paraphrasing, now might be it. I think it’s okay to experience all kinds of emotions, and even admit when things are not all sunshine and roses in our classrooms, our schools, and our homes. BUT I also think that we need to ensure that we don’t get bogged down with the negativity, so that we never manage to figure out what might work and what could be better.

If you read our class blog posts, we often speak about our “great days.” Our days are great.

1. Kids are learning.

2. They’re excited to be at school.

3. We’re figuring out ways to work within the protocols, keep kids safe, and still hold true to the essence of the Kindergarten Program Document.

4. We’re reflecting, making changes to the environment and the learning materials with the help of the kids, and finding ways to build on interests, even if at times they’re individual interests.

While my teaching partner, Paula, and I attempt to stay focused on these positive moments, we also talk about what might not be working as well as we hoped. Our biggest struggle is figuring out collective interests — classroom inquiries, for example — and how we can support this learning in small, distanced groups. This tends to work better outside, where there’s a little more flexibility with the space and the groupings, but it’s harder to do inside. We’re embracing the 1:1 time with kids, but wondering if we could go deeper if we could find more links between interests. We constantly question,

  1. Have we interpreted our observations correctly?
  2. What could we do to better support [Name]? (The name filled in here is always changing.)
  3. Would more movement for some kids be better? How can we support this safely?
  4. Would this movement help better support provocations and interests, or would it just lead to more wandering?

I’m sharing these struggles because Michelle’s post made me realize that I don’t do this enough. It’s not because I’m negating the value in being open and honest — for good and for bad experiences — but because I’m not sure that social media is the place to do this. At least not 240-character social media. Every time that I read a negative tweet, I see a stream of other negative experiences. I understand why during times of struggle, others need to hear that things aren’t perfect, but I also worry about the impact of “toxic negativity.” Without expanding on our experiences, sharing our reflections, and exploring problem solving together, does sharing large amounts of negativity simply breed more negativity?

Yesterday, I went to publish this Instagram post about our day, and I wondered, will this be viewed as “toxic positivity?”

I’d like to think that our positive outlook is a way to find joy in what we’re doing and get the best out of the situation right now. Replacing too much positivity with too much negativity is not necessarily making things better. Is it? Maybe I need to blog more about what’s not working as well as what is, while also remembering that genuine voice no matter what the message might be. I’m always here to listen to those that might be struggling, and I appreciate everyone that’s been there for me too, but well before COVID, I was a believer in the words, “What IS possible?” I still believe there’s a lot to be said for venting, for crying, for being yourself, and for moving forward. What about you?


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