Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Developing Advocacy Skills with Positive Psychology

I want to recommend an article by my coauthor and frequent co-presenter, Nancy Schultz, “Lessons from Positive Psychology for Developing Advocacy Skills,” 6 John Marshall Law Journal 103 (2012). One way to coach students is to tell them what they did wrong. Although working with the negatives is important, Nancy emphasizes helping students to identify their strength and then to build upon them. I also appreciate her informal, readable writing style. Here are some passages from her article:

Thus, the more we can help our students to feel that they can succeed, the more likely it appears that they will indeed find ways to succeed. If we convince them that they can work through frustration and adversity, they will emerge stronger and better. This is likely true of their long-term view of potential success, not just the immediate task at hand.

The research even suggests that putting students in a positive frame of mind enhances the likelihood that what they learn will be accurate. As they pay attention, they learn what works and what doesn‘t, which can adjust their expectations; additional experience then confirms or denies those expectations. ―Importantly, the personal resources accrued during states of positive emotions are durable—they outlast the transient emotional states that led to their acquisition.

[I]f we figure out when our students are feeling comfortable, and try to add elements of skill to broaden that zone of comfort, we can use their strengths and talents to add to their repertoire and help move them toward mastery. I always tell my students that comfort comes from confidence, and confidence comes from knowing that you can handle the situation, whatever it is. The more experience they get, the more they see that they can add to their strengths, the more that comfort and confidence will get them through.

This gets us to the question of feedback—do we start with positive comments, or do we just focus on what needs fixing? The vast majority of the literature suggests that the simple act of starting with the positive will reap immense rewards: it will make our students feel better, it will encourage them to believe that their goals are within reach, and it will make it easier for them to process the comments about what needs fixing.



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