A strong sense of possibility involves an awareness and belief that positive outcomes can be achieved in the future. It empowers individuals to take responsibility for enhancing their sense of self, developing and maintaining positive relationships and turning challenges into opportunities.
Having a sense of possibility is related to several facets of social and emotional learning, as well as some key positive psychology concepts, each of which has well developed evidence bases to validate their importance and positive impact on wellbeing.
CASEL has been instrumental in the international promotion of social and emotional learning, and their model underpins the Australian Curriculum General Capabilities. Ongoing studies of social and emotional learning highlight the positive impact on learning and wellbeing of the competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.
Awareness of our thoughts and emotions, and the ability to manage them effectively, contributes to self-efficacy, motivation and confidence by supporting possibility focused practices such as goal-setting and striving. The ability to change perspective and entertain possibilities beyond our own experience supports our capacity for empathy, which is vital for both personal and community wellbeing. Identifying and analysing problems, generating a range of alternative solutions and making ethical and responsible decisions also hinge on a healthy sense of what might be possible. Importantly, these processes are all integral to developing resilience.
Hope and optimism are key concepts of positive psychology, and studies have shown that hope is positively related to academic achievement. Schools support students in developing hope – which can be considered as goal-directed thinking – in their practices around goal setting and striving for example. As part of a growth mindset approach, schools support students’ sense of possibility by creating a supportive environment and enabling them to reflect on and identify next steps and goals for their learning. Teachers know that the engagement and agency that can arise from such processes has a powerful impact on students’ achievements.
The ability to think optimistically – seeing positive possibilities – is a skill that can be learned, and contributes to resilience. A recent Australian study of the experience of transition to secondary school, found that “students who expected a positive transition were more than three times more likely to report an actual positive transition experience.” (Waters et.al 2014)
As you begin the new school year it’s an ideal time to reflect on the power of possibility, and how you do and could ensure that your students use this gift for growth in 2020.