How To Deal With Rejection In Education

"I feel like I'm sinking..." my mentee squeaked.  " I don't know if I can do this again next year."

The sink or swim conversation is often referenced in education, especially in relation to first year teachers.  Being honest with ourselves, we must admit that there are times when all of us feel like we are sinking.

We sink the fastest after rejection.

Rejection in education comes in many forms: disrespect from a student, a stalled initiative, or a conflict with a coworker.

How we bounce back is important.  Resiliency is a strong personality trait.

This article is about how to bounce back from rejection in education. For guidance, we turn to a book about...selling (?!?).

Who better to ask about dealing with rejection than a sales person?

Daniel Pink thought the same thing, and describes his findings on dealing with rejection in a must read called To Sell Is Human.

Pink outlines several things that people can do to stay afloat and resist sinking.  His ideas will help us deal with rejection.

1.  Talk to yourself, and be a jerk

Prior to a big game,  big speech, or big presentation, people often "pump" themselves up.  They look in the mirror and say "I can do this!  I'm going to nail this (fill in the task)."

It serves as an immediate confidence booster.

Spewing declaratives (I can do this) at yourself in the mirror, however, is not what we are after.  We are after another type of self-talk.

Interrogative self-talk is a seldom used tool that needs more recognition.  Rather than declare that you are going to kick butt, ask yourself if you are going to kick butt.  For example:

Declarative self-talk: "I'm going to nail this presentation!"

Interrogative self-talk "Will I nail this presentation?"

Seems counterintuitive, doesn't it?  Does it work?

Yup and yup.

Interrogative self-talk works because at the heart of every question is an answer.  From Pink:

"... the interrogative, by its very form, elicits answers-and within those answers are actually strategies for carrying out the task."
In other words, when you ask yourself a question, you force yourself to answer it.  As you answer it, you work through the techniques necessary to accomplish the task.  You mentally practice it.

By working through the answers to your own question, you also reaffirm your "why".  You review your reasons for attempting such a task.  This, in turn, boosts your intrinsic motivation towards what you are about to do.

So the next time you feel like your sinking, rather than saying "I'm going to do a great job teaching this lesson!" try "will I do a great job at this lesson?....... YES because I'm going to x, y, and z!"

2.  Be positive and negative in a 3 to 1 ratio

Positive psychology is absolutely exploding and tons of useful relevant research is erupting out of the new field. ( For a start check out Shawn Anchor, Barbara Fredrickson, or Martin Seligman)

Or check out this article describing how to use positive psychology in education.

A positive outlook on your activities is obviously integral to your success, but be careful, don't go overboard.

Long story short, Barbara Fredrickson teased out the optimum ratio of positive statements (actions, behaviors etc.) to negative ones.

The happiest people have a positive to negative ratio of 3:1.

Negative thoughts ground us because they serve as important performance feedback.

The take away message is this: continue to embrace your heightened and elevated perception of your actions, but sprinkle in a bit of pessimism to keep yourself grounded.

3.  Reflect with temporary and optimism in mind

So you were rejected, who cares?

As Ryan Holliday argues, the obstacle is the way.

Embrace the resilient aspect of your strong personality and bounce back.  Start by reflecting.

While reflecting, remind yourself that the set-back is temporary and be optimistic about the future.  Try not to take it personally and if necessary, explain failures externally;  attempt to rationalize the rejection by looking at other components than yourself.

One may argue that the foundation of resiliency is optimism.  The ability to heal and become strong starts with the thought that you can heal and become stronger.

As John Wooden says
"If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything.  I'm positive that a doer makes mistakes."
So do yourself a favor, acknowledge the fact that inherent to teaching is rejection.  Exceptional teachers attack rejection with optimism, interrogative self-talk, and positivity.

Get out there and teach, when you inevitably fail and get rejected, bet back in the ring and keep going.

Thanks for reading and keep your chin up.

Photo Credit: Andrey_Kuzmin from bigstock

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