Writing the Next Chapter: Two Strategies for Fostering Optimism in Higher Education
Like many institutions of higher learning, the United States Air Force Academy has sought to foster hope and optimism in students in spite of the feelings of anxiety and estrangement created by the pandemic. As a military academy, USAFA emphasizes resiliency and thriving in the face of adversity, though some of the messaging on “being resilient” has proved counterproductive; cadets have sometimes cited these messages as examples of “toxic positivity.” In an effort to address the needs of and care for the whole student, the Center for Educational Innovation and the Office of Advising have worked to promote hopeful messages/measures regarding motivation at the student and faculty levels. The Office of Advising has recently utilized the PERMA survey (positive emotion, engagement, relationships meaning, accomplishment) in the hope of helping cadets flourish amid the hardships created by the pandemic. The emphasis on positive perspectives tempered by grit has offered a more comprehensive concept for fostering student well-being. Similarly, in a workshop for faculty, the Center for Educational Innovation stressed the importance of avoiding toxic positivity when interacting with students. Both workshops were designed to transcend the concerns created by the pandemic. The strategies gleaned from these workshops are relevant to students and faculty confronting myriad sources of negativity and anxiety.