What is academic optimism and how to achieve it


We live in a time of accelerated changes in the social, economic, and technological fields. The school lives its own scenario of changes, also multiple and complex:

  • From a school based exclusively on content to a school focused on skills that include that content and its application in specific problem situations.
  • From a pencil and paper school to a school that aspires to be technological.
  • From a school fragmented into multiple subjects to a school that seeks coherence through interdisciplinarity.
  • From an individualistic school to a cooperative school.
  • From a school closed in on itself to a school open to the environment.
  • From a school focused on the teacher as a transmitter of information to a school that treats the student as an agent of construction of their own knowledge.

Answers through innovation

Faced with this reality, the commitment of education (and especially of the public network) is to offer the most appropriate response to the challenges posed by a dynamic society; that is, compared to other ways of responding to change (denial, rejection, repetition, transfer, etc.), the education system is an ecosystem of innovation.

In addition, it does not innovate by simply assuming novelties , but by analyzing the problems that are right in front of it and putting available resources into play. It is possible to learn from other people’s experiences and try to transfer proven solutions in other environments, but, ultimately, the situation in which the innovation develops generates the conditions that radically determine the chances of success.

Academic optimism

To address the complexity of any innovative change process, to steer the organization toward achievement, and to avoid the risk of failure, academic optimism is needed .

Academic optimism refers to an organizational culture that promotes innovation effectively (that is, reaching the goals that are proposed). Its validity and effect have been contrasted in various investigations and educational contexts , even controlling the socioeconomic factors of the educational centers.

Efficiency and confidence

This “optimism” is made up of three elements: the collective effectiveness of the faculty, the academic emphasis of the institution, and trust. Together, these three elements promote innovation and the scope of the achievements proposed by the center in an effective way.

Academic emphasis – sometimes also referred to as “academic pressure” – reflects a school’s insistence on academic excellence and the expectation that all students can achieve it. Both teachers and the management team believe in the ability of all students to learn and achieve satisfactory results.

To do this, they set high but achievable learning goals, continue to offer support to struggling students and remove barriers to learning, create an orderly and stimulating learning environment, and promote respect for achievement. academics.

It also contemplates concentrating on relevant aspects of the curriculum or emerging issues in the educational field, such as language learning and multimodal communication, natural sciences and environmental education, technology (including issues such as computational thinking, programming or robotics), ethical and citizen values ​​(including school coexistence as a learning object) or mathematics and STEM approach.

Committed and as a team

Collective efficacy is defined as the collective assessment of the teaching staff of an educational center about their joint capacity to address educational challenges and objectives and to contribute positively to the well-being and learning of all students.

Teachers collaborate to improve their teaching, make decisions and work together, define challenging tasks and commit to teaching, especially in the face of difficulties and problematic situations. Academic emphasis has a more powerful effect when collective efficacy is strong, that is, academic emphasis works through collective efficacy.

Perception and self-perception

Finally, trust is linked to the perception of benevolence, honesty, competence, reliability and openness to innovation and change of the members of the educational community.

Trust exists in the relationship with the management team and between colleagues, and in the relationship established with students and families.

Enabling structure

These three factors interact with another fundamental element: an enabling school structure . This occurs when the power structure, the rules and regulations, the politics of the institution and the daily procedures favor the trust of the teaching staff and, therefore, increase the academic optimism of the educational center.

Academic optimism shapes, in turn, school norms and the actions that take place.

Furthermore, the existence of an enabling school structure precedes the effective development of a professional learning community , and school leadership can help generate this type of structure through reflective dialogue, collaborative professional practice, collective focus on learning, and the creation of shared values ​​and norms.

How to get it?

The strong situational nature of education requires that the improvement of the values ​​of academic optimism and the interventions linked to each of the factors mentioned be adjusted to the reality of the center and its educational community.

It is an act of co-creation , focused on small-scale changes , made by educators with their classroom and school in mind. We must understand innovation as the construction of local knowledge that allows a “shared ownership” of innovation and improvement.

In education we need (academic) optimism and an enabling environment to undertake the changes that allow the school to rise to the occasion. However, optimism is not just a state of mind, nor is the environment an unalterable circumstance: we need to build (through investment, decision-making and correct actions) a high level of academic optimism and create an enabling environment.
“People are motivated by good ideas linked to action; they are further stimulated by doing the action with other people; they are further driven by learning from their mistakes; and lastly, they are propelled by actions that have an impact, what we call a “perceived moral imperative.”

Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan in Professional Capital .
Not only the learning of our students depends on it, but also the quality of our entire educational system.

Author Bio: Fernando Trujillo Saez is a University professor at the Faculty of Education, Economics and Technology of Ceuta at the University of Granada