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Teaching Guide

Teaching PBIS: Attitude and Positivity

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You might be thinking that "attitude" is hard to define in just a few words. Well according to Tom Tierney, attitude is the ability to "project very directly one's opinions and feelings […] with little more than a gesture, a stance, a look."

Now you might be thinking, just who is this Tom Tierney? He was the king of paper dolls, making paper dolls of historical figures and pop culture icons from Pope John Paul II to Judy Garland to Michelle Obama. But most of all, he was a man who demonstrated that with the right attitude, you can be anything—even the king of paper dolls, a regal title that would never have existed without him.

In this guide you will find

  • scripted lesson plans on positivity, negativity, and constructive criticism. (We can take it, and we'll help your students learn how to, too.)
  • discussion questions about code switching and diversity.
  • activities about personal choice, consequences, and outlook. (No, not the mail program.)

With the right attitude, your students can be the new king (or queen) of paper dolls… or whatever weird art form they choose.



This is a lesson where students will scour yester-thoughts to examine how their attitude changed throughout the day. Also, they will discover that positivity is a choice, not an outcome of a great breakfast. As a mindfulness practice, journaling is encouraged in this day's lesson.

Key Skills and Learning Objectives

  • Begin to recognize patterns of positive and negative thinking in oneself and one's environment and begin to analyze the effects of each.
  • Understand the value of maintaining a positive attitude.
  • Practice positive thinking in class, at school, and at home.


  • Yesterday: Spend a day in your life.
  • Today: Analyze your past attitudes, with future choices in mind.


Materials Needed:

A journal. Have students bring a journal (of any size) to use throughout the lessons to track their attitudes and practice positivity. They will be required to bring this to class every day and to use it every night for homework. Let them know they can personalize it however they please—the goal is to encourage journal keeping as a method of self-reflection.

Access to happy songs. We suggest playing a song as the students come in each day to set the mood. Here is a list we like (be sure to skim for appropriate language). Of course, you can also just play all Whitney Houston, all the time.

Day 1's Handout. These questions will be answered for homework every night during this unit, so make sure kids hang on to this sheet.

Day 4's Handout. This handout won't really be used until Day 4 (funny how that works), but it might be helpful to give students a head's up about this assignment.

Access to computer to research positive role models during class.

Estimated Time to Complete: 50 minutes
Why should we bother being positive? [Pose this question to the students. The trick is that this question illustrates, ever so subtly, that attitude is a choice.] We often don't think that attitude is a choice we make. When bad things happen to us, like getting a bad mark on a homework assignment or being ditched by a crush—we wallow in self-pity and do not consider the people around us. Think about it, though: Two people can have the exact same bad experience and come out of it with either a positive or negative attitude.

Do you know anyone who keeps smiling during bad times? How about anyone who's super negative?

In today's activity, you'll be reminiscing about your day yesterday as a journalist of your own life. Start by recording the best moment of your day yesterday on your handout, and then write down the worst moment. What attitude did you have during those moments, and what attitude did you have in the aftermath? Do you wish you had handled either situation differently? Why or why not? Let the ink flow, diarists!

Then, thinking of attitude as a choice, spend some time answering question 4 on the handout. You may find that getting to know how you deal with highs and lows will help you learn how to choose positivity, ultimately. [Give students 10-15 minutes to write down their answers to the questions.]

Now take 20 minutes to research someone who has experienced a mega bad time in life and has come out with a positive attitude. Take a stab at why they chose positivity. How does their positivity affect you? Jot down some notes.

[For the next 15 minutes, have students share their findings with the class.]


[For the remainder of the lesson, have students share their best and worst moments, including what they wish they had done differently. Be vulnerable and share your best and worst moment first in order to foster safety and openness in the classroom environment. Having a positive attitude isn't easy—let them know you're in this together.]


Interview a person you know in your community who has gone through an ordeal and come out of it with a positive attitude. Maybe they lost someone they loved. Maybe their cat passed away. Maybe they got really sick. Maybe someone else ate the last doughnut. You'd be surprised at how much people have gone through! Ask this person the following questions:

  1. What was the lowest moment in your life? How did you overcome it?
  2. Have you always had a positive attitude or did you have to learn it?
  3. What helps you remain positive?
  4. What makes you feel negative? How do you deal with it?
  5. What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with being positive?

Turn the answers you are given into a short paragraph written in the third person. Make sure you let the person being interviewed know that you might be sharing their answers with the class. If the person doesn't want to be named, no problem—just make up a fake name for them.

Now that you're a pro-interviewer, start thinking of someone in your community who code-switches, or speaks in more than one dialect or language. You will also be interviewing them, using the questions on Day 4's handout. Don't worry; this won't be due until Day 5. A heads up never hurts, though.


  1. Do you believe attitude is a personal choice? Explore a moment in your life when you chose to be positive or negative and how this affected you and your family or friends.
  2. Can you think of a moment in your life when you were affected by someone else's attitude in your environment? Put yourself in their shoes. Why do you think they were acting this way?
  3. Do your peers have wizard-like powers to change your mind about something? When has a peer changed your mind in a positive way? How about in a negative way?
  4. Make a list of ten things in your life that you are grateful for. Now make a list of five things in your life you are unhappy about. Apply the following questions to those five things: Can they be changed? Can you think about them differently? If so, how? Are there any good things about them?
  5. How connected do you believe the mind and body are when it comes to one's outlook on life? Can healthy habits affect how one sees things? Check out your unhealthiest habits and see if getting rid of them will lead to having a more positive attitude.
  6. When we act like grumps (even for good reason) we generally aren't mindful of the people around us. Take five minutes to notice things around you that are pleasing or interesting. How can paying attention change our attitudes?
  7. When we're young, we sometimes hate things that are actually good for us. Look at your life. Is there anything in your life that is actually good for you that you see as absolutely terrible (like broccoli)? How can you change your mind about it?
  8. If you were to write a letter to yourself, giving yourself advice on how to deal with difficult situations, what would you say? How could you use your past experiences to back up your arguments? Write it down! Read it aloud to yourself. Keep it by your bed.
  9. Sometimes, as a positive person, you can spend a lot of time and energy trying to lift someone else's spirits. Has anyone taken advantage of your positivity before? What healthy boundaries can you set between you and negative energies in your life?
  10. How would you encourage other people in your school to choose happiness? Write a happiness manifesto with practical advice on how to choose to be positive every day.