Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. To submit questions, use this form or #helpstudentsthrive.

Education Opinion

Helping Students Cope With Uncertainty: Advice From a Psychologist

By Angela Duckworth — May 04, 2020 1 min read

There is so much debate right now about what will happen with schools, the economy, and so much else. I’m having trouble coping with uncertainty and don’t know what to say to my students. What do you advise?

Uncertainty about the future is an extremely uncomfortable psychological state—particularly when what looms on the horizon is negative, not positive.

For example, not knowing how long the recession will last is, in some ways, more difficult than knowing with certainty that the recession will last a year. Likewise, it can be especially hard to cope with not knowing what school will be like in the fall.

Psychologists sometimes talk about the “need for closure” versus “tolerance of ambiguity.” The basic idea is that some people are more comfortable than others are when it comes to uncertainty. Regardless, it’s important to remember that uncertainty is something most people avoid.

I have three suggestions for coping with uncertainty.

First, tell your students that feeling distressed about our inability to predict what will happen in the future is entirely normal. Explain that the need for closure is human, and like them, you, too, wish you could forecast what life will be like in the year ahead.

Second, help your students put things in perspective. You could ask your class to brainstorm: “What’s the most optimistic scenario for the fall?” then “What’s the absolute worst-case scenario?” and finally, “What’s the most likely scenario?” Then ask students to think through how they’d manage in each possibility. They may realize that even in the worst-case scenario, they’d be just fine.

And, finally, consider sharing this quote attributed to John Lennon and, perhaps, a comfort in these challenging times: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

Angela Duckworth, the founder and CEO of the education nonprofit Character Lab, is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. You can follow Character Lab on Twitter @TheCharacterLab.

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Branding Matters. Learn From the Pros Why and How
Branding your district matters. This webinar will provide you with practical tips and strategies to elevate your brand from three veteran professionals, each of whom has been directly responsible for building their own district’s brand.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. school districts are using hybrid learning right now with varying degrees of success. Students and teachers are getting restless and frustrated with online learning, making curriculum engagement difficult and disjointed. While
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
America is more divided than ever—and dangerously so. We need not look any further than the recent attack on the U.S. Capitol while Congress was certifying the results of the presidential election. The denial of

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Special Education Teacher
Chicago, Illinois
JCFS Chicago
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Clinical Director
Garden Prairie, IL, US
Camelot Education

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read