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

Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.
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
The 4 Biggest Challenges of MTSS During Remote Learning: How Districts Are Adapting
Leaders share ways they have overcome the biggest obstacles of adapting a MTSS or RTI framework in a hybrid or remote learning environment.
Content provided by Panorama Education
Student Well-Being Online Summit Keeping Students and Teachers Motivated and Engaged
Join experts to learn how to address teacher morale, identify students with low engagement, and share what is working in remote learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Join us for our NBOE 2021 Winter Teacher Virtual Interview Fair!
Newark, New Jersey
Newark Public Schools
Join us for our NBOE 2021 Winter Teacher Virtual Interview Fair!
Newark, New Jersey
Newark Public Schools
Superintendent, Dublin Unified School District
Dublin, California (US)
Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates
Superintendent, Dublin Unified School District
Dublin, California (US)
Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates

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