Attitude – Wholeheartedness

What’s the only thing in life that we have 100% control over? Our attitude.

We can’t always control what other people do or what happens to us. But we can control our how we react or respond to those things. We can be positive and “look on the bright side” or we can be negative and “see the glass as half empty.” (to mix idioms)

So basically we can choose to be 🙂 or we can choose :-(.

At least, that’s what I used to think. But, even though “putting on a happy face” can take us quite far, can this 🙂 sustain us in the long term through the day-to-day challenges of our lessons?

Over the years I’ve realized that attitude is much more nuanced than a simple 🙂 or 🙁 can show.

This is the first post in a series that will look at the following essential attitudes for reflection:

Wholeheartedness, directness, open-mindedness, responsibility, curiosity, the desire for growth

(The first four were identified by John Dewey. The latter two were added to the list by Carol Rodgers.)


“Whole-heartedness, … indicates a genuine, no holds barred enthusiasm about one’s subject matter.”

Carol Rodgers on John Dewey

On a basic level, students respond to teachers who love their subject, whereas the teacher who isn’t enthusiastic about their subject will find it very hard to motivate students.

But wholeheartedness is not only connected to the subject being taught. She writes that,

A teacher’s subject matter can be seen as threefold: it includes a) the actual content she is teaching — French, for example;    b) the learner’s learning of French; and c) the teacher’s teaching and how it is affecting the student’s learning. This triangle of factors (teacher/teaching; learner/learning; and content—what Hawkins called the “I-Thou-It”) interacts to form a dynamic nexus…

A whole-hearted attitude towards the learner’s learning involves curiosity about any number of topics. What makes the students tick? What are their interests? What is their language level? What can they do in the language and what are they not able to do? Can they do things that you expected they couldn’t? Are there things that they can’t do that you expected they would be able to do? Why is that? What are five reasons that might explain this?

Whole-heartedness involves what Carl Rogers called “unconditional positive regard.” Such an attitude can help students see themselves as successful language learners who are able to learn a language. They also see that the teacher enjoys being in the classroom with them. When a teacher is obviously, clearly enjoying their time with the students, the students are that much more likely to relax and learn more effectively.

The students are doing their best. This is an idea that has served my thinking in this area. Without strong evidence to the contrary how can we not give our students the benefit of the doubt?

If our students are underachieving it can be quite useful to start investigating with this question. “If this is their best, why do they think that this is all right? What is it about how I’ve structured this learning situation that leads them to believe that their poor effort is sufficient? Have they picked up ideas somewhere along the line, i.e. in previous classes or from former teachers, telling them that they don’t have to do anything or that they can’t learn?

The attitude of wholeheartedness that we extend to our students should also be extended to ourselves. We are successful teachers who are doing our best and are constantly learning and growing. This can be true no matter how many years of experience we have.


Rodgers, C. (2002) Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and reflective thinking, Teachers College Record. Vol. 4, Number 4, pp. 842-866.



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