10/28/2023 / Review

Deliberate Optimism 2nd Edition By Debbie Silver and Jack C. Berckemeyer

In 2015 Debbie Silver,Jack Berckemeyer, and Judith Baenen published Deliberate Optimism:Reclaiming the Joy in Education. At the time educators were feeling defeated and distressed as their roles were seemingly devalued in public perception. Standardized testing, scripted curriculums, and the push to decrease teacher creativity for increased test scores, and the ever stressful teacher evaluation system added to the already stressed environment. Who would have thought that it could get any worse and then in 2020 the pandemic did just that causing many educators to leave the profession. 
Despite all that we in education have endured, Debbie Silver and Jack Berckemeyer maintain, “Teaching remains the most noble profession. What other group of people has more ability to shape the future by empowering the next generation to think, to create, and to act compassionately toward their fellow humans?” (xii) Thus the second edition of Deliberate Optimism  is updated offering revised principles of optimism, updated strategies and scenarios, interactive action step exercises and QR codes leading to self assessments and videos to name just a few of the highlights. 

The Four Principles for Deliberate Optimism for Educators include: 
  1. Gather information
  2. Control what you can.
  3. Do something positive.
  4. Own your part. 

This second edition includes a chapter for each principle and each is authentically presented. Beginning with “Gather Information” which sounds so simple, yet is the catalyst for solving many false truths that can lead to stressful misunderstandings. Because we lead such busy, overscheduled lives, it is easy to listen to others' viewpoints on critical issues from discussions at workshops or board meetings without thinking about the actual facts. This type of sharing leads to negative thoughts and feelings and creates a “us versus them” environment. Throughout this principle words such as “us”, “they”, and “those people” are bolded to emphasize the negative talk that can only lead to a more stressful, negative climate. Taking the time to fact check helps to alleviate such strain. Action Step 1.1 “Fact Check” and the “Guiding Questions on Realistic Awareness” help the reader to take a close, personal look at this principle. 

Principle two “Control what you can” offers the idea that if we are constantly worrying over things we can’t change, we are not only wasting our time, but we are causing ourselves undue stress. On page 35 the authors offer a table that provides examples of  “What you can’t Control” and “What you can Control” offering realistic scenarios such as parent expectations you can’t control, but you can control the way you communicate. Action Step 2.3 QR code “Positive Reframing"(page 39) is a helpful 5 minute video that  asks you to  consider something that is currently troubling you and how you may be able to reframe the issue in a more “positive light”. 

The third principle, “Do something positive”, asks us to make positive efforts to “just keep moving forward”. (page 56) The authors offer suggestions such as keeping ourselves upbeat even when those around us are negative, not overloading our plates, and most importantly, taking care of our physical and mental health. In “Taking positive steps with our health” the authors write, “In a career that often requires us to be selfless, many teachers see themselves as healers and fixers. We get so busy taking care of everyone else that we often neglect our own welfare. Too many times, we put our own needs last and tend to think of those who put effort into taking care of their physical, psychological, spiritual, mental, and social needs as being a bit self-absorbed and even selfish. Nothing could be further from the truth. Burning the candle at both ends will eventually lead to complete and total burnout, and we have too many excellent teachers leaving the field already. Taking care of oneself is probably the least selfish thing a teacher can do.” (page 60)

The fourth principle, “Own your part” looks at our responsibility over how we respond to the many issues we have no control over. However, it is equally important to reexamine when programs and tasks within our control aren’t working. We need to take responsibility for what goes on in our classroom and do what is best for our students. The authors offer “Tips for Choosing Responsibility” outlining the need to prioritize ourselves, stop blaming, take time for self reflection, assume accountability, avoid excuses, stand up to detractors, and the one that stood out to me “We stop being our own worst enemies”. “We refrain from having detrimental conversations about our classrooms, our schools, our districts, and other educators in public. We must maintain a realistic optimism about our profession…We need to stand together, support one another, and make every effort to speak positively about education. Our collective optimism can be contagious.” (page 79)

One of the newly added chapters to this second edition is Mental Health is Health. Within this chapter, “Principle 5” Silver and Berckemeyer address one of the most important topics I think in teacher care, mental health. “We give mental health its own chapter in this book because that’s how important we think it is. Without good mental health, the other steps toward strengthening well being are meaningless. Mental health is health.” (page 92) There is such a stigma surrounding this topic that is carefully discussed. Teacher self care must include mental health and wellness. Action Step 5.2 offers a QR code to a 4 minute video on how stress affects your body. “Following the Four Principles of Deliberate Optimism, teachers must be aware of their personal needs, learn which factors affecting their health they can control, do the things that positively impact their welfare, and take responsibility for ensuring their own well-being.” (page 96) The practice of mindfulness is discussed and “It is a way of learning to be fully present in the moment without being distracted by past anxiety or future uncertainties. Mindfulness is a way to calm the emotional center of the brain through non judgemental and nonreactive awareness”. (page 99) 

There are so many important topics discussed on the need for optimism, well being, and teacher care within this book that I have only scratched the surface. Throughout the chapters  there are scenarios, QR codes to videos and tests that help the reader take a closer look at their own feelings and experiences. Appendices are offered in the back of the book that offer tests such as “Life Orientation Test, and “Happiness and Optimism Tests”, a worksheet on the Four Principles of Deliberate Optimism, and  “Realistic Awareness” offering questions to answer before reacting to news about a challenge or problem. 

Finally, no Debbie Silver book would be complete without many doses of her humor, such as is found on page 97 “Ten Ways You Know You Are An Educator Under Too Much Stress”. As Debbie writes, “If you did not laugh or even smile at this satirical stress indicator, it might be a sign that you truly are under way too much stress.” 

Deliberate Optimism second edition is a welcome read at the end of a long school year. I have read and reviewed other Debbie Silver books and find her authentic wit, writing, and tell it like it is style to be exactly what I need. Put this book on the top of your summer reading list as you find time to give yourself some well deserved self care. 



Kathleen Palmieri is a National Board Certified Teacher and NBCT Professional Learning facilitator. She is a fifth grade educator in upstate New York who reviews and writes regularly for MiddleWeb. With a passion for literacy and learning in the classroom, she participates in various writing workshops, curriculum writing endeavors, and math presentations. As a lifelong learner, she is an avid reader and researcher of educational practices and techniques. Collaborating with colleagues and globally on Twitter https://twitter.com/Kathie_Palmieri and expanding her education adventures at www.kathleenpalmieri.com is an ongoing practice. 

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Kathleen Palmieri

Kathleen Palmieri is a National Board Certified Teacher, a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Learning Facilitator, and a fifth grade educator in upstate New York. She reviews professional texts and writes education articles for Middleweb. As a writer with a passion for pedagogy, Kathleen's focus is on education practices and strategies, as well as her own experiences as an educator. She has presented at math conferences, writing workshops, actively collaborates in literacy projects, and networks globally. 
KathleenPalmieri.com