The Sunshine Effect

The Sunshine Effect is a concept I have grappled with for years. Early in my professional career, I worked as a school psychologist, first as an intern where each of us was moved around to numerous schools and school districts, probably to see how we would fare in various environments. In my first early years, I worked with both rural and urban schools in two countries; my work took me to elementary through secondary schools, Kindergarten through high school, and in both regular and special education programs. From this quick, broad education, and despite my youth, I quickly came to realize how very alike all schools are in some general ways and how extraordinarily unique they are in the rest of the components. I also learned that I (or anyone) can determine much about the principal of a school before meeting her by simply walking through her school. The same, it turns out, is true for directors of early childhood programs and for teachers in classrooms and for parents in homes. Each of these pivotal figures sets the tone for the entire school or classroom or home, a vital, discernible atmosphere. Each brings their own presence to the setting. There are many nuances to these personally set ambiances, and it is helpful to each of us to be aware that we set a tone around ourselves that affects other people and permeates the environment near us. It is helpful to be aware of what tone we exude.

The tone I'm speaking of here is best likened to sunshine and clouds. Some schools and classrooms, like some homes, are filled with sunshine and light; joy, contentment, and health abound. Still others seem covered by clouds and pervaded with darkness; fear, discontent, and gloom prevail. It seems that in our positions, dynamic positions as educators or parents, we do set the tone on a daily basis for those around us. Have you ever noticed that when you are tired, irritable, or stressful, the children have a terrible day? If it can go wrong, it does go wrong. By contrast, when you are loaded with energy and good will, and ready to handle anything, little happens.

We radiate who we are and what we feel every day. Sometimes I wish I could just once have an off day and not have everything and everyone else seem to fall apart with me. (As the children get older, this wish is coming true.) When we are dealing with young children, this is unlikely. Children pick up on the mood we are in and the tone we set. Over time, they begin to know what to expect, what the feeling usually is around us. How is your tone? Do you generally offer sunshine or clouds? It is this "generally" and "over time" which are important; isolated, infrequent tones are much less significant. What we too often overlook is that we, too, are caught up in the light or the darkness and taken up or down with it. It is difficult to override our own attitude, although this can be accomplished occasionally. Thus, the real question to ask ourselves is: are we most typically filled with sunshine or with darkness? For what we are will certainly show and become our reality. What we sow, we shall reap.

Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves. - J.M. Barrie

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