PUBLISHED: Thursday, July 18, 2019 by JO

An Interview with Derry Koralek and Laura J. Colker

Derry and Laura chatted with us about inspiration, misconceptions, and gratitude.

Published: July, 2019


Who Are Derry and Laura?

Derry Koralek spent more than 14 years writing and editing publications for NAEYC.  She was the Editor in Chief of Young Children, NAEYC’s peer-reviewed professional journal and creator and Editor-in-Chief of Teaching Young Children, a magazine for preschool educators. While at NAEYC, she served as Chief Publications Officer, overseeing the publication of periodicals, books, and digital content. As the President of DGK & Company, she develops early childhood training materials and guidebooks for private groups and for state and federal clients. 

Derry Koralek
 

Laura J. Colker is an international author, lecturer, and trainer in early childhood education. She is the author, or coauthor, over 150 publications and instructional guides and has contributed to the development of more than 40 educational videos and PBS programs. Dr. Colker is a coauthor of the widely-used The Creative Curriculum for Preschool, now in its sixth edition. Laura and Derry are the coauthors of High-Quality Early Childhood Programs: The What, Why, and How.

Laura J. Colker
 

Coauthoring their second book for Redleaf Press, Making Lemonade, Derry and Laura investigate learned optimism and how to best implement the practice in and out of the classroom. Making Lemonade is the first-to-market book on the topic of learned optimism in young children and provides practical, hands-on exercises and activities teachers and families can use to positively affect children. Learned optimism can equip children to be more successful learners and healthier individuals.

Making Lemonade

How would you describe the relationship between optimism and gratitude?

Laura:

I try hard to take the advice we give in the book. When I find myself feeling pessimistic about health challenges or worrying about loved ones, I actually try to dispute my negative thinking by having a conversation with myself in my head. I know that I have the power to change any encroaching pessimism into positive thoughts. I also try to be proactive by making myself focus on the good things in my life. While I don’t keep a written journal, I have a mental gratitude journal which helps me keep in mind the many things that I am thankful for each day.

 

What motivated you to write this book?

Laura:

About a dozen years ago I read the book Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. In the book, Seligman describes how he and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania (which is also my alma mater) were able to teach school-age children who were depressed to become optimistic and thus no longer depressed. I had an epiphany that these same techniques could be adapted to work with young children. I was so excited about this idea that I emailed Dr. Seligman asking him if he thought it made sense to modify and extend his techniques to teach very young children to think optimistically. Much to my surprise and delight, he immediately responded that he thought that would be fine to do. Armed with his endorsement, I set about researching the subject. Luckily, Derry Koralek shared my enthusiasm for the subject and we decided to write a book on learned optimism, knowing it would be something new in the early childhood field. Both of are so pleased that Redleaf saw the value of publishing this book.

 

Derry:

I have been a friend and colleague of my coauthor for many years—too many to share in public! When she introduced me to the topic of learned optimism, I was eager to learn more. When she invited me to write this book with her, I knew this was something I had to do. We’ve written together in the past and it has always been a great experience. I think a focus on learned optimism in the early childhood years benefits children, teachers, and adult family members. To paraphrase Lilian Katz, it is something children can and should learn.

Making Lemonade
 

What resources exist for families looking to practice optimistic thinking?

Laura and Derry:

If parents want their child to be optimistic, they need to be optimistic role models themselves. In order to help them do this, we offer a number of handouts in our book that educators can share with families. In all, there are 10 handouts that cover these topics:

  • What optimism is and why it’s important
  • How we all have an explanatory style that explains whether we interpret events in our lives as pessimistic or optimistic
  • How family members can help their children develop an optimistic explanatory style
  • How parents can encourage their child to have a positive outlook
  • Five activities families can do at home with children to reinforce optimism

The activities focus on making up optimistic endings to stories, putting on optimistic plays, reading and discussing optimism-related books, planning activities to succeed, creating optimistic art, and using gratitude journals daily. These resources are intended for family members to use to develop their own optimism while they are helping their children learn to be more optimistic. The idea behind these resources is that if children receive the same messages about optimism at home as they get at school or in a FCC program, the content is reinforced and children are more likely to learn to be optimistic. If family members would like to read more about optimism, I would recommend two books by Martin Seligman who is the “father” of learned optimism: Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life and The Hope Circuit: A Psychologist's Journey from Helplessness to Optimism.

 

If a reader learned one thing from this book, what would you hope it to be?

Derry:

If you use optimistic thinking today, you have the power to enhance this skill. If you use pessimistic thinking, you can recognize the value of optimistic thinking and can learn to use it to ensure a happier and healthier life.

 

What is the biggest misconception about optimism?

Laura and Derry:

Actually, I think there are two major misconceptions. The first is that many people believe that we are born either optimists or pessimists and, like temperament, that is the way we are and always will be. The truth is that while there is a gene for optimism, it accounts for only 25% of our optimism. The other 75% comes from our environment, social support, and learned behaviors. Heredity is not destiny when it comes to optimism.

A second major misconception is that we are either all optimistic or all pessimistic. The truth is that optimism and pessimism are not end points on a continuum. Indeed, optimism and pessimism can co-exist in all of us. For example, we may be optimistic about our personal life and pessimistic about our work life. We live a happier life, though, when we keep the balance in favor of optimism.

 

What are the benefits of optimistic thinking?

Laura and Derry:

The benefits of being optimistic are numerous, profound, and well-documented by research. Optimists are healthier than pessimists and if they become ill, they recover faster. Optimists live an average of nine years longer than pessimists. Optimists do better in school at all levels, including preschool and kindergarten where they excel in skills like executive function, problem solving, and taking risks. Optimists do better in sports, both individually and on a team. Optimists also thrive more in their careers and tend to earn more than pessimists. Being an optimist makes us the proverbial healthy, wealthy, and wise.