Is Toxic Positivity Taking Over Our Schools?

Hero image
Updated | 3 min read

In a survey completed in 2021 by NEiTA – Ace the ‘Teachers Report Card’ many teachers reported very high workplace stress. As human beings, our natural instinct is to create an optimistic, positive environment to work through difficult situations, however, is this doing more harm than good?

To help us get a grasp on what is happening in schools with toxic positivity, we chatted to our good friend, Ceri Sandford from @winewithteacher.

What is Toxic Positivity?

You may have heard it thrown around on social media, and it’s becoming more and more discussed in the teaching profession. But, what exactly is toxic positivity? The Psychology Group defines toxic positivity as “the excessive and ineffective overgeneralisation of a happy, optimistic state across all situations.” Now, we know the benefits of optimism and positive thinking, there is definitely a place for them, particularly when working through difficult situations. However, it’s the overuse of this positive thinking and refusing to acknowledge the challenges and struggles with teaching that causes this toxic positive environment.

“Refusing to acknowledge the challenges and struggles in teaching right now is the very definition of toxic positivity.” – Ceri Sandford (teacher and advocate for teachers).

Ceri believes that this type of environment is in schools across the nation. And, ignoring these issues does not mean they don’t exist, it simply means that the issues will continue to fester and spread through the education world.

“We want to be seen, heard, and supported. We want to know that we are valued by our leaders. We want to know that you have our backs when times get tough.” – Ceri 

Passion Doesn’t Pay the Bills

As a teacher, the most common theme that will often appear is – ‘You chose to become a teacher, so you should not complain about anything’. It’s the constant positive messages of ‘You’ve got this!’ and ‘Keep smiling!’. It’s the pressure to keep soldiering on, despite the fact that you’re losing every non-contact time for planning and you’re working at home to just get your lesson planning done.

“Toxic positivity is the hand over the mouth of a teacher who is crying out for help.” – Ceri 

Don’t get us wrong, the positive teacher affirmations certainly have a place, but it also needs to be mixed with messages of support and understanding. We understand the struggles and challenges in the teaching world – what can we do to alleviate these?

Teachers – Speak Up!

So, if you’re a teacher who believes they are currently working in a toxic environment, here’s what Ceri says you can do right now:

Tell your leaders that you want an anonymous google survey with staff feelings feedback. A check-in on how staff are genuinely feeling about what’s happening in your school. It needs to give staff the opportunity to voice what is working, and what isn’t, what you need more or less of, and any actions to be taken.  

Here are some other things you can do to stop ‘buying’ into toxic positivity:

  • Listen more than you speak.
  • Create a safe space for conversations or feedback.
  • Ask whether someone wants advice or a listening ear.
  • Understand it’s okay for people to love teaching AND acknowledge the tough parts.
  • Check out Ceri’s Teacher Wellbeing Club – a teaching community where you can feel seen, heard and genuinely supported.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about toxic positivity – head to our Facebook page – Teacher Talk and post your views.


Log in to comment
  • Darren Roxburgh

    Our teachers just keep getting bombarded with more and more time being watched, profiled, and never ending meetings with committees for everything and we are told that the bad vibe is the staff problem not the "leadership team's" problem and if we don't like it, transfer out.

    • Holly (Teach Starter)

      Hey Darren, thanks for your comment. I truly hope that some of the tips Ceri has mentioned at the bottom of the blog can help in someway. And, we hope that by writing this blog and sharing it we are able to highlight this issue to the wider community.

Get more inspiration
delivered to your inbox!

Receive the Teach Starter newsletter full of tips, news and resources with your free membership.

Sign Up