“The fundamental goal of positive education is to promote flourishing or positive mental health within the school community.” (Norrish et. al., 2013)
Every parent wants the best for their children, they want their children to be happy and flourish. However, finding the right education can be a challenge…
This article contains:
- So What Is Positive Education?
- How To Apply Positive Education
- Positive Education Into Practice: The Jigsaw Classroom
- Martin Seligman’s Role in Positive Education
- The Character Growth Card
- Restorative Practices
- Introducing the Bounce Back Programme
- Building Resilience
- The Bounce Back Impact
- Further Positive Education Research
- Where Are We Now?
- Positive Education Videos
- Positive Education Books
So What Is Positive Education?
Positive education is the combination of traditional education with the study of happiness and well being, using Seligman‘s PERMA model and Values in Action (VIA) classification. Seligman has been working on incorporating positive psychology into education to decrease depression in younger people and enhance well being and happiness.
Positive education emphasises the importance of training the heart as well as the mind in education. Education has always focused on academics and fostering positive character strength development. However, before the publication of the ‘Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification‘ by Peterson and Seligman (2014) any efforts to endorse character strengths were derived from religious, cultural, or political bias.(Linkins et al., 2015)
“The VIA classification, however provides a cross-cultural relevant framework for ‘educating the heart’” (Linkins et al., 2015, Pg 65, paragraph 2).
Positive education programs usually define positive character as ‘core character strengths’ that are represented in the VIA’s six categories of virtue. These positive characters are external constructs that need to be nurtured (rather than being innate). The goal of positive education is to help reveal and develop the child’s ability to effectively engage their combination of character strengths (Linkins et al., 2015).
Find more sources on character strengths here to read and learn more.
How To Apply Positive Education
“A school curriculum that incorporates wellbeing will ideally prevent depression, increase life satisfaction, encourage social responsibility, promote creativity, foster learning and even enhance academic achievement.”(Waters, 2014)
How does positive education actually apply positive psychology and character strengths in practice? Strength-based interventions in educational systems is powerful and usually simple to introduce into schools. Geelong grammar School (GGS), in Australia, has been the model school for positive education and has been one of the first schools in applying positive psychology in a whole-school approach. (Norrish, et al., 2013)
GGS’s method of teaching and embedding positive psychology into the school has several different aspects and levels. All the teachers and even staff of the school participate in training programs to learn about positive education and the application into their work at the school and their personal lives. (Norrish, et al., 2013)
For the children, positive education is applied into every course; for example in art they explore the concept of ‘flourishing’ by creating a visual representation and their personal understanding. The student also have a regularly timetabled lesson on positive education just like any other class such as math’s and geography.(Norrish, et al., 2013)
At a more personal level, strength-based interventions also focus on the relationship of the teachers to the students. When a teacher gives feedback, they should be specific feedback about the strength the student demonstrated rather than a vague feedback such as “Good job!” Teachers are a big influence on their student in their day-to-day interactions and the simple attention to wording of positive reinforcement makes a difference. (Student spotlight: Bringing positive education to schools, 2014.)
Positive Education is “the development of educational environments that enable the learner to engage in established curricula in addition to knowledge and skills to develop their own and others’ wellbeing.” (Oades, Robinson, Green, & Spence, 2011, Pg 432, Paragraph 1)
Positive Education Into Practice: The Jigsaw Classroom
The tenets of positive psychology have been used to create several other teaching techniques that have proved to be extremely effective.
One of these is the jigsaw classroom, a technique in which students are split up into groups based on shared skills and competencies. Each student is assigned a different topic and told to find students from other groups who were given the same topic.
The result is that each group has a set of students with different strengths, collaborating to research the same topic. The influence of positive psychology has even extended to the classroom dynamic. In the ideal setup, more power is given to the students in choosing their own curriculum and students are given responsibility from a much younger age. In these types of classroom settings, students are often treated differently when it comes to praise and discipline.
A study of praise conducted by Elizabeth Hurlock found it a more effective classroom motivator than punishment regardless of age, gender, or ability. And when it comes to effective disciplinary practices, positive psychology has its own innovative approach as well.
More information about the Jigsaw Classroom can be found here.
Martin Seligman’s Role in Positive Education
Dr. Martin Seligman’s has been working on incorporating his expertise on positive psychology into education. He believes that positive psychology in education can decrease depression in younger people.
Seligman uses his PERMA model (the five elements of well-being) to teach in schools to help the students well-being and flourish.
P – Positive Emotions: Feeling positive emotions such as joy, gratitude, interest, hope.
E – Engagement: Being fully absorbed in activities that use your skills yet challenge you.
R – Relationships: Having positive relationships.
M – Meaning: Belonging to and serving something you believe is bigger than yourself.
A – Accomplishment: Pursuing success, winning achievement and mastery.
The Character Growth Card
In 2013, Canadian-American journalist Paul Tough wrote a book called “How Children Succeed“, in which he thoroughly justified that pure intelligence and academic competencies were not enough for students to succeed in school. He argued that instead, grit, resilience, and other character traits should be emphasized in schools, much more than they are now. Not only does it make plain sense (in terms of raising happy, productive kids), but doing so actually leads to better near-term academic performance for our students.
The acclaimed charter school network, KIPP, took many of these ideas and made them an official part of how they do things at their high schools. In what they used to call the character “report card”, students in KIPP schools were assigned grades not only for academic subjects like math and history, but also for how they well they performed (according to teacher observation) on a series of seven character traits that they culled from positive psychology research by Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Chris Peterson.
Now called the Character Growth Card, in order to emphasize potential for growth instead of the grade itself, KIPP’s system enables the formal discussion and measurement of traits outside of the academic ones school has traditionally measured. How do they actually teach these skills?
KIPP does it in a few ways: teachers model the positive behavior, call out positive examples of the character traits in action, and discuss the traits openly and explicitly. There is no formal curriculum around “zest” or “gratitude”, but KIPP faculty believe that calling out examples of behaviors modeling these traits when they naturally occur goes a long way.
Not everyone seems to think that KIPP’s method is the best. In this critique, Jeffrey Snyder argues that we don’t actually know how to teach character strengths and that numerically measuring it can do more harm than good. But, even critics of KIPP’s approach agree, as do we, that calling attention to character and positive psychology in schools is a huge step forward.
In a given school year, approximately 100,000 students will be expelled from public schools throughout the United States. Some of these students will not be able to return to a school in their entire state, and most others will be forced to leave their local public school for up to an entire school year. And when it comes to suspensions–where the student stays home for up to 10 days–the yearly count rises to 3 million.
Considering how many days of school and learning are lost to expulsions and suspensions, progressive school administrators around the country are starting to rethink how we discipline our kids. Sure, the offending behavior may have compromised the safety and learning environment of other kids. But is it likely to help the child learn from his or her mistakes, and not repeat their behavior once back in school? Or if expelled, are they likely to behave better in their new environments?
Many would argue the opposite; that these types of punishments serve to further alienate these children physically and emotionally from their peers, only making them more likely to repeat harmful behavior. What if there was another way?
Many say there is, and they call it “Restorative Practices”. The idea is that a child’s behavior warranting disciplinary action by her school is such because her behavior had a specific effect on her environment, and thus that effect is what is should be the primary focus of the disciplinary action.
For example, in a minor case, Maria’s excessive speaking out loud during class disrupts her peers’ ability to focus. In a traditional disciplinary setting, the teacher might simply ask Maria to stop talking, or give her a “time out”. In a restorative practice by contrast, the teacher would question Maria as to why she is speaking out of turn, what effect she’s having on the students around her, and whether she thinks it’s fair for the other students to be on the receiving end of that behavior.
In the extreme case, where a suspension or expulsion might be in store, such as the classic case of a student provoking and participating in a fight, the restorative practice would naturally be more formal. The child would participate in a meeting with other students and adult leaders in the school. They would discuss what spurred the student to start the fight, how it affected the others involved, and what might the student do instead if he found himself in a similar position–with a similar temptation–in the future.
The student might also be assigned activities or programs that would help prevent further fights. As discussed in this profile on restorative practice in Edweek, a student named Danny at Davidson Middle School in San Rafael recently went through this.
In his case, his disciplinary requirements included “writing letters of apology, undergoing tutoring, and joining a school sports team”. Does it work? According to one school district, “89 percent of those who go through restorative practices do not re-offend”. It also helps that the system was inspired from the “restorative justice” practices in the world of criminal justice, so it is not a new concept.
And when it comes to helping children actually learn and develop from their mistakes instead of facing arbitrary and potentially destructive punishments, it is a step in a logical direction.
Introducing the Bounce Back Programme
In 2003,McGrath and Noble devised a practical, cost effective and efficient classroom resiliency programme called Bounce Back. Although they argue that the earlier resilience is taught the more embedded it becomes, the most pressing need for it was in the transition into secondary school so this is where they started. It was aimed at upper primary and lower secondary school pupils as adolescence is a critical period of change and stress for pupils.
The package consisted of handbooks for teachers and workbooks and activities for pupils which were easy and quick to implement. They have since developed resources- lectures, novels, songs and on-line resources for primary schools.
The initial Bounce Back has evolved into PROSPER:
“a road map for the evidence based school and classroom practices that build student well-being and student engagement.”
Bounce Back addresses two key areas, the environmental factors that build up psychological capital and the personal coping skills that the students can learn. The importance of which has highlighted by many researchers such as Seligman (2007), Reivich and Shatte (2003) and Fredrickson (2009).
What Noble and McGrath did was to provide a series of practical day to day school activities that helped students feel connected to peers, their school and the community. They showed how schools could create a more supportive environment, not just within the school, but also through creating positive links with the family and community.
To help students develop their coping skills, the bounce back curriculum provides resources and suggestions for teachers and exercises for pupils. The exercises are designed to encourage pupils to develop optimism in the classroom and growing an accepting and light-hearted attitude.
Bounce Back provides practical tools such as a Responsibility Pie Chart (RPC), which guides children to realise that all negative situations are a combination of 3 factors: their own behaviour, the behaviour of others and random events.
Using the RPC to understand a specific negative event helps pupils learn what they can change and what they can’t. It helps develop their initiative and responsibility. Exercises are integrated into lessons in the form of questions, book reviews, songs and games.
The Bounce Back Impact
Bounce Back was the first positive education programme in the world and won several awards. At the time there was nothing else that offered a practical yet evidence based approach.
The principles were useful for other client groups—participants in Possibility Place, a programme to boost resilience and confidence in the long term unemployed found the RPC very useful in preventing people “beating themselves up” over things that were not their fault and learning to understand what they could do to resolve the situation.
To paraphrase the words of St Francis, Bounce Back teaches you to accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can and learn to tell the difference between the two.
Bounce Back is a wonderful example of how positive psychology research can be transmuted into tools to help people flourish.
Further Positive Education Research
“A central question of youth development is how to get adolescents’ fires lit, how to have them develop the complex of dispositions and skills needed to take charge of their lives.” (Larson, 2000)
Positive Education promotes human development
Sheila M. Clonan and colleagues (2004) found that that the incorporation of positive psychology in learning environments helped foster individual strengths. It served as a preventative focus, promoted the development of positive institutions, and it made students more successful. Positive education also showed to have a more lasting impact and change on student behavior.
Teaches students how to make themselves happy
In some schools with Positive Education, young boys and girls aged 14 to 15 completed a 40-minute timetabled lesson on the skills of wellbeing every 2 weeks for 2 years. They found that the students were able to gain a full understanding of what factors helped a life thrive, flourish, as well as teach them some practical skills for everyday use (Green, 2015).
Positive psychology interventions that are used in Positive Education include identifying and developing strengths, cultivating gratitude, and visualizing best possible selves (Seligman et al., 2005; Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2006). A meta-analysis conducted by Sin and Lyubomirksy (2009) with 4,266 participants found that positive psychology interventions do increase happiness and decrease depressive symptoms significantly.
Happy students make high achievers
Compared to unhappy students, happier students pay better attention, are more creative, and have greater levels of community involvement (Fisher, 2015). The emphasis on positive psychology interventions in education increases engagement, creates more curious students, and helps develop and overall love of learning (Fisher, 2015).
Makes teachers’ lives easier
Positive education benefits the teacher, too. It is easier to engage with students and persist in the work they need to do master their academic material (Fisher, 2015). It creates a school culture that is caring, trusting, and it prevents problem behavior.
Higher motivation among students
In relation to achievement goals, expectancy beliefs, and value it is found that task goals associated positively with optimism resulted in a highly motivated student (Fadlelmula, 2010). Research has shown that motivation may be consistent and long-term if it is always paired with positive psychology interventions.
Boost in resiliency
The Penn Resiliency Program (PRP) was developed by researchers at the university of Pennsylvania. Results from 19 controlled studies of PRP found that students who receive PRP were more optimistic, resilient, and hopeful. Their scores on standardized tests increased by 11% and they had less anxiety approaching exams.
Limitations in Research
More research on adolescent populations is still required to see its impact and efficacy. However, interest in applying positive psychology interventions with youth in schools is growing rapidly.
Also, many of the studies are being conducted on adults, such as college students. The issue with that is that the research is not generalizable to the youth community. At this current time, there are aren’t enough studies being done to claim wholeheartedly that positive education is the number 1 route to education. However, the research findings have been promising so far and time will tell what the future holds for positive education.
Where Are We Now?
In the time since Martin Seligman established the basic tenets of positive psychology, they have been implemented worldwide in many different ways. While the objective of giving students the tools to make meaningful relationships, feel good, become well-rounded, and bring positivity to everything that they do is common among all positive institutions, each has its own approach to doing so.
For example, Perth College (an Anglican school for girls in Western Australia) trains its staff in positive psychology and coaching (see how these two fit together here) and have full units on ethical issues and social justice.
With the success of many of these approaches and no single dominant method, many organizations are starting to grow in an attempt to consolidate and organize the efforts among different schools.
The International Positive Education Network (IPEN) is one of several institutions attempting to figure out what is working and spread it through means such as conferences and even policy reform.
Research conducted over the last two decades has suggested that these sorts of initiatives lead to students growing up with higher levels of creativity, leadership skills, and emotional intelligence. Furthermore, they even lead to improved academic performance and significantly better mental health. With the unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression in the world today, proactively raising children to effectively handle these problems may be the best antidote we can provide.
Positive Education Videos
What is Positive Education?
This video gives a very brief introduction to Positive Education and the role it can have on a student’s wellbeing. It also delves into what specific techniques are applied from positive psychology.
Positive Education: Overcoming disadvantage
How do Positive Education instructors teach and observe the students differently than traditional ones? The video shows teachers reflecting on the program and discuss the benefits of “talking back”, focusing on what’s right with children and teenagers, and re-culturing a school’s mindset into a new way of thinking.
Positive Education; teaching wellbeing
Geelong Grammar is taking an innovating approach in their students’ well-being. In this video, they show how they help them cope with the stressors of life and give you a little glimpse of what goes on in a Positive Education classroom. It’s a particularly incredible video to watch, as you see how self-aware the students are.
Positive Education at Perth College, Anglican School for Girls
This video focuses on a school that has wholly implemented Positive Education into their school program. It outlines how educators incorporate Positive Education for every age group, how they help their students flourish, and the results it has had on the staff, too.
More information about positive education?
If you’re interested in learning more about Positive Education, be sure to visit:
At the Geelong Grammar School, they believe that wellbeing should be at the heart of education. As such, they have implemented a whole-school approach to Positive Education. This means that the principles of personal wellbeing are not only taught to students, but also to parents, teaching and non-teaching staff, and the wider community.
IPEN is a network that aims to bring teachers, parents, academics, student, schools, colleges, universities, charities, companies, and governments together to promote positive education.
PESA is a school association working on embedding Positive Psychology into school programs, aiming to improve student wellbeing and academic performance. This association help schools and individual teachers to gain access to resources, the latest research, and enabling connections to the leaders in the field of Positive Psychology.
Positive education books
Positive Education Books
Adams, M. (2013). Teaching that changes lives: 12 mindset tools for igniting the love of learning. Berrett-Koehler.
Bruehl, M. (2011). Playful learning: Develop your child's sense of joy and wonder. Boston: Trumpeter.
Buller, J. (2013). Positive academic leadership: How to stop putting out fires and start making a difference. Jossey-Bass.
Canter, L. (2009). Lee Canter's assertive discipline: Positive behavior management for today's classroom (4th ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Crimmins, D., Farrel, A., Smith, P., & Bailey, A. (2007). Positive strategies for students with behavior problems. Baltimore: Brookes Pub.
Crone, D., Hawken, L. S., Horner, R. (2015). Building Positive Behavior Support Systems in Schools, Second Edition: Functional Behavioral Assessment (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
David, D., & Sheth, S. (2009). Mindful teaching & teaching mindfulness: A guide for anyone who teaches anything. Somerville MA: Wisdom Publications.
Froh, J. J., & Parks, A. C. (2012). Activities for teaching positive psychology: A guide for instructors. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Ginsburg, K., & Jablow, M. (2014). Building resilience in children and teens: Giving kids roots and wings (3rd ed.). Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
Joseph, S. (2015). Positive psychology in practice: Promoting human flourishing in work, health, education, and everyday life (2nd ed.). Wiley.
Morrison, M. (2007). Using humor to maximize learning the links between positive emotions and education. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Education.
Nelson, J., Lott, L., & Glenn, S. (2000). Positive Discipline in the Classroom: Developing Mutual Respect, Cooperation, and Responsibility in Your Classroom. Harmony.
Nelson, J., Escobar, L., Ortolano, K., Duffy, R., & Owen-Sohocki, D. (2001). Positive Discipline: A Teacher's A-Z Guide, Revised 2nd Edition: Hundreds of Solutions for Every Possible Classroom Behavior Problem (2nd ed.). Harmony.
Chute, E. (2014). Can positive student-teacher relationships improve math scores? Retrieved from http://www.post-gazette.com/news/education/2014/12/29/Can-positive-student-teacher-relations-improve-math-scores/stories/201412230167
Clonan, S. M., Chafouleas, S. M., McDougal, J. L., & Riley-Tillman, T. C. (2004). Positive psychology goes to school: Are we there yet? Psychology in The Schools. doi:10.1002/pits.10142
Fadlelmula, F. K. (2010). Educational motivation and students’ achievement goal orientations. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.03.116
Fisher, S. (2014). Positive Education | Positive Education Tutoring, Coaching & Consultant | Sherri Fisher, MAPP, M.Ed. Retrieved from http://sherrifisher.com/positive-education/
Green, S. (2011). Australian Psychological Society:Positive education: Creating flourishing students, staff and schools. Retrieved from https://www.psychology.org.au/publications/inpsych/2011/april/green/
In White, M. A., In Murray, A. S., & Seligman, M. E. (2015). Evidence-based approaches in positive education: Implementing a strategic framework for well-being in schools.
Linkins, M., Niemiec, R. M., Gillham, J., & Mayerson, D. (2015). Through the lens of strength: A framework for educating the heart. The Journal Of Positive Psychology, 10(1), 64-68. doi:10.1080/17439760.2014.888581
Norrish, J. M., Williams, P., O'Connor, M., & Robinson, J. (2013). An applied framework for positive education. International Journal of Wellbeing, 3(2).
Oades, L. G., Robinson, P., Green, S., & Spence, G. B. (2011). Towards a positive university. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 6(6), 432-439.
Seligman, M. E., Ernst, R. M., Gillham, J., Reivich, K., & Linkins, M. (2009). Positive education: positive psychology and classroom interventions. Oxford Review of Education, 35(3), 293-311. doi:10.1080/03054980902934563
Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). How to increase and sustain positive emotion: The effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves. The Journal of Positive Psychology. doi:10.1080/17439760500510676
Sin, N. L., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2009). Enhancing well-being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions: a practice-friendly meta-analysis.Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65(5), 467-487. doi:10.1002/jclp.20593
Student spotlight: Bringing positive education to schools. (2014). Retrieved from http://langleygroupinstitute.com/bringing-positive-education-to-schools-to-promote-whole-school-wellbeing/