What is it?
Positive education is an approach to education informed by the growing body of evidence behind positive psychology. It values both academic learning and character development, encouraging a focus on well-being.
Many areas within positive education overlap with other non-academic skill formation programs such as Social Emotional Learning (SEL), Personal Social Health Education (PSHE), Character and Citizenship Education.
The key difference is that positive education uses:
“empirically validated and scientifically informed interventions and programs from positive psychology that have an impact on student well-being.”(White & Murray, 2015, p.xiii).
Of course, these interventions and programs can work with and complement existing practices which are already being successfully used within schools. What works best for a school should be taken and used – there is no blueprint or doctrine – it must fit with the values and ethos of the school if it’s going to have a lasting positive impact.
How is it delivered?
Positive education can either be explicitly taught, woven into the school culture/values or both.
Taught: As stand-alone lessons – there are various curriculums available with lesson plans and resources such as Bounce Back!, Personal Well-being Lessons for Secondary Schools, Happy Classrooms Program, Zippy’s and Apple’s Friends, Strengths Gym or the training offered by the Penn Resilience Program.
Blended into core subjects – a good example of this is provided by Jennifer Fox Eades with the use of storytelling to build emotional, social and academic skills.
Caught: Built and embedded into the school ethos, expectations and culture. Research has shown that this is most effective. A common language is built and the whole school community – children, staff, leadership and parents are encouraged to get involved, creating the opportunity for longer lasting impact.
For those interested in a ‘bigger picture’ sustainable approach to happiness which takes into consideration the impact of our actions on other people and the natural environment, the free ‘Teachers’ Guide to Sustainable Happiness’ by Dr Catherine O’Brien offers useful ideas for lesson plans and activities.
Why is it useful?
- There are increased reports of anxiety and depression amongst young people
- Self-reported levels of life satisfaction are low
- Research has shown that positive psychology practices can enhance well-being
- Skills such as positive emotions, resilience, optimism, engagement and meaning can be taught to schoolchildren
- Personal strengths are identified and developed
- Positive emotions lead to an increased ability to learn/be creative/problem solve
- Academic learning, character and well-being are equally valued and developed = holistic, well rounded education for children
Two useful documents for further reference are The State of Positive Education (2017) and Global Happiness and Wellbeing Policy Report (2019), Chapter 4: Positive Education.
In the next post on education, some suggested starting points for further exploring positive education will be shared. Online access to practical resources, further reading, webinars and opportunities to network with other educators will provide you with a deeper understanding of what positive education is and how it could be successfully established in your school.
Thanks for reading!