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What Is Positive Education? How Can We Apply It?

What is Positive Education?

Positive education takes inspiration from Positive Psychology, an innovative branch of Psychology which also accepts meditation (Mindfulness) with no religious connotation.

As defined by the Positive Psychology Centre – University of Pennsylvania,  directed by Martin Seligman, Positive Psychology is the scientific study of human flourishing, and an applied approach to optimal functioning.  It is also the study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals, communities, and organizations to thrive.

The Geelong Grammar School, Institute of Positive Education considers that Positive Education brings together the science of Positive Psychology with best-practice teaching to encourage and support individuals, schools, and communities to flourish.

Flourishing refers to a combination of ‘feeling good and doing good’.

Positive education combines the traditional education principles with the study of happiness and wellbeing, especially Martin Seligman‘s PERMA model and the Values in Action (VIA) classification.

What is the PERMA Model?

PERMA includes five main elements that Seligman identifies as critical for long-term wellbeing.

P – Positive Emotions

The first one is Positive Emotions, where a positive emotion is a “multicomponent response tendency” that lasts a short period of time (Fredrickson, 2001). It is also referred to as a mental experience that is intense and pleasurable (Cabanac, 2002).

Feeling positive emotions include feelings of joy, gratitude, interest, satisfaction, hope, and many more.

For students (and adults) is very important to recognize the emotions they are feeling and to be able to give each one a specific name.

Emotional vocabulary is often restricted to “well”, “fine”, “ok”, “happy”, “depressed”, and “anxious” without considering the different shades of emotion.

This model is very interesting, it has been created by the Spanish positive psychologist Rafael Bisquerra, and his collaborators, which consider emotions as part of a large universe where they are connected to each other in different groups with clear and specific names.

E – Engagement

The second is Engagement, (also called Flow State), which corresponds to being fully absorbed in activities where we practice skills and engage in challenges while being immersed in feelings of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

There are different ways to boost “Flow” in the classroom, for example, by connecting the lesson with something your students enjoy doing, by challenging them with something which is not too difficult or not too easy, and/or by providing them with a pleasant environment to work.

R – Positive Relationship

The third is Positive Relationships, which refer to relationships that function as support in difficult moments and as a vehicle for growth, wellbeing, and joy in daily life.

The way we respond to others, the way we connect with others and the way we show gratitude to those who support us or who are part of our life can make a difference in creating positive relationships.

M – Meaning

Meaning is the fourth element of the PERMA Model, which we could define as finding significant value in something we believe in or something greater than ourselves. For some people, it can come with helping the community, religious or charity causes, family, or a professional/creative goal. Meaning has been found as correlating with greater happiness and life satisfaction increased motivation and maximized potential. Connecting school programs with class activities that are meaningful to students and for the community is really important to connect with a deeper sense of life and personal development.

A – Accomplishment

Accomplishment is the last aspect of the PERMA Model, which is geared toward developing and using the individual potential to achieve meaningful outcomes.

It includes reaching SMART Goals (specific, measurable, achievable, and realistic goals in a defined time frame), for sustaining motivation even when there are obstacles, and the ability to acknowledge oneself for one’s own personal successes.

H – The PERMAH Model: Health

Later, the PERMA Model was upgraded to PERMAH Model, where H stands for Health, an essential part of wellbeing, which covers aspects such as sleep, exercise, and diet, which are also part of a robust and positive education program (Norrish & Seligman, 2015).

The 24 Character Strengths Classification

Positive education programs usually include the practice of character strengths, taking the VIA Classification as a reference point, which is based on a classification of six categories of virtues. Each virtue gathers from a different set of character strengths.

The six virtues are: Wisdom/Knowledge, Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance, and Transcendence.

1 – Wisdom/Knowledge

In the virtue of Wisdom/Knowledge, we find the strengths of Creativity, Curiosity, Judgment, Love of Learning, andPerspective.

2 – Courage

The virtue Courage encompasses the strengths of Bravery, Perseverance, Honesty, and Zest/Enthusiasm.

3 – Humanity

The Virtue Humanity is composed by the strengths of Love, Kindness, and Social Intelligence.

4 – Justice

The Virtue of Justice is made up of the strengths of Teamwork, Fairness, and Leadership.

5 – Temperance

The Virtue of Temperance includes the strengths of Forgiveness, Humility/Modesty, Prudence, and Self Control.

6 – Transcendence

Finally, the virtue of Transcendence comprises the strengths of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, Gratitude, Hope, Humour, and Spirituality.

Exercising one’s signature strengths contributes to an increased sense of wellbeing, and lowers potential psychological distress in adults (Fava & Ruini, 2014). It also adds to greater life satisfaction and less depressive symptoms in children.

Some strengths are more associated with well-being than others.

For example, Zest and Hope, which both contribute to self-acceptance, are related to a positive and healthy relationship with one’s self (Harzer, 2016).

Zest means having a vital, enthusiastic and energetic approach to life, and Hope is intended as having positive expectations about the future, maintaining optimism about goals and the outcomes of achievement and action.

Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson discovered that the strengths of Curiosity, Zest, and Hope are related to three of the PERMA Model elements i.e. Meaning, Positive Emotions, and Engagement.

Curiosity can be defined as an interest in exploring and discovering experiences, for their own sake, and the ability to find subjects and topics fascinating.

Other research  (Weber et al., 2016) has shown that Perseverance, social intelligence, zest, and love of learning are related to positive mood at school.

Perseverance is defined as working hard and completing what one starts, despite obstacles and unexpected events that may arise.

Social intelligence means a person is aware of and can fit easily into, different social situations, responding to the behaviors and feelings of others in an appropriate (and positive) way.

In summary, exercising Curiosity, Hope, Zest, Perseverance, Social intelligence and love of learning will help students and educators to lead a healthy and happy life.

Two strengths, which have been found to correlate with wellbeing, are Self-control and Gratitude. Self-control means being able to regulate one’s impulses, emotions and reactions to help produce balance and development in life.

Gratitude is referred to as a cognitive-affective state, which is influenced by social/environmental aspects that make a person feel grateful for something which is received by someone or from the environment.

Acknowledging what each person receives from others increases their satisfaction in life, boosts positive relationships and gives light to hope.

Integrating positive education into school programs

Growth Mindset to grow together in schools

Besides strengths, another aspect school staff should care about is the staff’s “mindset” which is a key factor in positive growth.

Carol Dweck and colleagues (2006) studied, over a period of years, student’s attitudes about failure and coined the terms Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset.

In people with a Fixed Mindset, intelligence and talents are viewed as naturally determined and unchangeable, while people with a Growth Mindset see talent and intelligence as something flexible which can be developed with effort and persistence.

Growth Mindset people understand that they can get smarter and that effort in reaching a goal makes them stronger.  These kinds of people usually spend more time and effort on a task persisting until it is successfully accomplished.

A positive challenge and a collective effort

If a school’s staff has a mindset of growth, integrating positive psychology activities will be seen as a positive challenge as well as a collective effort.

It will also have a meaningful impact on students and the well-being of school staff and school will become a place where everybody “does good and feels good”.

Integrating positive education principles in an actual school program is possible for any school.

Teachers can practice activities inspired by the PERMA model or the 24 Strengths at the beginning, during, or at the end of a class period.

Schools can also consider and propose an entire “positive Week” or “positive Month”.

Conclusion

Integrating positive education principles into school programs IS possible.
A lot of schools are already practicing some of the aspects mentioned above, maybe without being fully aware of the paradigm of positive education.

And well being has as much importance as academic performance in developing a resilient and strong generation of the future, in our ever-changing world.

So, will you try implementing Positive Education in your classroom?
Have you already tried? How did it go?

Let me know your experience in the comments below!

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