Positive education interventions are very slowly making their way into some mainstream schools and colleges. However, there are very few that offer a whole-school approach. Notable ones are Wellington College, an independent school in England and Geelong Grammar in Australia. These are both trailblazing institutions that are pioneers in the field of positive education.
What is positive education?
Positive education focuses on teaching students practical ways to boost their wellbeing. Students are taught ways to increase the amount of positive emotions they experience. Frequently the positive education curriculum is based on the PERMA model proposed by Martin Seligman. This model proposes that there are five factors that can be developed in all of us to aid flourishing.
P stands for positive emotions. These are cultivated through activities such as gratitude, kindness and savouring.
E stands for engagement which describes how involved students are in their tasks. Their involvement can be strengthened by helping students to identify and use their strengths when working on a task. When students are deeply engaged, they may enter a flow state where the degree of challenge is created that is appropriate for their skill level.
R stands for relationships, this includes improving the quality of our social connections, we can achieve this by helping students to feel part of a community and encouraging them to contribute to that community.
M stands for meaning and this involves helping students to find a sense of purpose and meaning in what they are doing. Often this is achieved by helping students to see how what they are doing is connected to something bigger than them such as a just cause.
A stands for accomplishment which refers to striving for achievements that help us grow as an individual. We can help students in this through scaffolded goal setting in order that they gain a sense of achievement which builds confidence.
Often the five factors are described as separate entities, however, I view them more as related self-perpetuating factors. For example, being engaged and in a state of flow boosts the positive emotions such as joy, satisfaction and interest. Experiencing positive emotions makes us more approachable and we are better able to build relationships with others. Finding a deep sense of meaning can boost feelings of awe and gratitude.
The positive helps with the negative
The rising tide of poor mental health of our young people is a deep-seated worry for many educators, psychologists and parents. Typically poor mental health has been addressed after the student has experienced this distressing state. This is where positive education has a large role to play. A positive education curriculum can be part of the preventative measures schools and colleges take to boost mental health. By helping students to feel a sense of connection, to find a sense of meaning and to boost their positive emotions, we can help build resilience in our young people. They will have internal resources that they can draw upon in times of difficulty which in turn has a buffering effect against potential negative experiences. Students become more resourceful and they are able to deal with successes and setbacks in a constructive way that promotes good mental health.
Positive education endows students with the skills to flourish that they can use throughout their lives.
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