Positive Education


Positive Education is a new trend in the field of Education that introduces the science of positive psychology into the school curriculum. Dr. Martin Seligman is the pioneer of both positive psychology and positive education. He has successfully seen his research-oriented approach implemented at the Geelong Grammar School in Australia.

In Seligman’s book, Flourish, he explains the need for positive psychology to be integrated into education: “I want a revolution world education. All young people need to learn workplace skills” (Seligman 2011). He explains that when asked, parents prioritize their children’s wellbeing as being of the utmost importance. This should guide the approach that we as educators take in approaching the school curriculum that we plan for our students. Dr. Seligman goes further to explain how this can be done. Strategies include having students take an online quiz to determine their top character strengths, and then incorporating those strengths into the classroom. This can be done in multiple ways. One example is choosing “A Character Strength of the Week,” and then having students nominate fellow classmates every Friday to see who has best demonstrated that strength during the week. It encourages positive thinking, social comrade, and self-esteem. These are essential valued traits within positive psychology.

Another example is using the topic of character strengths within the context of English class. This particular example would be used in a high school curriculum; however, the act of using character strengths in English class can be adapted at the elementary level. The teacher can take the Shakespeare play Hamlet and encourage students to pick out which character strengths each character is exhibiting. The lesson can then be directed into a writing assignment that the students complete outside of class. One more example that is more closely suited for the elementary aged student is the “What Went Well” exercise. Students write down three things that went well the night before [if done at the end of the day, it can be adapted to include what went well during the school day]. After each item on their list, students answer three questions: Why did this happen? What does this mean? And how can I make this happen again in the future?

Although an initial concern might be that diverting attention off of academic performance will disadvantage America’s youth, Seligman disagrees. Seligman wisely asserts, “I am all for success… but I want you to imagine that schools could, without compromising [success], teach both the skills of wellbeing and the skills of achievement” (Seligman 2011). In other words, the two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, based upon the successful execution of positive education at Geelong Grammar School in Australia, positive education has the ability to raise attendance, lower drop-outs, and raise test scores. The explanation is simple. When students are taught the building blocks of resiliency, which in a nut shell is the ability to bounce back from adversity (Seligman 2011), they are more likely to develop the two academic skills that actually determine success: self-control and grit.

Dr. Angela Duckworth has experience teaching elementary aged children in addition to her subsequent Ph.D. in Psychology. She discovered that what determines students’ academic success is not found in a summative equation of intelligence added to the number of hours studied. She cites a multiplicative approach that is comprised of skill times effort. The crucial piece of this formula is that effort is very much dependent on the level of “grit” that a student has. Duckworth defines grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” (Duckworth 2013). Another definition of hers included “sticking with things over the very long term until you master them” (Duckworth 2016). Duckworth elaborates, “the gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina” (Duckworth 2016).

A marathon is such a fitting analogy for Education. When one considers the way that education began in historic one-room schoolhouse rooms, crowding multiple grades into a single room warmed by a potbelly stove, education epitomizes the long-term progress required in a marathon. There may be a race. We may even be in competition with other countries, but short bursts of energy will not get us to the finish line.


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