Classroom wellbeing and positive education by Dr Helen O’Connor

posted by cerasmusteach on behalf of Dr Helen O’Connor for 2018 #cultureofwellbeingDGInset

I became interested in positive education when I attended a conference in London hosted by a member of the Geelong Grammar school in Australia, whose contribution to Positive education has been phenomenal. I was initially sceptical about whether a model of positivity and promoting good mental health could be applied in schools. Surely what schools commonly teach is academic subjects so how could there be any room for considering well-being in the curriculum? However, Geelong Grammar school have found a way of incorporating positive psychology into their education system in order to decrease depression in young people and enhance well-being and happiness, and their results are astounding. They suggest that schools wanting to replicate the model adapt it accordingly to their school and take aspects of it whilst respecting the framework and adapting to their schools.

There are many types of Positive education programs which usually define positive character as ‘core character strengths’ and the end goal is to help young people reveal these strengths and enhance their ability to engage in these strengths to develop a range of abilities.
There is an understanding amongst positive psychologists that a strength based intervention in education can be largely powerful and relatively simple to introduce. Geelong grammar School’s method of teaching and embedding positive psychology into the school has several different aspects and levels. Simply the model applies to the entire school. All the staff including teachers, administration, catering; everyone participates in the training programs to learn about positive education and how to apply it to their work, but also importantly how they may use it in the personal lives. For pupil’s positive education is taught in each aspect of the curriculum and there are regular timetabled lessons on positive education just as there would be for other subjects like math’s and geography.
Some simple ways of introducing positive education into schools are listed below and have been trialled in my own school where I am the resident psychologist with promising effect from staff and pupils. These are ideas and not a full programme but may all help promote the idea of introducing positive education as a comprehensive model:
• Feedback from teachers to pupils should be specific about the strength the pupil has been noticed using. For example, rather than saying they have done a good job a teacher
may wish to comment on the fact that they saw the pupil had persevered despite difficulties in understanding or grasping the concepts.

• Teach aspects of positive education across year groups to encourage a school wide approach to kindness and forgiveness. For example, suggest classes start a kindness ripple throughout the school, whereby pupils look out for others in aspects of their daily life and how they may help people. They can leave kindness calling cards to assist people in knowing that they have achieved a random act.

• Use tools (such as the at my strength online tool) to identify pupils and teachers character strengths. Once identified pupils can complete a number of tasks which identify how they have used character strengths, which they could use more, and those which they can develop further through activities. Character strengths allows pupils and teachers to not only focus on academics but also consider aspects of their trait performance in class which can lead to higher levels of happiness and productivity.

• A form book or class book in which pupils record what is “awesome” about their school on a week by week basis. Pupils can then reflect back on what other people have observed in moments when they may be struggling to help turn their negative thought patterns.

• Help pupils identify the range of emotions that we feel focusing on positive emotions and the benefits of these. Talk through the evolutionary purpose of the negative emotions but the lack of historical evidence to want to experience positive emotions. Explaining through tasks however the positive benefits of positive emotions on our well- being, citing research can be very powerful.

Research is clear the effects of Positive Education are both encouraging and optimistic. Positive education has been found to have a number of effects including: Promoting human development (making students more successful and having a lasting impact and change on student behaviour); Decreases depression (studies have shown that positive psychology interventions do increase happiness and decrease depressive symptoms significantly, Sin and Lyubomirksy, 2009); promotes positive teacher wellbeing (by creating a school culture that is kind, trusting, and it decreases difficult behaviours). Whilst promising results in research more is clearly needed to determine the effects on adolescents and the sustained approach to increasing happiness.

By Dr Helen O’Connor for #cultureofwellbeingDGInset