Positive Psychology well-being benefits for school students

Positive Psychology well-being benefits for school students

Ways Positive Psychology has been producing significant well-being benefits for students and schools

In this article, I discuss positive psychology in schools, exploring what it has to offer young adolescents in high schools, by examining what and how some schools, have been using the theory and practices of positive psychology and evidence based outcomes that have been produced.

Since its early days, eagerness for positive psychology to enter the school education platform has grown. The development of a whole school positive education program developed by Martine Seligman for Geelong Grammar School in Victoria appears to have started the momentum (Green et al., 2011).

What is Positive Education?

The term ‘positive education’ is used to refer to positive psychology in its educational application. Many scholarly works and positive psychologists have argued on the extreme relevance to the school environment of Positive Psychology, in facilitating the development of high levels of psychological wellbeing, not only for students, but for staff and the whole school system (Green et al., 2011). Teachers as well, affirm the teaching links to the emotional health and well-being of students (Selva, 2020).

The fact that school children spend more time in school than any other institution in their life, with schools playing a major role in their development, is enough in itself to recognise the immense benefits that Positive Psychology can offer for students lifetime wellbeing (Platt et al., 2020). The science-based exercises that have been developed founded on PP, explore fundamental aspects of wellbeing such as strengths, values, self-compassion and more, offering many tools to enhance the wellbeing of students (Selva, 2020). A few will be mentioned in this article.

Positive education practice is embodied in what is called Positive Psychology interventions aimed to increase wellbeing through the “cultivation of positive feelings, cognitions and behaviours” (Sin &Lyubomirsky, 2009). Examples include: “identifying and developing strengths, cultivating gratitude and visualising best possible selves” (Seligman et al., 2005; Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2006) and others.

Positive education practice is embodied in what is called Positive Psychology interventions aimed to increase wellbeing through the “cultivation of positive feelings, cognitions and behaviours” (Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009)

Positive Results of Positive Psychology in Schools

Let me now explore some positive results so far. As the field of positive education window is still in its early stages, what we find are schools exploring how best to apply the science of wellbeing and develop the skills for life. Below are just a few instances of the positive results Positive Psychology is creating so far.

Geelong Grammar (Melbourne) wellbeing outcomes from the application of PP programs every year are promising. Students are taught units in “well-being topics such as resilience, gratitude, strengths, meaning, flow, positive relationships and positive emotion” (Seligman, 2013, p.89) Teachers also include into traditional subjects, some positive education goals to boost their well-being mission, for example incorporating ‘What went well?’ at the start of the day, to motivate positive feelings in students. Simple but revolutionary considering “students ranked their interest in school just above visiting a dentist.” (Seligman, 2013).

The Penn Resilience Program (PRP) and PERMA Workshops are evidence-based training programs that have been evidenced to “build resilience, well-being, and optimism” (Positive Psychology Center, 2021). Their strengths-based programs offer students practical skill sets they can implement in ordinary life to manage adversity and thrive. In addition, PRP is one of the most widely researched programmes aimed at preventing youth depression (Seligman et al., 2009). Over a million people globally have attended these. Since 1990, it has been used by many schools globally, and thousands of educators have participated in their program.

One of the many from the five pages of testimonials bears evidence of the positive impact of this program: “This HAS to be the way forward in examining schools and developing cultures that foster the future citizens of our world!” (Positive Psychology Center, 2021).

For 20 years, 21 studies evaluated PRP alongside control groups. Results included: “Reducing and preventing symptoms of depression, reducing hopelessness, increased optimism and well-being, prevention of clinical levels of depression and anxiety and more” (Seligman, 2013, p.82). It worked equally for children of different ethnicities and races. Naturally the higher the training and supervision teachers received, the higher the results.

Wellington College in the UK, also embarked on positive education initiatives, providing students with tools to nurture happiness. Lesson on wellbeing skills is offered fortnightly, including an understanding of what factors help one’s life to thrive and flourish (Green et al.,2011).

At Knox Grammar School, the school psychologist says, “The programs are comprehensive and based on good psychological science, embracing the paradigm of prevention and mental health and well-being” (SMH, 2014, 1 March). Gray’s Point Public School, NSW, has a Wellbeing multi-layered project where “whole school programs were developed based on the teaching of values” (Green et al.,2011, p.3). Leadership training gave students the chance to learn skills of wellbeing and emotional first aid.

Another program, The Bio-Dash program (Melbourne), for schools, supports building capacity and good functioning and can “help buffer negative mental health outcomes” and “teaches young people evidence-based wellbeing strategies to help them optimise performance, manage stress and build resilience”, states Furze (2019).

The PROSPER framework, is yet another example of how the application of positive psychology research to educational contexts can benefit schools. PROSPER stands for Positivity, Relationships, Outcomes, Strengths, Purpose, Engagement, and Resilience” (Noble et al 2015). Research evidencing student well-being results were summed up by the co-founder as: “positive relationships with peers and teachers; positive feelings and attitudes, resilience, self-knowledge, self-understanding and satisfaction with learning outcomes”(Noble et al 2015).

A substantial meta-analysis of 213 school social-emotional learning (positive education) programs which involved over 270,000 students, not only showed significant improvements in social-emotional skills and behaviour but also demonstrated a gain in academic achievement (Noble et al 2015).

To conclude, in the inspiring words of Seligman, “The time has come for a new prosperity…Learning to value and attain this new prosperity must start in the formative years of schooling…kindled by Positive Education” (Seligman et al., 2009). A giant step forward that has proved promising are collaborations, for example, Heathmont College, Melbourne collaborating with the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Positive Psychology researchers and experts are currently helping improve student wellbeing and education outcomes in the region.

As is expected, the need for continued empirical and scientific research and evaluation will continue to grow in the application of positive psychology in school education, to continue to expand the wellbeing of students during their school years and beyond with the invaluable wisdom, values and life skills that positive psychology offers.

    Written by Aisha Meguid
    Well-Being Teacher, Educator, Consultant & Coach

    This article is an excerpt from an essay written during my Masters Degree in Applied Positive Psychology (Melbourne University)

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