I had one of the best and most inspirational days of professional development today, exploring the world of Positive Education with expert speakers and like-minded educators. There were so many highlights that it would be impossible to summarise them all here.
Instead, I have provided below a summary of some of the key points from the opening Keynote address by Assoc Prof Lea Waters, who looked why it is so important to understand Positive Education, and try to incorporate it into our practice.
“The Why of Positive Education”
Assoc Prof Lea Waters, University of Melbourne
Looking at why Positive Psychology matters
The key driving factor for “why?” is the statistics which show mental illness and depression in young people. The severity and youth of sufferers are also increasing. Of great concern also is the likelihood of underreporting and the number of subclinical cases.
These issues were brought into focus by a poem which Waters showed, called The Lost Generation. Watch it now.
Waters described the poem as “a lovely palindrome to reflect the field of positive psychology”. I think it is genius, and it certainly produced an emotional reaction.
Research, PP and Education
Waters presents Peterson’s (2008) of definition of PP
Positive Psychology is a relatively new branch of psychology that conducts scientific inquiry into the factors that help individuals, communities and organisations thrive by building on their strengths and virtues.
She then looked at research in the field, including her own, highlighting that schools have a unique reach to support young people.
One of the main windows into understanding PP is Professor Corey Keyes’ Two factor theory. On the left are the more traditional strategies of removing negative states – the usual focus of psychology. On the right, the more rarely used strategies for promoting positive states.
Removing negative states
Promoting positive states
|Take away obstacles||
Bringing in enablers
Waters’ research shows that in 1992 only 1% of articles in psychology journals focussed on promoting positive states. In 20 years that has risen to over 4%. Still, more that 95% of research published focuses on removing negative states.
PP, as a field, is interested in bringing both of the factors together. “Why do we wait until something goes wrong?” Seligman talks about PP as a psychological immunisation. The aim is to turn psychology into a profession of prevention, rather than reaction.
Promoting positive states has clear clinical benefits. It was also made clear that absence of illness is not the same as wellness. This means that it is beneficial for all students. Not just those who are ill or at risk.
Another key point is to be aware of what PP is not. Positive psychology is about resilience thinking, not positive thinking.
Literacy, numeracy and wellbeing should be our aims aim primary school. Wellbeing, like the other two, is teachable and learnable. It not only supports the others, but also so many aspects of education and child development.
The academic benefits of PP programs were also reviewed by Waters (link). Students enrolled in social and emotional learning programs ranked 11% points higher on achievement test (controlled for many variables)
Programs are useful, but infusing wellbeing into your practice is the key.
It seemed clear to me that this is an area well worth exploring. It has far reaching implications, can make real differences to student wellbeing and academic outcomes, and is evidence-based. What’s more, it feels right and is easy to start. Personally, I have identified language and practice changes which I can make on Monday.