Author: Simon Zopfi, HS PE Teacher
The rise of positive psychology
“Dr. Seligman, how would you describe the state of the field of psychology today?” “Good.” “Okay, Dr. Seligman, that won’t do. We better give you two words…” “Not good.”
“Look, Dr. Seligman, we can see you’re not comfortable in this medium. The best we can do is give you three words…” “Not good enough.”
Dr. Seligman, the Head of the American Psychological Association at the time describes his interaction during an interview with CNN in his TED talk about Positive Psychology in 2004.
Until the late 1990’s psychology was the science of finding out “what’s wrong with you” and trying to get people from a constant state of suffering into a state of coping with everyday life.
A lot has changed over the last 20 or so years. Psychology still concerns itself with relieving suffering but the field has expanded further into the science behind human flourishing. Dr. Seligman himself launched the era of positive psychology in 1998 when taking on the role of Head of the APA and stood at the foundation of the development and implementation of his work in schools, calling it “Positive Education,” working with and living on campus of Geelong Grammar School (GGS) in Sydney for 6 months.
Researchers and teachers put their heads together and developed the Geelong Grammar School Model for Positive Education. A science-informed framework that outlines and guides the usage of positive education in schools. The foundation of the framework is built on students’ and staff’s character strengths, linked with 6 different areas being positive relationships, positive emotions, positive health, positive engagement, positive accomplishment and positive purpose. The outer layer encourages anyone to learn about Pos Ed, embed its theories in everyday practices and live its philosophy by paying it forward.
By no means is this the only model out there, nor is it claiming that the implementation in our work happens through this framework alone. Outstanding educators and people are highly likely to already apply many elements of Positive Education in and beyond their teaching spaces. Positive Education is also not the same as “happiology” yet recognizes life’s challenges, ups and downs and the struggle in search for meaning.
Positive Education in Schools
Schools can be stressful environments for both staff and students. Getting through piles of paperwork, lesson preparations and staff meetings can overload the systems on the regular.
Navigating the social landscape as a developing adolescent of friendships and first loves while submitting assignments, taking assessments, dealing with not making the school’s varsity team while deciding what you want to do with the rest of your life, are experiences that most students go through too.
Positive Education might be the light at, what sometimes feels like, the end of a long tunnel. Positive relations can be built in classrooms, hallways and meetings if we are more aware in our conversations and use active constructive responding. We create a more pleasant learning environment if we focus on people’s character strengths and the areas that they shine brightest in. Teaching about neuroplasticity will help students understand and believe in the moldability of their capabilities. This will in turn nurture a growth mindset and the development of grit, paving the way for positive accomplishment.
Positive accomplishment encourages intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy causing us to continuously engage in activities that we thrive in. Dedicating your time to something you are willing to work for and develop a passion around, can lead to peak performance and flow states or “being in the zone.”
Providing regular opportunities for staff and students to exercise, reducing the workload to support getting enough sleep and providing healthy snacks at work, all fall under the domain of positive health. People do better when they feel better and people who feel better do better too. Placing ourselves in the service of others by the ways of caregiving, service learning and supporting others around us, can lead to a sense of purpose and meaning for ourselves. Concepts that make life truly worth living.
The field of positive education is a fascinating area from which we can all benefit.
If you have made it to the end of this plea and you are as enthusiastic about it as I am, I strongly recommend looking into the 8-week professional learning course “Discovering Positive Education 2.0” by Geelong Grammar School. Enrolling in this comprehensive program is by far the best professional development I have come across and has changed the way I approach teaching and learning from here onwards.
Go well, friends…