Schools around the world are embracing the science of ‘positive psychology’ as part of their drive to create school cultures that exercise students to be confident learners. Yet many still believe that this trend towards ‘positive education’ is simply a matter of ‘thinking positively’.
Dr Suzy Green, Clinical and Coaching Psychologist and Founder of The Positivity Institute, debunks the myths that exist around this expectation to ‘think positive’ most of the time.
Myth 1 Positive education is about being happy all the time!
Positive Education is often misunderstood. It is not actually about ‘being happy’ or ‘thinking positively’ all of the time. Positive Education’s overall aim is to increase the flourishing of whole- school communities through adopting a multi- level approach to wellbeing that involves both the explicit teaching of wellbeing and implicit approaches aimed at creating positive school cultures that support wellbeing.
‘Thinking positively’ is not a magical solution to life’s problems. In fact, studies show this can backfire and have a negative impact when thinking is not based on reality. Instead, it is important that we help our children develop skills that equip them to approach life challenges. This means helping them to make the most of situations; trying always to see the best in other people; and viewing themselves and their abilities in a positive and productive light.
Myth 2 Positive psychology is a positive thinking movement
The positive thinking movement that began in the US in the 19th century is not the same as ‘Positive Psychology’, which is a clearly defined scientific field of study with a significant and growing body of research to support its application in schools.
Positive Education involves a range of evidence- based approaches aimed at enhancing resilience, wellbeing and achievement. Students and staff are encouraged to learn and apply ‘performance thinking’ (not positive thinking) techniques and turn automatic negative thoughts (ANTS) into performance-enhancing thoughts (PETS). These shifts in thinking can significantly affect student learning outcomes. ANTS can become self-fulfilling prophecies and actually create the feared outcome, such as failing a test. Whereas PETS help create a growth mindset where students learn that practice and effort lead to performance and results. Other topics that fall under the ‘Positive Education’ umbrella include character strengths, mindfulness and coaching.