Positive Education: Fostering Well-being and Academic Success in Students

Positive education is the result of integrating the principles of positive psychology to the classroom. It is very important to acknowledge, first, that positive psychology is a science and that it is grounded in empirical research. It is not about being happy all the time. It is not about trying to make students happy all the time. It is not about only looking on the bright side. The primary goal of positive psychology is to understand how and why humans flourish and enable all of us to cultivate those skills. Therefore, positive education views school as a place where students not only cultivate their intellectual minds, but also develop a broad set of character strengths, virtues, and competencies, which together support their well-being.1

In school environments, students interact with peers, adults, and the school community at large, and these interactions impact their learning experience. The social environment plays a critical role in student emotion and engagement in learning. Linda Darling-Hammond refers to learning as a “transactional process” that involves both students and educators finding productive ways to communicate and build trust. When done well, student anxiety decreases as motivation increases. Educators have the opportunity to offset the potential side effects of trauma by providing stability and empathy in addition to modeling constructive behaviors. Studies show that even one reliable adult improves the outcome of students who experience hardship. 2

Moreover, we can mention six essential components of positive education that have been adopted from Martin Seligman’s PERMA model:3

  1. positive emotions – experiencing hope, interest, joy, love, compassion, pride, amusement, and gratitude
  2. positive engagement – complete absorption in an activity
  3. positive relationships – interactions with individuals and the community
  4. positive purpose – having meaning in life 
  5. positive accomplishment – achieving mastery and competence
  6. positive health – physical well-being

These components must be experienced in our daily lives; therefore, educators must be intentional about embedding them in the curriculum and teaching them.

Based on everything we know about how emotions and stress can affect students, schools around the world have an obligation to teach the science of wellbeing so that we can equip students as best we can to deal with the inevitable stresses of life. Excitingly, research is showing that positive education has an impact in preparing kids to handle these stresses in a more effective way. Research from the University of Melbourne on Geelong Grammar’s positive education program has found that students can experience an increased level of wellbeing, increased satisfaction with life, increased strengths-knowledge, and increased strengths-use. There is also an emerging body of research showing that positive education can help enhance traditional school-based outcomes like academic performance.1, 4


  1. Bott, D., Escamilia, H., Kaufman, S., Barry, K., Margaret L., Krekel, C., Schlicht-Schmälzle, R., Seldon, A., Seligman, M., & White, M. (2017). The state of positive education. World Government Summit, Dubai, UAE.
  2. Darling-Hammond, L., & Cook-Harvey, C. M. (2018). Educating the whole child: Improving school climate to support student success. Learning Policy Institute.
  3. Madeson, M. (2017, February 24) Seligman’s PERMA+ model explained. A theory of well-being. PositivePsychology.com. https://positivepsychology.com/perma-model/
  4. Norrish, J. M., Williams, P., O’Connor, M., & Robinson, J. (2013). An applied framework for positive education. International Journal of Wellbeing, (2), p. 147. https://doi.org/10.5502/ijw.v3i2.2
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