There has been a global rise in the rates of mental illness, depression, stress and anxiety since World War IIi. This directly affects students’ wellbeing and ability to succeed in school. It also has a negative effect on school systems as the staff and teachers struggle to achieve their educational objectives. Therefore, eliminating these toxic pollutants from a child’s life is a top priority. The question becomes, to what extent can we prevent these things from occurring and how can we develop tools within the schools to address them effectively? Every parent and teacher would agree that they desire their students to engage positively with their learning experience in a way that builds their love of learning while promoting their overall fulfillment, joy and courage. Yet, few schools allocate resources toward these universal values. The field of positive psychology applied to education offers us tools to build the character traits that can prevent negative emotions and promote positivity. The following table describes some of these positive psychology character traits that COGx helps schools build:
Character strengths are the psychological processes or mechanisms that display, practice and cultivate moral virtues. These include: curiosity, love of learning, kindness, forgiveness, and self-regulation
CHARACTER EDUCATION – Character strengths are the psychological processes or mechanisms that display, practice and cultivate moral virtues. These include: curiosity, love of learning, kindness, forgiveness, and self-regulation
GRIT – Perseverance and passion for long-term goals
GROWTH MINDSET – Underlying belief about learning that people can get smarter over time and that effort makes stronger (read related article on The Growth Mindset Misconception)
RESILIENCE – The process of adapting to or recovering from difficult and stressful experience
Per the International Positive Education Network (IPEN), positive education is the combination of Academics + Character & Wellbeing. The non-academic component of the field encompasses more than the character traits in the table above. It also includes moral education, civic education, social emotional learning, and even the development of 21st century skills.
In understanding a learner, it needs to be an assumption that each is a unique web of emotion, cognition, and behavior. Cognition drives learning and when learning failures occur, they are most often due to a weakness in a core cognitive area responsible for academic achievement. Then, learning struggles and failures lead to negative emotions and habits towards learning. After all, it is rational to feel bad about failing after exerting a genuine effort to succeed. The negative emotions that positive education seeks to prevent are common side effects of weak cognition in the classroom, and these exist in every classroom. In this regard, positive education alone will fail to target the root cause for many students if it ignores the cognitive issue at the root of the struggle. Teaching grit, for example, will not enhance memory, but nor can memory be improved through a targeted and challenging program without a growth mindset in place. Therefore, it stands to reason, that cognitive enhancement is a necessary component of positive education. Implementing a program that builds the character traits of positive psychology but ignores the cognitive diversity that affects a student’s ability to learn is insufficient and could even provide false hope to the students that need this most.
In other words, a positive psychology program that targets these character traits may benefit those students that were already succeeding academically, while only addressing the symptom of those that would be in the greatest need of a positive program if it were tied to one that addressed their cognitive deficits. Decoupling emotion from cognition and behavior may exclude the populations with the greatest need for such a program. Successful learning—including developing a love for learning—requires a holistic approach that begins with an understanding of the learner’s cognitive profile, develops the skills they rely upon for learning, fosters a sense of ownership toward their learning process, and empowers them with the tools to embrace life-long learning.
1: Alford, Z., & White, M.A. (2015). Positive Schools Psychology. In White, M.A., and Murray, S. (2015). Evidence-based Approaches in Positive Education: Implementing a Strategic Framework for Well-being in Schools. Springer Press. Springer, Netherlands. Series Editor Ilona Boniwell, pp. 109-93.