Positive Psychology For Education

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.