Schools and other education institutions all over the world are increasingly recognising how valuable the field of positive psychology is to the learning and wellbeing of students. But ‘positive education’ is not simply about the learner; it is much bigger than that. It is about the whole education system, and the institutions, cultures and environments within it.
Over the last few months we’ve been talking to an increasing number of educators about positive education, and have heard no end of inspiring stories about the engaging and innovative practices teachers are introducing to the classroom. But we’ve heard very little about positive psychology being introduced into the staffroom.
I find it astonishing (and concerning) that teachers seem to put themselves at the bottom of the list when it comes to applying the learnings of positive psychology. If our teachers are to have flourishing, meaningful working lives they need to benefit from the lessons of positive psychology as much as the students they are teaching. Even more than that, our teachers will find it hard to be the best they can be in the classroom if they are not looking after their own wellbeing. Indeed research has suggested that there is a link between teacher wellbeing and student performance (Briner, 2007).
So what can leaders in education actually do to help teachers better manage their own wellbeing?
Whilst there are lots of options that could be beneficial and worthwhile, our teachers have immense pressures on their time and so any solution needs to be achievable within the constraints of already very busy working lives.
Given that, it seems sensible to focus on building on systems and processes that are already in place rather than introducing more. Taking an overtly strengths-based approach to staff development would be a good place to start. The concept of strengths is already very familiar to those using positive psychology in the classroom and we know that building on strengths can have a positive impact on both performance and wellbeing (e.g. Wood et al, 2011; Linley et al, 2010).
Small changes to performance review processes to encourage a much stronger focus on ‘what went well’ will help teachers to recognise and focus on their strengths. Supporting that with the development of cultures whereby teachers don’t just give positive feedback to learners, but also take time to give positive feedback to each other, could go a long way to making sure that our educators feel the benefits of positive psychology as much as their students.
Michele Deeks and Martin Galpin were facilitating a workshop at the first Festival of Positive Education, in Dallas this July, titled "Helping teachers flourish: using strengths to build an appreciative culture."