What Makes a Great Positive Educator?

Positive education is all about encouraging a greater balance between academic achievement and emotional wellbeing within our schools.  Of course the development of skills and knowledge should be a primary focus of educators, but schools can (and should) be much more than that.

At its best, our education system can help young people to develop the capacity to live a resilient, happy and fulfilling life.  And the most important people in making that vision a reality are the teachers.

Unfortunately, because policy makers in many parts of the world have yet to fully embrace positive education, teachers are rarely given the time, tools or licence to focus on what some consider to be ‘soft and fluffy’ issues.  So when a teacher becomes an exemplar of positive education, it is often despite the system rather than because of it.

Given that development of character strengths in students is such a key component of how positive education is put into practise, we couldn’t help wondering what strengths these pioneering positive teachers demonstrate themselves.

Investigating the strengths of positive teachers

This summer, we were fortunate enough to join over 800 people from around the world for the very first Festival of Positive Education, held in Dallas, Texas.  Ahead of that landmark event, we thought it would be fun to ask delegates about the positive educators they’d come across in their lives and give them an opportunity to reflect on what strengths they most appreciated in them.

Using an adapted version of the new At My Best online tools, and with the support of the conference organisers IPEN (the International Positive Education Network), we invited delegates to take part in a short online card-sort activity.  The simple process asked attendees to recall a specific individual who, for them, exemplified positive education (i.e. supporting wellbeing and resilience development as well as academic).  Keeping this person in mind, they then:

  • selected that teacher’s top four strengths (from 24 single words)
  • looked through a selection of photos to pick the one that best represented that teacher at his/her best
  • wrote a brief narrative of why that image reflected that teacher’s qualities.

As well as giving respondents the opportunity to appreciate the particular individual they were thinking of, we were able to collect the group level outputs.  It was fascinating to see what qualities were most valued in these pioneering positive educators.

Passion shines through

The strengths cloud below reflects how frequently different strengths were picked out in the card sort activity.



‘Passionate’ was the strength chosen the most, suggesting that many of the best positive educators openly show their enthusiasm for teaching.  This is surely good news all round.  We know from research that loving what you do is good for your own wellbeing, so being passionate about their work should help teachers to flourish.  Also the enthusing of positive educators will be hugely beneficial to students who are likely to benefit from the ripple effects of their teachers’ enjoyment and engagement.


It’s interesting that ‘supportive’ and ‘approachable’, along with ‘positive’, were chosen almost as often as passionate.  A good reminder of the importance of relational strengths in the classroom.  Indeed many of the stories people told were about the strong connections and relationships positive educators develop with their students.


Differing perspectives

We were curious about whether different groups of respondents had different views as to what makes a great positive educator.  Interestingly, there was a high level of consistency.  Here are the strengths clouds split by gender:

Strengths appreciated by men

Strengths appreciated by women

There were also relatively few differences in how different occupations responded:

Strengths appreciated by educators

Strengths appreciated by practitioners

Strengths appreciated by others


A broad range of strengths are valued

Whilst some strengths may be observed more often than others, it was apparent that great positive educators are appreciated for their broad range of strengths.  Perhaps the biggest message to take away is that positive educators make the most of their strengths in the classroom and they encourage their students to do the same.

Who took part?

We’re grateful to the 54 people, from around the world, took part in this activity. 40 were women and 14 were men.

Where do they live?


What jobs do they do?

Find out more

This activity used an adapted version of the free At My Best online tool.  If you would like to explore your own strengths or discover what strengths other people appreciate in you, find out more here.

To learn more about positive education and the second Festival of Positive Education in 2018, visit the IPEN website.

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