For the longest of times, the aim of education has been to bestow upon the next generation a body of knowledge that would serve as a treasure trove to be dipped in and out of during adult life. This breadth of knowledge was somewhat breath-taking in its expanse, particularly for the students who could memorise facts, muster the motivation to flit between far-flung fields and mobilize their skills upon entrance to the workforce.
Yet that which is striking is how much learning has taken place OUTSIDE of oneself. As if the student – or the brain – were simply an instrument through which we might explore the wider world, without stopping to examine the explorer themselves, the purpose of exploration or the real direction in which we wanted to drive our lives.
This lack of introspection- of being given the time and space to engage with some fundamental life questions- has led to students who have no real sense of self, no awareness of their unique strengths, talents and passions and no understanding of that which ignites their intrinsic motivation.
When attention has been given to who a student is at their core, all too often this has been to shine a light on attitudes, behaviour and achievement that were in some way ‘negative’. This deficit- based approach coincided with psychology at the time. A psychology in which the Negativity Bias of the brain reigned supreme. Quite simply, this bias assures that when faced with both the positive and the negative, a human will always hone in on that which could endanger their emotional,
psychological or physical survival- the negative. This means we must work hard to overcome this bias
and see the positive in life.
Yet education asked very few questions about that which was working well for students. That is until psychology was tipped upon its head. The advent of Positive Psychology at the end of the nineties saw a powerful paradigm shift, in which the question went from ‘what can go wrong with people?’ to ‘what can go very right with people?’
We will discover that which we seek to uncover. If we choose to look for that which works well within a person, we will be blinded by a vast array of character strengths, passions motivated from the inside, and core values anchored to a solid sense of self. We will be mesmerised by a Growth Mindset that has the courage to seek out challenge to grow. We will be in awe of an emotional agility that allows a person to navigate the toughest of times and thrive in the face of adversity.
Yet to reach this state of emotional and psychological engagement, enlightenment and empowerment, staff, students and parents need to ask and answer a series of questions. These questions are inspired by- and based upon- the research from Positive Psychology, the science of optimal human functioning.
These questions are:
- Who am I at my best?
- Where am I going?
- How am I going to get there?
- What are some quick ‘wins’ along the way?
The first question invites exploration into a person’s unique character strengths. Research is crystal clear about the powerfully positive impact made when applying one’s strengths to ever aspect of life. Relationships become fortified, engagement with work or studies is amplified, achievement skyrockets, resilience grows and our overall life satisfaction shoots up. The first question also invites us to dive into our identity. We tell our story and create a sense of self. We begin to decipher our ‘Authentic Self’ from our ‘Adaptive Self’. We examine that which matters most to us through an exploration of our values. Since values inform behavioural choice, this is key.
The second question asks us to create a compelling future vision. This might well be inspired by the central framework to Positive Psychology- PERMA. By teaching students some basic techniques to access more positive emotions, deeper levels of engagement, better relationships, a powerful sense of purpose/ meaning and a higher level of achievement, we
are equipping them with the skills to have a happy and fulfilled life. By inviting them to look at where they are now, imagine where they want to be and strategically create a pathway to bridge the gap between the two, we are equipping them with the autonomy, the selfefficacy and the motivation to get from A to B.
The third question is all about gaining the emotional and psychological skills to navigate the way when times get tough. Mastering the thought- emotion- behaviour cycle is key. By equipping students will a sound understanding of the role of emotions- both positive and negative- they can learn how freedom comes through recognising, acknowledging, and
expressing that which they feel.
The final question is about that which can give us an instant boost to our wellbeing, by learning the power of gratitude, kindness, and awe.
By feeling deeply connected to ourselves, those around us and the world at large. That is a life worth living and these are the kind of skills we should teach for all those who want to create such a life.
Positive Psychology invites people to discover who they really are, to dream of who they would like to be and to dare to take action and fulfil their potential.