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  • Writer's pictureElke Paul

Why Positive Education is not for the Faint of Heart

Positive Education teaches children how to develop their inner strengths, how to be at their best for themselves and others, how to learn from setbacks and how to live a meaningful life.

It is not another educational wave to pass quickly but a deliberate focus on life-guiding virtues and common-ground values mixed with the latest research on how to boost mental health and well-being. It equips us with a skill set and mindset that enables us to stay mentally and physically healthy, to be positively focused, and find balance in times of distractions, ample opportunities and numerous challenges.

Happiness and the ability to live a meaningful life is a skill set can and should be continuously trained.

Probably the biggest, that happiness is not a place, but also a process.(...) of fresh challenges, and it takes the right attitude and activities to continue to be happy.

For positive education to be authentic and for successful implementation, three attitudes are helpful:

Be curious.

Be courageous.

Be generous.


Be curious.

Start by knowing what are we good at and what do you need more of?

Become a detective of what well-being actions and knowledge are already in place within the school community to build on those assets.

Invite a “fresh pair of eyes” of, for example, a Positive Education consultant to help you gather observational and interview-based information on what works and what could use reshaping.

Evaluate. A well-being survey (like  for staff and students gives valuable information on how the people of the organisation are doing, which areas of well-being work for them and what they would like to have more of.

Be nosy. Creating a team of teachers/staff members and students/researchers helps to gain valuable data. Their views of the inner workings of the organisation is guaranteed to collect and generate solutions tailored to their unique organisation. Physical, organisational or curriculum key points helpful for positive education can be planted, and stressors or friction hotspots can be addressed.

Find the gold nuggets. A Whole-School Appreciative Inquiry process digs out existing organisational values and strengths, which serve as the foundation to base new well-being measures on, increasing the buy-in of all stakeholders.  

Extend your arm. Parent education serves to continue the well-being mindset at home. Children seeing their parents taking breaks and making healthy choices creates an upward spiral for the family and school community.


Be courageous!

Walk new pathways and be prepared to fail!

Train all staff. This means all staff, from the gardener to the principal, in the six pillars of Positive Education ENGAGE. This first takes time, money and combined effort, however, it is key for lasting change. Positive Education is a mindset, a new set of glasses to look through, and in parts it hopes to reshape our private and professional life towards more balance. All members of the community should have the chance to try out those glasses and become role models for our students.

How am I actually doing? Well-being requires awareness building. The individual and the organisation as a whole needs to get in the habit of asking this key question? At times that requires bravery. We or our team/class are not always in good condition. Admitting that without judgement is key towards positive and productive change.

Learn to fail or fail to learn. Trying new approaches implies failing. As a school, we want to celebrate failure as a learning opportunity. A growth mindset is a key component of Positive Education. We can’t expect students to be courageous and test new pathways or dare to be vulnerable at times if the organisation still operates in a culture of blame. How can it look like to celebrate failure? Perhaps by announcing each week one example of something that went “perfectly wrong” across the school, from facility management to the board and celebrating the effort behind it.

Be radical. Check your routines and way of thinking. With Positive Education pillars under your belt,  check again your school times, spacial usage, food supplies. Do those departmental meetings actually work or could most of them be replaced by a Google team drive? Could a walking meeting replace the board room approach? Why not turn staff- and classrooms into welcoming “living rooms”? Why not make your canteen the soul of the school instead of providing another “hospital canteen?” There are endless many ideas and we often say that they can’t be done. Why not?  Money is only part of the issue because many hands (and connections) can accomplish a lot.

Not everyone in the boat? New methods ask for new habits. Habits are hard to change. For example, short mindfulness sessions could be carried out at the beginning of class. Not every teacher or student will want to do that, and that is fine. Start with key agents willing to participate and allow others to walk at their own pace. A snowball starts small and gains traction over time.  

Positive education in a maths unit? Why not?  It depends on the lens we look through to drive our content. Different character strengths could be beneficial to solve different problems, sometimes the risk takers are successful, other times prudence leads the way. Academic knowledge can, for example, be combined with inner strengths.

Are we at our best? Is that who we want to be? This question sums up the bravery of well-being. It welcomes reflection and helps us to stay on the path or get back on it after having diverted back to old habits.  In a Positive Education school, you hear this question on an ongoing basis - the benchmark is set high, so is the reward.


Be generous!

Share your love, appreciation and knowledge!

Trust is key. Donna Hicks states in her groundwork on dignity to grant others the benefit of the doubt. Positive Education schools are based on a trust culture. Focus on what works and believe that generally, people in your organisation have good intentions until proven otherwise. Watch your inner thoughts regularly to catch yourself, as we all have the tendency to lean towards the negative.

“What doesn’t get appreciated gets depreciated.” Consciously look around for kindness, compassion and nice deeds done around you. If you catch someone doing an act of kindness, point it out and be thankful. Even little gestures like a door held open are signs of looking after each other. It starts with seedlings and grows into a school-wide habit of kindness and appreciation.

Seek out collaboration as often as possible. No need to invent the wheel again and again. There is so much knowledge dormant within organisations if we only knew and connected the dots we all would be much further ahead. Sharing great ideas, curriculum content or private achievements allows others to connect, learn and use your skills for the betterment of the community. An ever-changing strengths board, displaying the picture of the person and all sorts of strengths and skills in front of a class- or staff rooms are nice reminders of our capacities.

Well-being cuts across the competition. You might be in competition with other schools and fight for new prospective parents, however sharing knowledge on well-being and staying balanced goes beyond that. Invite other schools and the community to participate in learning about positive education and be eager to learn from others as well. As more awareness, we all raise on this topic as more well-being will take place.

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