Several positive education programs have been successfully implemented in many different countries at all levels with significant outcomes.
Martin Seligman’s group of researchers of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania has been training teachers worldwide in the techniques of Positive Education.
The first school that integrated positive psychology into areas of curricular and co-curricular programs was Geelong Grammar School, which in 2008 started to pursue both accomplishment and wellbeing of the whole school (students, teachers and staff). The skills of positive psychology (resilience, character strengths, gratitude, positive communication, optimism) were taught to about 100 members of the faculty by 15 Penn trainers for nine days.
Teachers were shown how to use these skills in their own personal and professional lives,
and how to teach them to students.
Positive education was both taught in courses (in 2009, Geelong had a year-round Positive Education course, teaching content and skills leading to wellbeing) and embedded in the curricula.
Geelong Project pioneered the development and application of Positive Education and has been shared with educators around the world, which has validated the idea that happy schools are possible.
Three more positive cases
The Penn Resiliency Program (PRP) major goal is “to increase students’ ability to handle day-to-day stressors and problems that are common for most students during adolescence.” Subjects that form the curriculum are assertiveness, creative brainstorming, decision making, relaxation, and several other coping and problem – solving skills. They were carried out in the classrooms by teachers but also by counselors, psychologists, social workers and graduate students in education and psychology. The research indicated that PRP produces positive and reliable improvements in students’ well-being, prevents depression in young people (immediately post-intervention as well as six and 12 months following the program), reduces hopelessness and anxiety, increases optimism, helps reduce conduct problems (aggression, delinquency).
A more comprehensive curriculum was built to include character strengths, relationships, and meaning.
The Strath Haven Positive Psychology Curriculum was the first empirical study of a Positive Psychology curriculum for adolescents, carried out by the research group led by Seligman at University of Pennsylvania thanks to a $2.8 million grant from the US Department of Education.
At Strath Haven High School, outside of Philadelphia, a positive psychology curriculum was randomly assigned to 347 ninth-grade students (fourteen – to fifteen-year-olds).
The main objectives were
- to help students identify their “signature character strengths ” that is the character strengths they possess in abundance
- to increase students’ use of these strengths in day-to-day life.
The reference is to the VIA classification (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).
In addition to these goals, the intervention strives to promote resilience, positive emotion and students’ sense of meaning or purpose. The curriculum consists of approximately 20–25 80-minute sessions delivered over the 9th grade year (equivalent to first year of Italian secondary school, age 14). The methodology used in class involves the discussion of character strengths (or other positive psychology concepts and skills), an in-class activity, a real-world homework activity that encourages students to apply concepts and skills in their own lives, and a follow-up journal reflection.
The basic outcomes of this positive psychology programme were that engagement in learning (e.g., curiosity, love of learning, creativity), enjoyment of school, and achievement were increased, as showed by students’ reports but also by teachers’ reports, which is particularly significant as these teachers were blind to whether students participated in the program or the control classes.
Also social skills (e.g., empathy, cooperation, assertiveness, self-control) were improved according to both mothers’ and teachers’ reports.
Another positive educational institution is St Peter’s College in Adelaide, which has incorporated wellbeing as a central part of school life . St. Peter’s claims to be the first educational institution that has worked out a wellbeing model based on Seligman’s P.E.R.M.A. theory as presented in his latest best-seller “Flourishing” .
The acronym P.E.R.M.A. stands for Positive emotions, Engagement (state of flow, total involvement in the action, no worries), Relationships (kindness, connection, sharing, working in socially useful activities), Meaning (feel/believe that we are part of something greater), Accomplishment (achieving goals such as money, fame, victory or competence).