Positive Education: Applying Positive Psychology in Schools

Positive Education: Happy Students & Positive Psychology In The ClassroomPositive psychology practitioners have advocated for positive psychology in schools alongside traditional psychology.

This movement can be called positive education.

There is a natural pairing of psychology and education which has persisted for as long as psychology has been a field of study, as this quote illustrates:

“Teachers and researchers in positive psychology are natural allies. At its core, education is about nurturing strengths, about growth and learning. Furthermore, psychological and social wellbeing are key concerns for teachers and other educators and for people working in the field of positive psychology”

(Shankland & Rosset, 2017).

This article will cover what positive education is and why it matters, as well as how to use it to benefit everyone in a classroom, from the students to the instructor.

Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our 3 Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

Why Focus On Positive Education?

According to Seligman et al.’s 2009 paper, Positive Education is a response to the gap between what people want for their children and what schools teach. That is, most parents want their children to be happy, healthy, and confident, but schools only focus on achievement, discipline, and academic skills. These are of course important, but so are positive mental health outcomes.

To fix this gap, Positive Education is proposed, where schools teach achievement and accomplishment along with positive psychology-informed mental health skills. In other words, positive education wants to bring positive psychology’s goals of wellbeing and mental health support for everyone into the school setting.

Psychological interventions have been around in schools since at least the 1930s, so it makes sense to supplement the already-existing traditional psychology in schools with positive psychology (Shankland & Rosset, 2017). Seligman and other positive psychologists are also not alone in the belief that schools should aim for student wellbeing. For example, philosophers as far back as Aristotle have considered happiness to be the end goal of education (Kristjansson, 2012).

Other people working in education have also historically been interested in student wellbeing, so positive education is not necessarily a groundbreaking innovation. This does not condemn positive education efforts, however, and in fact just shows that positive education aims to solve problems in traditional education that have needed solving for a long time.

Teachers themselves believe that teaching is “inevitably linked” with the emotional health and well-being of the students being taught (Kidger et al., 2010). In fact, Maslow’s (1943) hierarchy of needs even indicates that emotional support may be a sort of prerequisite to higher-order functions such as learning.

Recent research has confirmed the same, as offering emotional support early in a school year can lead to improved instructional quality later in that school year (Curby et al., 2013). In other words, positive education is not a focus on mental health instead of academic achievement but is a focus on mental health in order to set the stage and give students the opportunity for academic achievement.

positive education parents schools

How To Get The Most Out Of Your Classroom Conversation

Classroom conversation is possibly the most important aspect of student engagement, but students participate at various levels with most classrooms being dominated by the same voices each class period. One way to increase classroom conversation and discussion in a reading-based class is the QQTP approach (Connor-Greene, 2005). The QQTP approach refers to assigned daily response papers entitled “question, quotations, and talking points”.

In classes where daily readings are assigned, these response papers consist of students writing down:

  • A question about the day’s reading
  • A “compelling or controversial” quotation from the reading
  • A brief outline of talking points from the reading the student can use for discussion

This approach ensures that students not only read the previous day’s assigned reading, but that they are prepared to actively discuss it in class rather than passively listening to others talk about it. Student response papers can also be used as starting points for class discussion if a class is still being quiet. Students who have used the QQTP method rated the first and third components (a question and an outline of talking points) as the most useful aspects of the method.

Another way to increase student discussion is to offer participation credit. Grading based on participation, however, can be disadvantageous to students who are more naturally shy. One solution to this is to offer group participation credit. One study exhibited this by separating classrooms into small groups composed of both high-participating and low-participating students and offering credit to the entire group if all of their members participated on a given day (Taylor et al., 2014).

Those researchers found increased participation levels in low-participating students with this group-based credit system.

This method also had the added bonus of high-participating students teaching low-participating students how to participate more often, so that the group would receive their shared credit.

QQTP approach (Connor-Greene, 2005) positive education

Happy Teacher = Happy Class

Positive education is not just for the sake of the students. One commenter has argued that not only should student happiness be the aim of education, but that teacher happiness should also be the aim of education (Noddings, 2003). This author also claims that happy teachers will directly lead to happy students, by helping their students associate education with happiness, as the teachers do.

Even teachers who believe that student wellbeing is a crucial part of teaching can feel burdened if asked to attend to both the academic and emotional needs of their students. If teachers are being asked to increase their workload, then steps must be taken to ensure their happiness as well. This is another reason to focus on teacher happiness as well as student happiness.

After all, as indicated above, teacher happiness is related to student happiness.

Research has even shown that teacher wages can affect their teaching outcomes. Specifically, teachers who felt that their wages were unfairly low were in classrooms which were rated as having lower levels of emotional support (Cassidy et al., 2017). Conversely, teachers who earned higher wages ended up with students who exhibited more positive emotional expressions and behaviors.

In other words, both perceiving oneself as being underpaid and actually making less money are associated with worse student outcomes for teachers. These findings indicate that raising teacher wages would likely lead to improved emotional outcomes for students.

positive education happy teacher happy students

6 Activities For Emotional Learning

Social and emotional learning are often-overlooked aspects of education. Emotional learning is important, however, as a “protective vehicle to prevent problematic youth behaviour and promote mental health and wellbeing” (Reicher & Matischek-Jauk, 2017).

Some activities for emotional learning can be drawn from the Maytiv preschool program for positive psychology education (Shoshani & Slone, 2017):

  • Identifying personal sources of happiness
  • Expressing gratitude
  • Free expression of different feelings in movement, art, speech, and facial expressions
  • Describing happy memories

Other activities to support emotional learning include (Abry et al., 2017):

  • Morning Meeting (Starting every morning with a class meeting where students can share about their weekends, or teachers can share a message, or some other activity)
  • Academic Choice (Giving students multiple choices to reach some educational goal, such as giving an option between writing an essay on a topic, or making a video on that topic, or giving a speech on that topic, or some other form of learning)

Positive Teaching: Moodtrackers And Other Worksheets

For teachers who are ready to begin implementing positive education into their classrooms, here are a few worksheets to get started:

Daily Mood Chart

This daily mood chart helps students track their mood throughout the day (and can be modified to only include the school day). This simple self-report chart will help students better understand their mood throughout the day and week. Teachers can also use it as a group mood chart to track the class’s engagement levels.

Positive Steps to Wellbeing

This one-page worksheet is simply a list of things to keep in mind for wellbeing. It includes tips on keeping perspective, exercising, relaxing, sleeping, connecting with others, and more. This would be a good worksheet to hand out for students to keep in their lockers or folders as a constant reminder and could also be hung up in a classroom.

Three Good Things Worksheet

This is a worksheet for the Three Good Things exercise, which asks someone to list three good things that happened to them every day, and to reflect on those things. This worksheet contains space for two weeks of entries and a space for reflection. After each day, one should reflect on why the good things happened and how they can change their behavior (if necessary) to make those good things happen more often.

10 Mindfulness Activities For Kids

Mindfulness is important in the classroom, because teachers and parents “frequently ask children to pay attention but give them no instruction as to how to do so” (Shankland & Rosset, 2017).

Some mindfulness activities for kids in the classroom include:

  • Mindful Bell (Ringing a bell and asking students to listen until they can’t hear the bell anymore, as a way to quiet down a classroom)
  • Brief Body Scan – FOFBOC (Feet On Floor, Bum On Chair, where students start by focusing on the feeling of their feet on the floor, then working up their focus to their weight on the chair)
  • Mindful Breathing – 7/11 (Inhaling for 7 seconds/counts, exhaling for 11 seconds/counts)
  • Caring Mindfulness (Students are asked to think about their own desire to be happy, then their classmates’ desires to be happy, and then students are asked to wish for their classmates to be happy)

Other activities to promote mindfulness in kids in the classroom include (Black & Fernando, 2014):

  • Mindful Bodies and Listening (Kids simply sit still in a relaxed posture)
  • Heartfulness: Generosity (Students discuss and visualize ways to be generous)
  • Mindful Seeing (Carefully observing a single object for a period of time)
  • Slow Motion (With awareness, slowly moving arms and slowly standing from a seated position)
  • Mindful Walking
  • Mindful Eating

10 Mindfulness Activities For Kids positive education

10+ Positive Psychology Exercises For Teens

Some positive psychology exercises which can be used for teenagers in the classroom include (Shankland & Rosset, 2017; Seligman et al., 2009):

  • Identifying Strengths (Asking students to think about someone they admire, then asking them why they admire that person, in other words, what their strengths are)
  • Strengths 360° (Having students ask friends, teachers, parents, and others to identify the student’s strengths)
    Cultivating Strengths (Having students identify their top strengths, then find new ways to use one of those strengths daily in the classroom)
  • Secret Strength Spotting (Having students secretly observe another classmate in the classroom for a week, and writing down strengths they observe during this time)
  • Keeping a Gratitude Journal
  • Gratitude Letter (Having students write a letter to someone they are grateful for)
  • Gratitude Graph (Students are asked to write one or more things they feel grateful for on individual sticky notes, these notes are then plotted on a classroom graph with categories for people, places, events, etc.)
  • Gratitude Box (Students are asked to write things they feel grateful for on strips of paper and drop those pieces of paper into a box, then all the strips are read aloud at the end of the week)
  • Cooperative Learning Groups (Splitting up the class into small groups to work on a specific task or topic, then teach that topic to the other small groups in the class)
  • Active Constructive Responding (Having students practice active, as opposed to passive, and constructive. as opposed to destructive, responses)
  • Supportive Sticky Notes (Having students write on a sticky note something they appreciate about a classmate, then sticking that note somewhere that the classmate will see it, such as on their locker or desk)
  • Secret Acts of Kindness (Students are secretly assigned partners, then asked to be more caring to that person for a period of time)
  • Three Good Things (Students are asked to write three good things that happened to them each day for a week, then reflect on why each good thing happened and how they can cause it to happen more)

three good things positive education

A Take-Home Message

Some of the earliest applications of psychology were in education. Similarly, some of the most obvious applications of positive psychology are in education. Positive education is not necessarily a completely new idea, but it is a reaffirmation of what parents and education advocates believe should be the end goal of education: student happiness.

If thinkers as far back as Aristotle have believed that happiness should be the main aim of education, positive education is a necessary movement.

Indeed, research shows that children who are happy and emotionally supported have better emotional and academic outcomes. For that reason alone, schools should implement positive psychology’s teachings into their classrooms. While implementing these teachings, however, schools also must take care not to overburden their teachers.

Research shows that teacher wellbeing modifies the emotional and academic outcomes of their students, so teacher happiness, as well as student happiness, should be the main goal of positive education.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our 3 Positive Psychology Exercises for free.


  • Abry, T., Rimm-Kaufman, S.E., Curby, T.W. (2017). Are All Program Elements Created Equal? Relations Between Specific Social and Emotional Learning Components and Teacher-Student Classroom Interaction Quality. Prevention Science, 18(2), 193-203.
  • Black, D.S., Fernando, R. (2014). Mindfulness Training and Classroom Behavior Among Lower-Income and Ethnic Minority Elementary School Children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 23(7), 1242-1246.
  • Cassidy, D.J., King, E.K., Wang, Y.D.C., Lower, J.K., Kintner-Duffy, V.L. (2017). Teacher work environments are toddler learning environments: teacher professional well-being, classroom emotional support, and toddlers’ emotional expressions and behaviors. Early Child Development and Care, 187(11), 1666-1678.
  • Connor-Greene, P.A. (2005). Fostering meaningful classroom discussion: Student-generated questions, quotations, and talking points. Teaching of Psychology, 32(3), 173-175.
  • Curby, T.W., Rimm-Kaufman, S.E., Abry, T. (2013). Do emotional support and classroom organization earlier in the year set the stage for higher quality instruction? Journal of School Psychology, 51(5), 557-569.
  • Kidger, J., Gunnell, D., Biddle, L., Campbell, R., Donovan, J. (2010). Part and parcel of teaching? Secondary school staff’s views on supporting student emotional health and well-being. British Educational Research journal, 36(6), 919-935.
  • Kristjansson, K. (2012). Positive Psychology and Positive Education: Old Wine in New Bottles? Educational Psychologist, 47(2), 86-105.
  • Maslow, A.H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review 50(1), 370-396.
  • Noddings, N (2003). Happiness and Education. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
    Reicher, H., Matischek-Jauk, M. (2017). Preventing depression in adolescence through social and emotional learning. International Journal of Emotional Education, 9(2), 110-115.
  • Seligman, M.E.P., Ernst, R.M., Gillham, J., Reivich, K., Linkins, M. (2009). Positive education: positive psychology and classroom interventions. Oxford Review of Education, 35(3), 293-311.
  • Shankland, R., Rosset, E. (2017). Review of Brief School-Based Positive Psychological Interventions: a Taster for Teachers and Educators. Educational Psychology Review, 29(2), 363-392.
  • Shoshani, A., Slone, M. (2017). Positive Education for Young Children: Effects of a Positive Psychology Intervention for Preschool Children on Subjective Well Being and Learning Behaviors. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(1), 1866.
  • Taylor, C.M., Galyon, C.E., Forbes, B.E., Blondin, C.A., Williams, R.L. (2014). Individual and Group Credit for Class Participation. Teaching of Psychology, 41(2), 148-154.


What our readers think

  1. Neeru

    Wonderful article. I am a working teacher. I would like to share the article with my colleagues to create positive atmosphere in the school. In these times of pandemic, it has become more important to work on positive phycology. Students will be benefitted a lot while doing these activities.

  2. Naseer

    Really amazing article with enough information

  3. Todd Lakes

    Education is one of the most important necessities in life. Since a certain level of education opens up certain opportunities in life. Personally, I think that in our time a slightly distorted concept of “good education”, since we are forced to teach many unnecessary subjects at school and university. Just now we are forced to learn a lot of theory, without practical application, and writing a wide variety of papers. Not so long ago I read a rather interesting article on Paperial and interesting statistics were provided there. Although in fact, it would have been better since the children were taught to be happy in junior school. After all, if you look at modern society, then all people are in a hurry somewhere, everyone is immersed in their problems and it is almost impossible to meet a smiling person. Due to the modern rhythm of life, every fifth person suffers from depression and cannot live without antidepressants. So, as for me, you still need to learn from school to be happy. After all, if a person is happy, then his life path develops much better since a happy person thinks completely different and more easily cope with life problems. And if a person is unhappy, then he is trying to push responsibility onto another person, or he finds a way to solve any issue with someone’s help, and not independently. For example, take the students; when they enter the university, they only begin to live on their own, without parental supervision. And no one knows what his family is, and what he experienced as a child. There are children who lost their parental warmth at an early age and they have to pay for their own education by themselves and build their own lives, without the vital advice of their parents. They have to work very hard to have the opportunity to study and for the timely delivery of all the necessary homework, they often use the college writing service, which helps them to save time and learn well.

  4. Dave Anderson

    That is nice that positive education is good for the gap between what is wanted, and what is taught. It would be good to have some positive teaching when learning about science. This is something I would have to look for in elementary schools to make science better for my son.

  5. Muskaan

    Children need an atmosphere where they are free to ask anything, learn anything and grow. Maintaintaing a positive environment in classroom keeps them positive and makes them good learners.

  6. Kulwant kaur

    Very meaningful and helpfuland workable too. Was looking for meaningful application of psychology for teacher training. I got what I was looking for. Thanks.

  7. Dr, K,S,Mozhiyarasi

    Good ideas, I will implement my students

  8. Maginee

    Wonderful article…very inspiring

  9. Anurag

    Good job, a very captivating article.


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