Today is World Mental Health Day. The intent is education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma and Joanna West starts with our children. In this piece, she examines ‘Positive Education’, which is challenging traditional teaching methods in order to provide accomplishment and emotional wellbeing.
A quick question – In one or two words what do you most want for your children?
Most parents respond ‘happiness’, ‘health’, ‘confidence’, ‘contentment’; in short our children’s wellbeing is our top priority.
Another question – In one or two words, what do schools teach?
‘achievement’, ‘discipline’, ‘maths’, ‘literacy’, ‘science’, ‘conformity’.
Notice how there is little overlap between the two answers. School has traditionally been concerned with accomplishment, which is great. But imagine a teaching system that encompasses the parental aspiration above. A system such as Positive Education, which challenges traditional education models and bridges the gap between the skills of wellbeing and the skills of achievement.
Why is Positive Education important?
- To support mental wellbeing
Half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated. In terms of the burden of the disease among adolescents, depression is the third leading cause. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. Harmful use of alcohol and illicit drugs among adolescents is a major issue in many countries and can lead to risky behaviours such as unsafe sex. Eating disorders are also of concern. Building life skills in children and adolescents and providing them with psychosocial support in schools and other community settings can help promote good mental health.
Positive education programmes, delivered in school, are well documented as a preventative strategy against depression and anxiety as well as supporting healthy self-esteem, emotion regulation, empathy and self-efficacy.
- As a vehicle to increase life satisfaction
Increasing happiness, optimisim and hope levels in young people has been found to increase students’ reports of enjoyment and engagement in school. The increase in positive emotions ripples out into family and peer circles, deepening social connections and a general sense of belonging and connection.
Positive education programmes, delivered in school, are well documented to raise young people’s happiness.
- An aid to better learning and creative thinking
Developments in technology have paved the way for automation, globalisation and the creation of increasingly more niche markets. Workplaces in the future will have a strong focus on customising products and services to individual needs which requires the future workforce to be creative, innovative and to use their personal strengths. These skills can be fostered in our young people by developing a positive, growth mindset at school. Such a mindset promotes an open mind, making us curious, interested, creative – and receptive to unique ideas. When we feel good, we focus on what’s going right rather than what’s going wrong.
A positive mood promotes and supports learning leading to success, which supports the traditional goal of education.
Luxembourg and Positive Education
The education system in Luxembourg is not perfect but show me a system that is! The Ministry of Education has three priorities to:
- reduce grade retention
- reduce early school leaving numbers
- create a fairer education system
Luxembourg has a high level of non-nationals working here, many of whom have children in the local school system. Policymakers here have implemented many changes to preschool, primary and secondary education to best support the huge societal shift in Luxembourg’s demographics. Support is growing for school-based programmes that promote the development of positive emotions, engagement and accomplishment.
Two schools offering an alternative approach are the Jean-Jaurès primary school in Esch and Lycée Ermesinde in Mersch. Jean-Jaurès offers an education for children to live and learn by a variety of teaching and coaching techniques. Lycée Ermesinde employs a competency-based approach and applying a more individualised approach to teaching by directly linking personal development and academic achievement.
Is it working?
Well, YES! Both the Jean-Jaurès and Lycée Ermesinde have implemented a whole-school approach to education and wellbeing. Both schools are in high demand by students, parents and teachers since their opening. The team at Jean-Jaurès is often asked to share its experiences and encourages educators from outside to visit to learn from its teaching structure and methods. At the end of 2012, the school received the award of ‘Elteren Pedagoge fir Integratioun’.
Many teacher graduates choose Lycée Ermesinde as the school to start their training with; most then remaining at the school despite having longer hours, more obligations and more diverse tasks on a daily basis. Teachers and students report high levels of motivation and engagement, resulting in low staff changes and a low student drop-out rate. A positive classroom atmosphere, high levels of teacher-student interaction and an active learning environment are all contributing to student wellbeing and achievement levels.
The Future for our Children
Children and adolescents spend much of their waking time in school. Thus, students’ day-to-day interactions and experiences with peers, teachers and coaches are integral to their well-being and are important targets for well-being programmes. Schools are also an excellent location for well-being initiatives as they are often at the heart of the community.
The world has and is rapidly changing, we are sailing in unchartered waters with the explosion of innovative social technology, globalized relationships and instant access to knowledge, often unedited, the skill-set for future generations is changing but the education system is still playing catch up.
It is no longer enough to be able to recite and apply memorized facts; in fact society is increasingly demanding new skills such as imagination, collaboration, creativity and innovation. Support for school-based programmes that promote the development of positive emotions, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and accomplishment is growing. Successful schools start with healthy minds.
Ref: Positive education: positive psychology and classroom interventions – Martin E. P. Seligman, Randal M. Ernst, Jane Gilliam, Karen Reivich and Mark Linkin.
Joanna is a psychologist working with young people and adults. She is the owner of Flourish LAB, a new wellbeing space that caters for talking therapists, counsellors, psychotherapists and non-clinical wellbeing
practitioners who are looking for a comfortable, welcoming and private therapy room.