Our Guide to Positive Psychology in Education

Senior Mental Health & Wellbeing Consultant - Liz Robson-Kelly | Worth-it

Liz Robson-Kelly
Educator, Positive & Organisational Psychologist
CEO & Founder of Worth-it CIC

April 2021

Here at Worth-it, we know positive education and positive psychology have a vital role to play in helping children and young people flourish. However, if you’re still a bit unsure about what positive psychology is, and how it impacts and creates positive education, we thought we’d help you out!

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive Psychology is the empirical study of meaning, success, and wellbeing. The application of these psychological sciences not only increases mental wellbeing but also guard against the development of mental illness. 

There are many areas of research within positive psychology that are relevant to helping schools achieve academic outcomes and wellbeing. The use of positive psychology within education is known as ‘Positive Education’ and is supported by growing evidence that demonstrates the use of positive psychology in education is effective for academic successes, the development of pupil wellbeing and the reduction of mental health problems.

Evidence-Based Positive Psychology in Education

Worth-it is a leading organisation working with young people ‘at risk’ of developing mental health problems, using both positive psychology and positive education. Our CEO Liz Robson-Kelly is a leading practitioner and researcher in the field of positive psychology and education, pioneering this approach in the UK. She leads the organisation and small team of experienced psychologists, coaches and consultants who are fully trained in evidence-based positive psychology. The Worth-it team deliver interventions, work with schools and support young people to flourish through individual and large-scale targeted intervention programmes and by providing training and CPD in our approach. Consultancy projects have included NHS funded positive education early intervention programmes for young people, these include peer support programmes, whole school approaches, and targeted small group or one to one intervention that are all underpinned by positive psychology approaches.

An example of how we use Positive Psychology in Education to help young people

Through working with us, you will gain access to our positive psychology know-how and ten years of experience. We want to support as many schools and organisations as we can to empower young people and children to learn and develop strategies that improve wellbeing and achieve their full potential.

At Worth-it, positive education is at the heart of what we do. We are big advocators of its practice and want to share its knowledge with you. However, the experts often say it better than anyone else. That’s why we want to show this quote:

“Positive education is defined as education for both traditional skills and for happiness. The high prevalence worldwide of depression among young people, the small rise in life satisfaction, and the synergy between learning and positive emotion all argue that the skills for wellbeing should be taught in school. There is substantial evidence from well controlled studies that skills that increase resilience, positive emotion, engagement and meaning can be taught to school children.”

Martin E.P. Seligman, Randal M. Ernst, Jane Gillham, Karen Reivich, and Mark Linkins – The Oxford Review of Education (2009)

What wellbeing strategies do you teach within a Positive Education Framework?

At Worth-it we use (with permission) Waters’ and Loton’s (2019) SEARCH Wellbeing Pathways as a consistent and evidence-based framework for implementing Positive Education within schools, or educational settings. 

The SEARCH pathways are:
  • Strengths
  • Emotional Management
  • Attention and Awareness
  • Relationships
  • Coping and Resilience
  • Habits and Goals
SEARCH Framework – Pathways to Wellbeing (Waters and Loton 2019)

This framework provides a helpful way of planning, organising and implementing positive education through school-based targeted intervention programmes for ‘at-risk’ children or young people and wellbeing curriculums for all pupils. These pathways are integrated into our targeted intervention programmes, training and CPD for teachers and through supporting the development of a whole school approach to wellbeing.

What is a Positive Education curriculum for wellbeing?

The SEARCH Framework for wellbeing is the most effective way to plan and apply the teaching of strategies for wellbeing for all pupils in the curriculum. This means the SEARCH pathways can be explicitly taught in specific wellbeing lessons or integrated more broadly in the curriculum or that are ‘caught’ through the day-to-day experience of wellbeing within the school environment.

One of the most exciting and effective ways to support wellbeing to be developed within the school environment is to enable pupils to lead wellbeing initiatives that support their peers to apply the SEARCH pathways and develop strategies for positive mental health, wellbeing and resilience. 

Pupils lead Positive Education Programmes in schools

So, what does this look like in practice? Well, our Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme is our popular, co-produced, positive education programme that’s unique in its combination of evidence-based positive psychology and coaching skills for young people. The Wellbeing Ambassadors are trained to develop wellbeing initiatives that support their peers develop strategies for positive mental health and wellbeing that fit within the SEARCH Pathways.

The peer support programme is applied in schools or youth settings and provides an evidence-based early intervention programme that prevents mental health problems. The Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme uses strategies that not only reduce negative impacts through stress management and coping strategies, it also increases strategies for wellbeing such as effective communication, the use of self-help strategies and increasing positive peer to peer relationships. Creating these positive relationships that underpin wellbeing are integral to developing a whole school approach to wellbeing that really supports young people’s needs and support the development of an embedded wellbeing culture.

Providing Positive Psychology in Schools

We have evolved our positive psychology offer and now support schools to develop whole school approaches to wellbeing using positive education. When thinking about using positive psychology in your school, it’s central to base it around your school’s wants and needs, linking these into school outcomes. We have seen from a number of schools we have worked with, that applying positive education has a positive impact on other school outcomes, such as achievement and attendance. 

Want to learn more?

Yellow dotted line

Access our free discovery workshop for mental health leads.

Three illustrated smiley faces