Monthly Archives: April 2015

How Teaching about Strengths Can Give Balance in the
We are probably well aware that the traditional
focus in education could be seen as weakness- or deficit- focused. As teachers,
we continually assess our pupils to see how they are performing on an academic
level. Then we put measures in place to try to remedy these weaknesses. Kids
soon learn that they are weak in certain areas, and awareness can build up over
time in a class regarding the perceived  abilities of everyone in it. While it is vital
to assess and remedy academic weakness, I have found that teaching about
character strengths provides a great balance to this deficit –based approach.
It gives kids a chance to identify their top character strengths, to spot
strengths in others, and to use their strengths on a daily basis.
Identifying and using character strengths is one of
the key components of Positive Psychology. 24 character strengths were
identified by Seligman and Peterson in 2004. These strengths are specific
personality characteristics which are associated with well-being- e.g.
gratitude, zest, creativity, kindness, social intelligence, self-control,
perseverance, humour. Seligman and Peterson then developed an assessment test,
the VIA-IS questionnaire, to help people to identify their top strengths. You
can complete this questionnaire online if you’re interested in finding out your
own top strengths.
Research has shown that identifying and using your
top character strengths leads to increases in well-being. This makes sense - I
found that helping the kids to identify and use their strengths seemed to
provide an immediate boost in self-esteem. We start our Character Strengths module
by learning about the strengths (six strengths per lesson). Then we do lots of
strength-spotting exercises- the kids love hearing their classmates telling
about when they spotted each other displaying  a particular  strength. Kindness, teamwork, creativity, humour,
self-control and love of learning  are
some of the most commonly noticed strengths in our  class.
We also integrate our learning throughout the
curriculum, for example, we discuss the character strengths of characters from
novels and readers. Our recent history lesson on Florence Nightingale led to a
stimulating discussion on her character strengths and how she used them. I find
that the concept of character strengths gives me such a positive base to build
so many lessons on.
After learning about all 24 strengths, the kids
talked with their parents and tried to identify their own top five strengths (they
are too young to use the VIA questionnaire). This is just to give them a
flavour of their strengths, and it’s important to emphasise that different
strengths can develop over time too.  The
following day we had a lovely session in which each child proudly talked about
their top five strengths. It was great to see every child in the class having
their moment to shine!
After they identified their strengths, we did a
number of follow up sessions in which the children talked and wrote about times
when they used their strengths. Then they planned and tried out ways to use
their strengths in new ways.
I find the concept of character strengths so
beneficial in the classroom in many ways. For example, I might remind a kid to
use his or her strengths to help solve a problem or dilemma. Or before a
particular lesson or task, we might discuss which character strengths we could
draw on to help us. It’s almost as if we have a whole new language to
communicate with.
I love this quote from Christopher Peterson:
…schools are busy measuring student academic
abilities and monitoring the progress of learning. We hope that someday schools
will assess character strengths of students and record them on report cards.’
  Christopher Peterson- Handbook of Positive
Psychology in
Food for thought?
Lopez, S. J., &
Snyder, C. R. (2009). Oxford handbook of positive psychology. Oxford University Press.
Carr, A. (2011). Positive
psychology: The science of happiness and human strengths
. Routledge.

Peterson, C., &
Seligman, M. E. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford University Press.

Although Positive Psychology emphasises the powerful
part that positive emotions play in generating well-being, it would be
incorrect to think that negative emotions do not also have a vital role to
play. All emotions are important, they give us information about our perception
of the world around us. We can then weigh up this information and act on it;
for example, our anger or fear may be telling us that something is wrong or
threatening, and that we should do something about it. Learning to identify
emotions and deal with them in healthy ways is a vital part in self-regulation,
research shows that kids who are able to do this fare better in a wide variety
of ways, inside and outside the classroom. Experiencing negative emotions is
part of the richness of life, and part of what makes us human.
However, research shows that the ratio of positive
to negative emotions may be an important factor in overall well-being. Although
there is no conclusive number for this positivity ratio at present, evidence
points to the possibility that a ratio of at least 3:1 is needed for well-being
and thriving.  This is interesting
information for teachers to be aware of, both for themselves and their pupils.
In practical terms, it might be useful to be aware if the number of negative
interactions is starting to build up with a particular child or in the class in
general. This is when some boosts of positive emotion could be helpful to get
things back on an even keel- easier said than done, of course!
Avoidance or suppression of negative emotions can be
damaging to well-being. This may be particularly true of the emotions of
failure and frustration. Some psychologists, notably Martin Seligman, suggest
that it is through experiencing failure, disappointment and frustration that
kids learn to become resilient. If children are over-protected, and too much
emphasis is put on ‘feeling-good’, they may not get the opportunities to
develop frustration -tolerance and manage their disappointments. If failure and
disappointment are not presented to children as normal parts of the learning
process, for example, they may learn to avoid these emotions  and become less likely to persevere in the
face of a challenge - giving up on the task may be easier for them to accept
than failing. Seligman suggests that not allowing kids the opportunities to
feel failure, disappointment and other normal negative emotions prevents them
from gaining mastery, and could actually be linked to the development of
So how can we build in safe ways for kids to
experience failure and frustration in our classrooms? Possibly the most
important message that we can give kids is that is that failure is part of the
learning process. We can do that by praising effort rather than result. Teach
kids that perseverance pays off, and that you value it as much as ability – in facts,
research shows that factors like self-control and perseverance are a greater
indicator of academic success than I.Q.
Prepare children for frustration by explaining that
a particular task may cause them to feel frustrated until they get the hang of
it, and that that’s completely normal. Of course we all know the value of
co-operative games, but kids need to experience winning and losing regularly
too, and how to put losses in perspective. I also find that it’s very helpful
to teach children about their character strengths, as they can then draw on
their own unique strengths to help them cope with the normal range of emotions which
is part of everyday life.
Seligman, M. E.
(2007). The optimistic child: A proven program to safeguard children
against depression and build lifelong resilience
.  Houghton Mifflin
Duckworth, A. L.,
& Seligman, M. E. (2005). Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic
performance of adolescents. Psychological science, 16(12),
B. L. (2013). Updated thinking on positivity ratios.

Ways to Harness the Power of Positive Emotions in your Classroom
 As a primary
school teacher, I have  always
intuitively felt that happy kids learn better; now my studies in Positive Psychology  show me that my hunch was right, and the
reasons why. Positive Emotions are those emotions which make us feel happy and
satisfied - emotions such as zest, pride, joy, interest, hope, humour, kindness and
love. The psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has done extensive research on the
benefits of Positive Emotions. Her book  Positivity (2009 ) is well worth a read
for more information on this area.
 It turns out
that Positive Emotions don’t just make us feel good in the moment that we feel
them; they also bring more long-lasting benefits, and can set a spiral of
positivity into motion. These benefits include better immune system
functioning, stronger resilience and an increase in psychological resources.
 But it was learning
about the impact of Positive Emotions on learning that really excited me.
Research has shown that Positive Emotions are shown to have a variety of beneficial
effects on learning. These effects include improved working memory, enhanced
creativity and problem-solving.  Positive
Emotions also lead to an effect known as cognitive broadening – for example,
participants in an experiment were shown movie-clips which either caused
positive or negative emotions. The individuals who watched the positive clips
were subsequently able to generate more creative ideas than those who
experienced the negative emotions. Wouldn’t it be great to harness some of this
power in our classrooms?
With this in mind, I feel that it’s well worth
investing in strategies to boost Positive Emotion in our classrooms. Here are
ten suggestions which I find easy to implement, and which the kids really enjoy:
: Allow the children to write down their favourite
jokes on slips of paper. Put them all into a Joke Jar and pull one out at random times during the day.
: Allow the children to write down their favourite
upbeat song on a slip of paper. Put them into a Music Break box, and pull one out at random times during the day.
Put on the music, and allow the children to dance at their places. Let different
children lead the dance-moves, and alternate a few times during the song!
Memory Time
: Allow children to have Happy Memory time when they think of an
enjoyable event from the past. Encourage them to strengthen the memory by using
each of their senses. Perhaps they could them draw or paint a picture of their
memory. Then encourage them to look at their picture and
savour this memory if they need a mood
4.      Happiness
Allow the children to write and decorate a list of
ten things which make them happy, e.g. family, friends, hobbies, certain films
and songs etc. Discuss and display.
Gratitude Time: At
a random time daily, show a picture or object (Gratitude Object) to encourage
children to think quietly of five things which they are grateful for at that
moment. They can share in pairs or with the class, or just sit and have a quiet
Thank-You Cards: Let the children make a
thank-you card for someone special.
7.      Random
Acts of Kindness day:
Choose a day in which everyone
tries to carry out at least 5 acts of kindness. The class could suggest a list
of possible ideas to choose from, e.g., help someone with something, share
something, give a compliment, invite someone to play your game, cheer someone
up. Try to do this once a week for 6 weeks in a row, as research shows this
provides a positive impact on well-being.
8.      Kindness
: Encourage children to be Kindness
Detectives – notice others doing kind acts and report back to the class.
9.      Drama
Let the children choose a funny part of
one of their favourite films to act out in groups.
10.  Class
Happiness Song
the children to vote on a song which makes them happy. Learn it and sing it regularly!
(Ours is Bruno Mars- Count on Me).
Once Positive Emotions have been generated, you can think of  ways to harness their power. Maybe have a Positive Emotion boost before a problem-solving activity, or a spelling or phonics lesson.I've taught my class about the benefits of Positive Emotion, so now  they understand how they can boost their own learning.
Teaching kids how to generate their own Positive
Emotions is also vital in empowering them to create their own positive mental
health. That’s why I came up with the idea of the Positive Emotion Potion © as part of my Weaving Well-Being resources. The children learn about five
evidence- based strategies –they learn one per week, which they implement daily
and report back on. Then they learn how to give themselves a Positive Emotion Potion © boost daily to
help keep their minds healthy and happy!
Cohn, M.
A., Fredrickson, B. L., Brown, S. L., Mikels, J. A., & Conway, A. M.
(2009). Happiness unpacked: positive emotions increase life satisfaction by
building resilience. Emotion9(3), 361.
B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The
broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American psychologist,
56(3), 218.
B. (2009). Positivity: Top-notch research reveals the 3 to 1 ratio that
will change your life
. Random House LLC.
R. T., Kern, M. L., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). Health benefits:
Meta-analytically determining the impact of well-being on objective health
outcomes. Health Psychology Review1(1), 83-136
Isen, A. M., Daubman,
K. A., & Nowicki, G. P. (1987). Positive affect facilitates creative
problem solving. Journal of personality and social psychology52(6),
Yang, H., Yang, S.,
& Isen, A. M. (2013). Positive affect improves working memory: Implications
for controlled cognitive processing. Cognition & emotion,27(3),
Lyubomirsky, S.
(2008). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the
life you want
. Penguin.