Positive education at all levels podcast

Positive education is a growing field that emphasises the importance of wellbeing and happiness in education. It is based on the idea that students who are happy and fulfilled are more likely to succeed academically and socially. Positive education aims to help students develop the skills and knowledge they need to lead happy and fulfilling lives. It focuses on building positive relationships, developing resilience, and promoting wellbeing. By incorporating positive education into the curriculum, schools can help students develop the skills they need to thrive in school and beyond.

In this podcast, we speak to Dr Michelle Tytherleigh, Senior Lecturer and Chartered Psychologist at the University of Chester, about positive psychology in education and her new book, Positive Education At All Levels, which is part of Emerald Positive Psychology in Practice series.
Join us to discover more about positive education and its applications in education settings from pre-school to further education.  

Speaker profiles

Dr Michelle Tytherleigh is a Senior Lecturer and Chartered Psychologist at the University of Chester. She is also an Associate Fellow of the British Psychology Society, an International Affiliate of the American Psychological Association and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA).

In this episode:

  • What is positive psychology and how does it compare to ‘usual’ psychology?
  • Why is positive psychology important for education today?
  • What are the barriers towards positive education?
  • How does positive education address mental health issues in schools?
  • How can parents and carers use positive psychology approaches in their everyday lives?

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Positive education at all levels

Rebecca Torr (RT): Hello, I'm Rebecca Torr, and welcome to the Emerald Podcast Series. In this episode, I'll be speaking with DR Michelle Tytherleigh senior lecturer and chartered psychologist at the University of Chester about her new book, Positive Education at all Levels. Positive education is a growing field that emphasises the importance of wellbeing and happiness in education. It is based on the idea that students who are happy and fulfilled are more likely to succeed academically and socially. Positive education aims to help students develop the skills and knowledge they need to lead happy and fulfilling lives. It focuses on building positive relationships, developing resilience, and promoting wellbeing. In this episode, we'll be discussing the application of positive education across education levels, from preschool to further education, we'll explore some of the most effective positive education practices that dir. Tytherleigh discusses in her book, as well as how positive education can address mental health issues in schools. So, whether you're an educator, a parent, or just interested in learning more about positive psychology and education, this episode is for you.

Michelle Tytherleigh (MT): I'm DR Michelle Tytherleigh. And my background. Well, I'm kind of a late starter to academia. So, I had a whole life beforehand. But my area of interest now is in positive psychology, and most importantly, how positive psychology can be applied to enhance the learning and wellbeing of students, because I'm actually working as a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Chester. So obviously, it's really nice to be able to apply that kind of knowledge and understanding that I've got psychology to my own practice. And it's a little bit ironic, really, because when I did my PhD, I actually looked at stress and memory. So, I was kind of coming from that very much that deficit background, to move into the positive psychology. When people tend to think about psychology, they tend to think about it as something that fixes something that's broken. And in many ways, that's kind of what traditional psychology was really focusing on. We call it a deficit model. So, it looks at things which might not be working might not be normal in that kind of sense of what is normal. But it's really about fixing something that's broken. But with positive psychology, positive psychology actually provides much more of a strengths-based approach. So, it recognises that actually, yes, bad things happen. It doesn't deny it, it recognises it. But it also recognises that we all have strengths, even from adversity, there can be strengths and opportunities that come from that. But most importantly, when we're thinking about a kind of a deficit model, something that fixes we're really being a bit exclusive. And what about those people who thrive? What about those people who flourish even in the face of adversity? What is it about those strengths that actually make things worth living, as opposed to something that really is fixed and needs to be normalised? So, when we talk about positive psychology, we're almost talking about, well, what about moving from plus two, to whatever that higher number might be? Whereas when we talk about traditional psychology, we're almost talking about, well, let's move things from minus two to zero. So positive psychology really is adding the other half to everything that happens to us.

RT: Wow, that's fantastic. What really, it's a very interesting topic. And it feels very positive, which is what we were, you know, we want to happen our lives. So yeah, I mean, obviously, you've got interested in this area of psychology, and that sort of led you to publish a book. And so, your newly published book is Positive Education at All Levels. So why is positive education important for educators today? And what would you say are its main benefits? Because obviously, that's the angle you're coming from?

MT: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it's such a well, let's think about education. We can talk about education as being something that happens in schools, universities, colleges. I mean, actually, education happens all around it. So, you know, when I'm talking about education at all levels, yes, I'm talking about the different levels of our education system, but I'm also talking about the role that parents have. Children often learn their first educators tend to be their parents. but also as well, thinking about the teachers, and everybody involved in that whole education process. In terms of why it's important today, I think, if we just look at the issues that young people are facing, and children are facing these issues at younger and younger ages, and in fact, in many ways, you are never too young to learn about mental health. And I suppose what I'm talking about when we talk about positive education, is an education that actually focuses on wellbeing, but it also looks at it as part of the educational and learning curriculum. So, it's not an add on. Schools have been looking at positive emotions with all of these different things that the government has been introducing, but it's been very much a bolt on or an add on. And what positive education does is essentially, the principles of positive psychology applied in school settings. So, I think it was really interesting to kind of think about, okay, well, what is it, but most importantly, how can schools, colleges, higher education, parents, teachers, everybody involved in the education of the child actually start to implement that. And that's really where the idea of the book came about. And I think one of the great things when we think about positive education, is that it's, it's really probably building on a lot of the things that teachers, good educators, positive parents are already doing. But it's giving it almost, that the scientific credibility that a lot of things need to have in place before they're going to make any changes. So I think one of the things that I really wanted with this book was to provide that almost starting point that schools, colleges, parents, all of those people that I've just mentioned, can start to recognise how they can embed wellbeing into their practice, ultimately recognise the benefits for them, what their priorities are in relation to their wellbeing as well, but also how they can do it in a sort of a practical and easy way. Because I think one of the challenges for education is that extra time is the training, is getting the money to do all these different things. And what positive education does, is actually you can do it quite effective, well, very effectively, but very simply, and it's just about recognising the good of teaching, and actually ways to develop that. 

RT: It's absolutely fascinating to hear about it. Because in schools, I mean, I've got two children in primary school, and they are working so hard to embed these wellbeing practices. And, you know, they can read more like an emotional regulation. So, they sort of say where they are on the spectrum, at different points through the day, which I think is, you know, it's really helpful, but it is that kind of sort of an add on thing. Whereas what you are describing sounds more of like a holistic sort of approach that comes from within the education as so it's just within everything that you do with, which does sound, you know, offsets is a different way of thinking in terms of their approaches. But it does sound like it's something that could be very practical. So, it'd be great if you could maybe discuss some of the most effective positive education practices that you discussed in the book, and how they address mental health in schools.

MT: I think one of the really interesting things at the moment, is that if we're talking about something that's got a scientific basis, there isn't a lot of research that has been carried out looking at it. And I think one of the things that we a lot of us want is to know that something works. So obviously, the research, evidence is limited, but it's starting to increase. And I think that's one of the things that one of the messages I'd like to give to educators is that we need to share that practice and the benefits as well. But what's becoming quite evident from the research that has been published is that there are of two main areas from positive psychology that when implemented in schools can be really effective. So, one of the things is there is a theory called the broaden and build theory, which really recognises the power of positive emotion. And what positive emotion can do, and we can all kind of relate to this is that when we feel in a good place, actually it becomes very infectious. That's the word I was thinking of earlier. It becomes infectious. But one of the things that positive emotion can all So do from a learning, sort of a learning and teaching perspective is it almost increases the ability to become more creative in our thinking, we call it the actions thought repertoire. So, when we are in a positive mood, we become more creative, we're able to problem solve in a much better way, we'll be able to try out different things. So, the power of positive emotion in itself can be a really effective way of introducing positive education, simple things like recognising something that has worked well, somebody who's helped you in writing a gratitude letter. And that's really simple. I think if we're thinking about primary schools, where children can take a letter home Write, write a letter to their parents, just thanking them for the smallest of things. And if you think about the infectious infection that that positive emotion can have, is that it makes parents feel good, it opens up that kind of relationship that they have with the children, very simple things. One of the other things that is very effective in schools is when we're thinking about what's called the Palmer wellbeing theory. And that really is the positive psychological wellbeing theory, which recognises that to have true wellbeing or true flourishing, we have to have five different elements. So positive emotion is one of them. So, when we think about happiness, we think about positive emotion, but that can be short lived on its own. So other things are, the E of this is engagement. So, we've we can provide activities where we lose ourselves and what we're doing, we go into what we call a state of flow, that can be really, really empowering, it can make people feel this great sense of achievement and, and achievement. And accomplishment is also something which we need to feel according to that this wellbeing positive relationships is really important. So other things that is very easy to do is sort of almost like sort of showing compassion towards other showing self-compassion is really important that can be really effective, but meaning and purpose. And I think that's one of the big things that comes from this. So, if we know that something we're doing is actually benefiting somebody else. Because that's the other aspect of positive psychology, it's about doing things for the greater good of others, not just for us. So, if you're able to bring meaning, or purpose into the activities that children do, sometimes making that quite explicit, why they're doing it, and where that meanings coming from, that can be really powerful. And one other final thing, which I think is a really effective strategy is the fact that one of the things that we know from positive psychology is that we all have what we call 24-character strengths. So, these are the authentic parts of who we are. And you can do simple activities like strength spotting, so you can kind of spot the strength in other people. That's a lovely thing that children can do with each other, that parents and children can do. And it's such a lovely thing, when you think about it, if we're picking out the strengths of what we're doing every day, that can be just so sort of enlightening and empowering. And it's just a simple act of watching a movie, picking the strengths out in the characters, and then talking maybe about how you got those strengths or how you see them in each other. So, these are all sorts of simple things, but they can be really effective.

RT: I love this idea. It's just I think it's so easy to implement, hopefully, you know, just, I was at sunny in this morning, when I was going to school, and my two children were, you know, they always bicker, don't they brother and sister? And I said, you know, why can't we talk about something nice that you like about each other? And, you know, it's just as simple as that, I guess just saying, you know, what do you what does that person good at what, you know, what sort of strengths do they have? And I suppose you can make it just as simple as that. But I like the idea of like watching a movie, and just, you know, bringing out what do they give to another character? You know, like, why? What do we like about having certain people in our lives? I think, you know, it does make you then see what your impact is on other people. So, it's really useful. And I think that sort of brings me on to the next sort of question that I have for you. Because it's what I love about your book is that it really is accessible for parents. You know, I think it's great for educators and children spend so many hours at school and, and we're all educated in some way. But I think obviously, like you said, parents are that sort of first educator and to have a chapter dedicated to parents, there's just such a great resource. And that's chapter six. And I think just understanding how we can apply these principles in our everyday lives, is really helpful. And obviously, you've given us an idea there with the character strengths. But I don't know, if you are seeing what has worked well, for other parents can obviously is quite different from an edge, you know, being in an education setting. But sort of when you're at home, what can you maybe a couple of practical examples of what you can actually do when you're just at home with your children? And you just want to sort of encourage them and help them learning?

MT: Yeah. And I think you know that the sort of, I think there's so much unsaid, really hold on when we're kind of, we're so busy, and somebody's you know, just sort of stopping. And I mean, that that is a lovely example, actually, I mean, there's a lot of things that are done with mindfulness. And we talk about, you know, being present in the moment and recognising the positive things. And I think you gave a lovely example there with your children about, you know, let's get together as a family, which in itself can often be something that we don't do enough of, because we're all busy. And we don't think that we're all going to be interested in what each other has to say, relationships do need working at. And I think, you know, it's almost like setting that time aside, to sit down as a family and say, Okay, well, what is it that makes us enjoy being in each other's company? And how can we do more of that? And I think it's sort of, it's almost like setting yourself the challenge? Well, let's make this a goal that we set, let's put that goal on the fridge. And we know that that's what we're working towards. And let's make it our kind of role to kind of do that that thing that we've all identified as a family together, that makes us happy. And then you start to see the benefits of it. And it can be something that's really simple, but we did we just rush all the time. And I think you know, it's lovely, if you've got a common goal, you can kind of, it's something that you know that you're all in together as a family, you can all talk about how it's going. And then maybe when you've seen the benefits of it, you can talk about, well, how did that make you feel? And did you notice that you did things differently? Or maybe you did things better? And what was it? Shall we try it again, and I think it's almost like just trying some simple strategies, it all sounds like common sense. But with positive psychology, there is evidence to support that. Because if tested it in the same way as you would do any other intervention, but the evidence is, and I think, just to know that this is what you can do. And this is why you should do it. Because actually it works, you know, so I think showing that sort of compassion for others, but also that self-compassion, looking after our own selves, can be really, really important. But we don't again, show that. And it's almost if you can have that conversation with your child, okay, well, I'm going to start doing this for me, but you've got to start doing this for you as well. And then let's talk about it. And it's almost like you're setting the agenda for a conversation, which before, you might not have really thought you needed. But actually, you sometimes need that thing to talk about. It's almost like giving, giving a common language.

RT: I think it's really helpful because like you mentioned, you know, as parents, we may be doing some of these things, but we don't know what it is that worked. You know, we had a great time yesterday, and you just don't know if you want to do that, again, you know, when you want to have that happy experience, but you don't know, what was it that that made that experience so positive and so enjoyable for everyone. And I think so having those practices that we can actually make time and actually set it up in the right way to it's not by accident, or, you know, it's not just by on the hoof, but it's actually something that we can sort of strategise almost, I think that's really helpful for parents. So you know, just to because you do want to understand and get to know your children more and, and what you can do, because the world is so negative at times, you know, there's so much doom and gloom, but to actually have something about, you know, what is good about you, because, you know, they make feel like they've got to improve in Maths or English, you know, sort of academically, but actually what is great about their personalities, and I really like that, and I'm definitely going to do that exercise. I really look forward to digging into that. So, thank you so much. And so think it'd be quite interesting to now we sort of spoken about what's great about positive education, I think it'd be quite useful to talk about the practicalities of this in terms of what are the challenges because I don't know how much of this has been already rolled out in schools in the UK, for example, but I just wondered, Is there resistance to this kind of approach and sort of one of the cultural barriers potentially, and what have you encountered?

MT: People are quite resistant to change. And I think one of the criticisms of positive psychology and positive education as a result has been, who's this research being based on which schools are the schools that are doing it. And one of the things that is really interesting about positive psychology because it's something that happened at the beginning of this sort of century, it is still undergoing its stages of development. And we talk about these sort of waves of development of different concepts, which is like, you know, waves in the sea, that they all roll into each other. And what might have happened earlier, affects what happens later. So, it's continually growing and evolving. And one of the real strengths of positive psychology is that all of those criticisms that tend to get levied or what the next wave of positive psychology will actually start to address, we're now in the third wave of positive psychology, we're in the third decade, same sort of thing is happening with positive education. So, I think one of the first things I want to say is that it is evolving, there is criticism that says, but isn't all of this just to use the term old wine in new bottles is that is a phrase that's been put forward. And a lot of the ideas are not new. In fact, they go way back. But what positive psychology has done, it's given it almost like a platform to be recognised, and most importantly, to be evaluated in a scientific way. So culturally, a lot of the research is based on the weird population, which is really when we are thinking about the sort of the westernised, industrialised, educated, that type of population. But what is now happening is that we're starting to see more research starting to come globally. So that's really important, because that shows that the concepts are something that can be applied, not just to your white, industrialised, westernised types of population. It's also being recognised as well that this is something that's very inclusive. So traditional psychology, focus on helping those people in need those who had issues. But what positive psychology can do is it can help everybody. So, I think the fact that it can help everybody makes it more inclusive. And in schools, it can help all of that diversity of learners as well. So, the research is starting to come through in that particular area. I think one of the major concerns that gets put forward is that the schools that have often done it, our private sector schools, so a lot of research has been based on schools in Australia, but their private sector schools, and we're even though we've had sudden starting to appear in the UK, it's a lot of the private sector, or schools where they have that kind of time out as part of the curriculum. I know a lot of primary schools that may be Catholic Primary schools where they have that time to reflect embedded into their curriculum, actually, they find it easier to implement things like positive psychology, because the culture is set up. But now it's starting to change that more schools are recognising that actually, it doesn't require a lot of training, it doesn't require a lot of expertise. And in fact, a lot of this is what we're doing already. It's starting to become more accepted. So, it's still very early days. But it's starting to become recognised. So, I think one of the really important things to make it change is that you get that top-down support. So, it has to be something that everybody is on board with. And I think this is where parents have a role, as well. And schools have a role to involve parents in the wellbeing practices that are going on within the schools so that they can then continue them at home. They can help support the child; they can support the school. So, it's much more of a holistic approach, but also one that involves everybody. So, I think one of the things I wanted to come out from the book is how to get started. And I think by having case studies of practice, so all of the different authors of the chapters have actually either embedded positive education into their own practice, or produced and tested an intervention that's drawn on positive psychology, so they can talk about it from the ground, they can talk about the practicalities. So, when we're talking about the book, again, education, positive education at all levels, we've got a case study from all levels of education, we've also been able to talk about one of the interventions that we created as an online introduction to positive psychology that parents can use. So that's been something else that we've been able to put in there. And often, it's the not knowing that prevents you from doing so just giving a quick, brief introduction to, you know, positive psychology for parents, some examples of activities, that can also make a difference, because you haven't got to read a big book about what positive psychology isn't get lots of exams and get lots of qualifications. It's really, really simple. So, it's about making it accessible. So, yes, there are challenges, but there's lots of challenges with change.

RT: I think it's a fantastic tool to have, isn't it in schools where, you know, teachers are under a lot of pressure. But if they can also tap into this for themselves, I mean, hopefully, then it's, it's coming from that point of view as well. So, you know, everyone's benefiting, like you said, about being inclusive and holistic, everyone's benefiting from each other. It sounds like it will make such a difference in terms of just being able to receive and also give, you know, education both ways, isn't it? And yet, just to absorb information, that creativity piece, I think is really an eye opener, isn't that you can be more creative when you're in that more of a positive state, which is really interesting. And I guess it would be great to finish on what you see for the future, you know, if we're looking at positive education, sort of 5-10 years, potentially, and where is your research going next? So, you're going to potentially hand another book, or what do you see yourself? 

MT: I think that I think something needs to happen. I mean, I think we really are the choice of whether we do something which is going to enhance wellbeing, and ultimately, also enhance academic performance. I think that's a choice is starting to be restricted, I think we have to make a difference, we have to start doing things differently. I think one of the concerns as well about talking about positive when we talk about anything being positive is that people start to think about this toxic positivity. So, I think that actually making it clear that actually positive psychology isn't just focusing on being optimistic and positive. And thinking that happiness is going to be, you know, make things different, is really important. But it's also recognising that the consequences of adopting a much more strengths approach, but it can also have such an empowering effect, to move things forward. So, I think, really, what do we need to be doing just providing that evidence we need to be sharing the practice, I think one of the things I would really love to come from this book is almost like a sort of a central hub where people can start to share their own practice, we've started with the book, but also share those challenges. That would be what I'd like to see come from this particular book, it's really difficult in terms of where would I like to see my focus? I think, at this particular point in time, higher education, which is where I'm working, is a really big challenge for a lot of our young people. And I think anything that I can do that's more applied, in my own practice, will potentially lead on to something else. Yes. But in that moment, I think that has to be my priority. Is working on that kind of, well, let's start to put these things into practice and start to get more evidence so that we can encourage people that it is possible to do it in their own way. I think writing the book has been wonderful. I have enjoyed doing it. I am very much an applied psychologist. So, I think I would just like to get more of that out there to the people who need to see it. I think I learned a lot about the role of parents as a parent myself. I think, you know, we do tend to get forgotten as parents and we tend to be tough on ourselves. And I think, actually, that's a lovely area I'd like to explore. But I think it's just about getting that message out there as well. I think one of the other things as well, which I really wanted to sort of mention which I did forget what's so important for educators of positive psychology is that their wellbeing is important as well. So, I think the wellbeing of teach Shares is something which positive psychology can help address. So positive education is also thinking about teachers. And I think that's where positive education is going. It's not just about the students, they are the core hub of the business, but actually, to teach wellbeing, you've got to have good wellbeing. And that applies to parents and families as well. And I think, you know, it, it is important that we all look after our own wellbeing, and this is what positive psychology and positive education can do. And that's, that's why I think I'm so passionate about it.

RT: Congratulations on the book, it's an absolute fantastic resource for anyone that's interested in positive education, and whether you're a parent or an educator or just someone interested in this area. And yeah, and thank you for your time. It's been an absolutely fascinating talk. And it's a great that we can all just jump and get straight in now and on those exercises. So, thank you so much. I've really, really enjoyed speaking with you. 

MT: Thank you. Thank you so much. 

RT: That's all for this episode from the Emerald Podcast Series. We hope you enjoyed it and learned something new. If you'd like to learn more about positive psychology and education, be sure to check out DR Tytherleigh’s book, Positive Education at All Levels, which is part of the Emerald Positive Psychology and Practice series. My thanks goes to my guest, dir. Tytherleigh, Podcast Producer Daniel Ridge, the studio This is Distorted and to you for listening. See you next time.

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