Positive psychology, a scientific approach to studying wellbeing, examines a person’s character strengths, optimism, satisfaction, gratitude, compassion, self-esteem, and hope.
RMIT Vietnam’s Learning Success Coordinator Jamila Ahmed, who spent years on learning and spreading positive psychology to the learning and teaching community, said that “in broad terms, positive psychology can improve the quality of one’s life by increasing our sense of wellbeing and contentment, becoming more resilient, decreasing stress and anxiety”.
Ms Ahmed applied the concept in her own classroom while teaching English at RMIT’s School of English and University Pathways before moving to Student Academic Success team, and believes the application of positive psychology can shift student’s engagement significantly in the classroom.
“Using positive psychology in the classroom fosters positive emotions and through that students can discover their character strengths which encourages them to find purpose and meaning, and be more engaged in their own learning,” she said.
“An engaged student will be more attentive and focused in class, and more motivated to learn and participate, which results in a more meaningful experience for them.
“This translates to better academic performance and less absenteeism.”
Ms Ahmed used the Geelong Grammar School, an independent and progressive school in Australia, as an example.
“In collaboration with Martin Seligman, one of the founders of positive psychology, the school changed their curriculum and introduced the Positive Psychology Program,” she said.
“The results of implementing this program were that students showed an increase in engagement and creativity, higher academic achievement and more critical thinking skills.
“It also positively impacted students with anxiety, depression and adjustment disorders.”
Those are the tangible results that every educator looks for.
Ms Ahmed emphasised the concept is beneficial not only to students, but also to those who work within education.
“When they [educators] learn about their character strengths for example and connect it to their work, it can increase meaning during challenging times,” she said.
“Many of us have experienced unprecedented levels of stress, grief, anxiety and fear due to the pandemic and it has highlighted a need for us to develop skills around resilience, hope, gratitude, learnt optimism and utilising our character strengths.”
Ms Ahmed said that positive psychology can be encapsulated in with the acronym ‘PERMA’, which stands for positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement, a key framework within the concept and as the means of motivating students to perform better and enjoy their overall learning experience.
“I recently introduced the use of character strengths, PERMA and a variety of positive psychology interventions to a group of educators,” she shared about her well-received presentation at the CamTESOL 2021.
“Positive psychology is already a part of education but there is still room to grow to increase student motivation and engagement.
“The field has grown immensely over the last ten years, yet it has barely scratched the surface in terms of the impact it can have on education as it’s still considered a relatively new field.”
Story: Ha Hoang