“A deliberate focus on wellbeing skills provides the foundation on which flourishing futures are built,” says Frances Totney, a graduate of our Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing.

Her article on positive approaches to education appears in the August edition of Always Learning magazine.

Teachers and schools are uniquely placed to make a positive difference to mental health at the community level. If we can teach kids life-long skills to build wellbeing, we are nurturing a generation better equipped to avoid the mental health issue so prevalent today. By applying a positive lens to their education, through a range of tools and approaches based on the science of positive psychology, they will be more likely to develop a growth mindset that sustains lifelong learning.

Frances, an experienced teacher who has also studied with Professor Martin Seligman and worked on the pioneering positive education program at Geelong Grammar, advocates an inclusive approach to wellbeing in schools. A whole-school approach to positive education is about preparing kids to flourish, showing teachers how to build on student’s strengths, enhancing teacher’s own wellbeing and leadership skills, developing a positive culture throughout the school, and engaging parents, stakeholders and the community to support and sustain wellbeing.

She believes that positive relationships at each level and a strengths-based approach are paramount and at the core of engaged staff and students, which in turn, leads to effective teaching and learning.

The whole-school approach is part of the philosophy and practices that underpin the Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing. Frances is excited about bringing these approaches and learnings to more teachers and schools. Since graduating from the Diploma with a specialisation in positive education, Frances joined the Langley Group as a wellbeing consultant on the Growing Great Schools initiative.

“I’m passionate about helping schools apply positive psychology and design programs that work within their unique learning environments and cultures,” she says. “The more schools make wellbeing core business, the more positive results are amplified, promoting benefits for all.”

When wellbeing is core business within a school, positive results are amplified, promoting benefits for all.

What’s great for teachers and anyone involved in designing positive learning experiences and curriculums, emphasises Frances, is that you can make an immediate difference with quite simple and powerful applications. Starting each meeting or class by asking students to share one good thing that happened the day before or something they are grateful for, focusses individuals and groups on what is going well and builds positive emotions and emotional and social resources. There is significant research that backs up these approaches.

Strengths-based interventions are particularly powerful, and often quite simple to introduce in schools. “Kids are great at spotting strengths. When children learn that each person has something good within them and a unique set of strengths they can grow over time, they feel confident and encouraged to become their best self. Calling attention to what is right, good and strong about themselves and other people can also redirect kids toward positive behaviour that benefits everyone.”

Strengths-based interventions are powerful, and often quite simple to introduce in schools.

Frances recommends sharing stories about strengths. This helps kids to develop a vocabulary for their strengths and learn ways to apply and build them. “Give kids specific feedback about the strengths they demonstrate, such as using perseverance or creativity to solve a problem. It’s more meaningful and impactful than simply saying ‘Good job!’ Talking and asking questions about strengths is something teachers (and parents) can do as part of their day-to-day interactions with kids. It’s a great way to start to apply positive psychology to build resilience and wellbeing,” she says.

It’s just as important for teachers too. Teachers are prone to burnout, so building a support network and resilience skills to enable them to be at their best, allows them to be better role models for students and lead their schools in applying new approaches anchored in their own experience.


Frances Totney

“Whether schools engage holistic approaches or start simple interventions informed by positive psychology,” Frances says, “teachers can play a crucial role in shifting the focus toward flourishing and wellbeing.”

If you would like to become involved in the Growing Great Schools initiative, contact Frances at frances(at)growinggreatschools.com.au. And if you want to learn how to apply positive positive psychology to increase individual and collective wellbeing in schools, check out our Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing.

For more about positive approaches to wellbeing in schools read the article.