Positive Psychology in the Classroom

Teaching students to be self-aware, self-assured, and self-sufficient.

Positive Psychology is Good for Your Student’s Brain II

The feeling brain

The brain is a modular house with an interconnecting electrical system. Trillions of neurons grow, connect, connect, and communicate within the modular brain so that we are able to know of the stars in the heaven and the spaghetti in our bowl. Every idea students generate, every feeling they hide, and every action they take originates in the brain.

Changing in response to experience, the brain has it’s own idiosyncratic brain print such that each individual responds to the same experiential input differently - creating unique neural profiles. For this reason, every student constructs and deconstructs prior learning differently.

The brain is multi-dimensional and so it works on multiple mutually reciprocal levels. The brain assimilates experience cognitively and then translates that experience affectively into action. In the process, the brain encodes both cognitive strengths such as creativity and emotional strengths such as generosity. Yet, the same experience may encode calm cognition or anxious emotion.

Positive psychology is the only readily available teacher tool that is compatible with the neuroscience of learning. Positive psychology offers an affective educational taxonomy that guides teacher’s programs, curriculum, lessons, activities, and learning games. Positive psychology capitalizes on the brain’s innate orientations and changes the brain in adaptive ways.

There are three basic positive psychology interventions that are consistent with the neuroscience. These approaches cultivate student's emotional strengths enabling them to self-manage emotions. When students manage emotions well, they are better able to improve relationships, find purpose, and accomplish goals. Emotional learning is a pre-requisite for social and academic learning.

1. Activate & Facilitate Emotional Curiosity

The brain is hard wired for curiosity and engages in learning when intrinsic motivation is activated and learning flows. Teachers plan and facilitate positive, novel learning experiences because positive experiences ready the brain for learning. However, teachers know that these alone do not create new learning and are not sufficient for neurogenesis. Carefully planned, purposeful instruction and intentional teaching that sparks the imagination and engages the emotions assures the brain will make new connections.

 2. Connect Emotion to Cognition

 Experiential input changes neural connections and can even turn them on and off - literaly turning learnign on and off. When teachers connect lessons to their  students to their emotional thoughts, feelings, actions, and reactions the flow of learning is stimulated. In the process, students learn to identify, understand, and regulate feelings more competently. In the process, students master academic content using an emotional filter that prompts deeper, richer, more durable learning.

3. Identify and Motivate Strengths Practice

If students can precisely identify their strengths (humor, kindness, courage), they can practice those strengths in the classroom every day building automatic connections in the brain. Using those automatic connections, they are more likely to respond with strength to frustration and disappointment. Students learn to recognize strengths in themselves and value strengths in others.

I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious. – Albert Einstein

Web Resources

Brain Facts 

Teenage Brain 

Society for Neuroscience 

Videos

Edutopia: Judy Willis on the Science of Learning

Edutopia: Richard Davidson on the Heart-Brain Connection

Discovery Channel: Brain Development

AVAILABLE! Positive Psychology in the Elementary School Classroom helps teachers build positive psychology classrooms consistent with affective neuroscience. 

Patty O’Grady, Ph.D., is a Professor at the University of Tampa committed to transformational education. She is the author of Positive Psychology in the Elementary School Classroom.

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