Mathew A White PhD FACE

Positive Education

Positive Education, What’s Next?

Three major themes in positive psychology and positive education for 2016

Posted Dec 08, 2015

I am often asked  what’s next in positive psychology and positive education.

Now entering its 16th year as a science, positive psychology is the study of optimal functioning of individuals, groups, and institutions. Its application within education has grown significantly since 2009. It has come to be known as ‘positive education’ and widely used as an umbrella term used to describe empirically validated and scientifically informed interventions and programs from positive psychology that have an impact on student well-being (White and Murray, 2015).

International Positive Education Network (IPEN) -Festival of Positive Education at the InterContinental Dallas July 18-20 2016

Without doubt the 'next thing' in positive education will be the International Positive Education Network (IPEN) Festival of Positive Education at the InterContinental Dallas July 18-20 2016. This will be a remarkable event with keynotes from IPEN founder, Lord O'Shaughnessy, Dr Martin Seligman - founder of positive psychology and Director of the Positie Psycholgy Center at the University of Pennsylvania , Dr Angela Duckworth - expert on Grit from the University of Pennsylvania, Sir Anthony Seldon - President of IPEN, and Shawn Achor.

Be sure to visit the Festival's to see the details.

Major themes for 2016 in positive education.

As we conclude 2015, I would like to flag with you three topics that I believe will come to be significant areas in the development of well-being in 2016:

Source: IPEN


  • Positive educational change: moving beyond delivering educational programs in classrooms alone - this is an approach where school leaders adopt evidence-informed change models from positive organizational scholarship and positive organizational behavior to stimulate growth within institutions.
  • Positive governance: an approach to corporate governance that includes traditional governance and decision-making models but also considers organizational well-being as a key driver in the decision-making process and compliance.
  • Positive theology: integration of conceptual frameworks and vocabulary from positive psychology with theological subject matter and reading to enrich traditional theological discourse.

Positive educational change

Positive education programs continue to grow throughout the world. The International Positive Education Network (IPEN) now has 50 representatives from 28 different countries composed of teachers, parents, academics, students, schools, colleges, universities, charities, companies, and governments to promote positive education. IPEN’s goals are to support collaboration, change education practice, and reform government policy.

While teaching positive education lessons and designing effective positive education interventions continue to be the focus and starting point for many educators, I argue the topic of managing “positive educational change” will emerge as a key driver in research within positive education in the next 12 months. Moving schools away from focusing budgets and times toward questionable training models will be replaced with a greater focus on integrating well-being and positive education at the strategic decision-making level for principals.

Measurement will be a key topic within managing positive education change that will dominate in 2016. I believe we will start to see findings from positive organizational scholarship and positive organizational behavior to reimagine traditional schooling change models. I believe we will see the evolution of positive education lessons with whole systems changed, supported by interventions that will be explicitly linked to bold well-being strategies and measurable objectives.

Positive governance

As educational systems and individual schools start to grapple with leading the change in the whole school from a positive lens, so too would traditional governance structures evolve. Over the next 12 months, I argue that we will start to see the emergence of positive governance. This is an evidence-based decision-making process that maintains the robust traditions of governance models, including finance and audit, risk management, policies, systems, structures, and strategic frameworks. These have traditionally been deficit-oriented. However, I argue that governance will increasingly start to ask for measures around wellbeing from a student and staff perspective to respond ethically to employee well-being and to foster positive educational cultures.

Positive theology

Many educators in faith-based institutions have been asking the question, “What, if anything, can theology and positive psychology learn from each other?” Over the past six months, I have been collaborating with Rev. Canon Dr Matthew Anstey, Rev. Dr Gillies Ambler, and the Rev. Dr. Theo McCall on this very question. It is at the heart of a book we are currently co-editing to be published in 2016. The topics explored by positive psychologists include compassion, flourishing, forgiveness, growth, love, strengths, and virtues. Many of these topics have also been the focus of Christian theology.

Positive Psychology and Theology will be an edited volume of over 10 chapters from a remarkable conference at St Peter’s College in 2015 jointly hosted by St Peter’s College – Adelaide and St Barnabas’ Theological College with contributors from Britain, North America and Australia. One of the leading authors is Princeton Theologian Ellen Charry, who says, “I read positive psychology to see if it can help theology have a more balanced view of human psychology... I seek to articulate theologically warranted strengths that Christians can rely on for the sake of their own flourishing and that of the societies to which they contribute.” Similarly, positive psychologists aim to enrich the traditional deficit-based or disease model of psychology, with its focus on repairing the negatives in life, by promoting the positives. It is not a denial of the negatives. It is rather an invitation to consider the whole spectrum of the human experience.

Where to from here?

I am delighted that many of my colleagues from St Peter’s College – Adelaide, who have been teaching positive education for five years, will be involved in two major publications that will tackle these three themes:

  • “Future Direction in Wellbeing: A Collection of Essays” will be published mid-2016. Edited by Dr. Gavin Slemp from the Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Melbourne and Simon Murray from St Peter’s College – Adelaide, this book will be a collection of over 50 essays by leading positive psychologists from Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America. We believe it will become a must-read for those interested in the next horizon for well-being science. Each author has been invited to consider the next major trend in the area of character education, positive psychology, positive education and well-being.

  • “Positive Psychology and Theology” will be published at the start of next year. Co-edited by the Rev’d Canon Dr. Matthew Anstey, Rev’d Dr. Gillies Ambler and the Rev’d Dr. Theo McCall, it will be a collection of chapters written by theologians and psychologists from Australia, Europe and North America and will be a major contributor to discussions between and across theology and positive psychology.

In the New Year, I look forward to sharing more of these details with you.


Charry, Ellen T., and Eric L. Johnson. “Interview with Ellen T. Charry: Towards a Christian Positive Psychology.” Edification: The Transdisciplinary Journal Of Christian Psychology 5, no. 1 (November 2011): 61-68.

Gable, S. L., & Haidt, J. (2005). What (and Why) Is Positive Psychology? Review of General Psychology, 9, 103-110.

Norrish, M. J. M., & Vella-Brodrick, D. A. (2009). Positive psychology and adolescents: Where are we now? Where to from here? Australian Psychologist, 44(4), 270-278.

McCall, Theodore D., Lea E. Waters, and Mathew A. White. “A Comparison Between Theological Christian Approaches to Wisdom and Peterson and Seligman’s Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues.” Evidence based Approaches In Positive Education (January 2015): 27.

White, Mathew A., and A. Simon Murray. Evidence-based approaches in positive education: implementing a strategic framework for well-being in schools: Dordrecht: Springer, 2015.

More Posts