Q&A: ‘Positive education’ works to emphasise students’ strengths


Lisa Maree Bentley is working with the Antwerp International School to create a positive learning environment in the classroom

Young Happy Minds

Teachers should emphasise students’ strengths rather than their weaknesses: That’s the aim of the International Positive Education Network (Ipen), a global network that wants more schools to adopt an educational approach grounded in positive psychology. Lisa Maree Bentley, Ipen’s ambassador in Belgium, is implementing a new programme at the Antwerp International School.

How does positive education work?

A teacher changes their whole pedagogy. You can tell the difference between a teacher who is inspired and those who are burnt out or were not inspired in the first place. It’s the way they teach that makes the difference.

The teachers engage with the students and start to care, focusing on what the students do well rather than what they are not doing well. Children can reach their potential with the right mindset. Positive psychology teaches them that they all have strengths.

What does this mean in practice in the classroom?

A teacher might, for example, use a text in class and focus on the strengths in that text. In Antwerp International School’s after-school Young Happy Minds programme there will be group sessions where we will also teach mindfulness, as well as techniques to calm and control emotions.

Why do you think this is lacking in schools?

Different people have different strengths. Schools focus too much on academic knowledge. That’s why students come out of school disillusioned. With positive psychology, they might discover they have strong creativity and leadership skills, for example, instead of thinking, ‘I’m a failure because I’m no good at maths’.

The problem with schools is that they put all children in the same batch. We are born individually and have our own identities. As for parents, as much as they think they can help, the majority of time, their children are at school.

How successful are these programmes?

The success I’ve seen is that students recognise that they’re not stupid and their confidence grows. Children with anxiety also cope better by using mindfulness exercises. My hope is that the Belgian education ministers will embrace this as an initiative. Children here are judged at the age of 11 as to who they will be when they are older. Young people have the potential to be whoever they want to be. I will absolutely do everything in my power to get this into schools.

Photo courtesy Antwerp International School