Theoretical Approaches to Positive Education

Several early psychologists and thinkers paved the way for the incorporation of positive psychology techniques, though they may not have yet been labeled as such, in the classroom. John Dewey was among the earliest advocates to impact the field of positive schooling. John Dewey recognized schools as primary institutions for the development of democracy. He opposed the repressive atmosphere of schools, especially elementary and secondary schools, and emphasized the importance of promoting learners' ability to absorb and recreate information in their minds. He put forth the idea of constructivism, which argues that individual learners should take information and creatively construct it according to their own personal capacities and views. This approach opposes the traditional view of education in which teachers pass down knowledge to the students through direct communication. In summary, Dewey's view of education, similar to progressive education implies that people learn best in environments that are applicable to the real world and that allow them to learn through activities and practical problem solving.

Maria Montessori, the originator of the Montessori system, put forth views relating to positive schooling as well. The Montessori system is largely based on the positive psychology principle of creativity. Creativity, known as one of the twenty-four character strengths, is offered with the freedom for children to choose how they learn, known as self-directed learning. Children are provided with hands-on materials, which not only inspires creativity, but also stimulates interest in learning, as children are able to express themselves through learning, rather than feeling forced to work in order to learn.

Elizabeth Hurlock was one of the first psychologists to actually carry out experiments with positive psychology techniques to measure the effects of positive schooling in the field of education. Hurlock studied the effectiveness of praise and reproach in the classroom, arguing that praise was a more effective long-term incentive. Her studies found that praise was more effective for children regardless of age, ability and gender.

Jeniffer Henderlong and Mark Lepper echo Hurlock's arguments that praise is beneficial to enhancing children's intrinsic motivation. Although some research doubts the effectiveness of praise, appropriate use of praise is proven to be positively correlated with confidence and better academic performance results. They support that praise increases the personal beliefs about one's ability to perform given tasks. Also, cognitive evaluation theory supports that praise enhances individuals' perception about performance outcomes and that positive moods induced by praise may contribute to effective outcomes.

Arthur Chickering and Zelda Gamson focus on the pedagogy, the teacher's "how," rather than content and subject matter being taught, which is partly due to the scarce empirical research that has been done on college curriculum. Chickering and Gamson give seven research-supported principles regarding education and learning in the undergraduate environment for teachers to follow:

Teachers are to encourage contact between students and faculty. Chickering and Gamson explain that student-faculty relationships give students motivation to keep working hard to strive for future goals and also provide support and resources.
To develop reciprocity and cooperation among students, promoting a collaborative learning environment, rather than a competitive one. This gives students opportunities to work together and learn from one another, which has been shown to strengthen understanding.
Teachers are to use active learning techniques, relating material to topics that students already have an interest in and getting students to ask, "What does this concept look like in my own life?"
Teachers are to give prompt feedback. Balancing assessment and feedback results in efficient learning, as students realize what they do and do not know and learn to assess themselves.
Emphasizing time on task, or sharing effective time management strategies to give students an understanding for their time expectations.
Communicating high expectations has shown to be very successful. Expectations that teachers implement give students a gage for how much potential they think that they have.
Respecting students' diverse talents and ways of learning accounts for all learning styles and allows students to figure out how they learn best.

Eliot Aronson has pioneered the jigsaw classroom, a theoretical approach for 3rd-12th grade classes which emphasizes the individual academic strengths of children and seeks to make them peer-teachers in a cooperative learning setting. In this approach, students are divided into competency groups of four to six students; individual group members then break off and work with "experts" on their topic from the other groups, researching together that specific section of material. These students then return to their groups and present on their part of the material. This approach encourages group engagement, listening, and cooperation among peers, as well as incorporates an aspects of play into learning. It as shown positive effects on academic performance and liking for school and peers. This may be because increased liking leads to self-esteem, which if absent, can affect academic performance. It is also possible that jigsaw methods help to increase participation while reducing anxiety, lead to increases empathy, and result in changes in attributions of success and failures. The Jigsaw method has been proposed as a strategy to improve race relations since it meets the criteria posed by contact theory for reducing racial prejudice. Intergroup contact theory states that interracial contact will only improve race relations if ethnic groups are of equal status, pursue a common goal of mutual interest for groups, and are sanctioned by institutions.

Another model that utilizes positive education in school is the response to intervention model. Response to intervention is a preventative model that works to provide tailored assistance to at-risk students who are exhibiting insufficient academic achievement, though its principles have been used to address behavioral issues as well. The central components of this model include a core curriculum based on scientific evidence, universal screening, progress monitoring, and decisions about acceptable progress in subsequent tiers. RTI utilizes a multi-tiered structure: at each tier, students are screened and then monitored. The model was originally created to help identify learning disabilities, so that the adoption of a core curriculum ensures that inadequate teaching is not the cause for poor performance. Those who struggle even when adhering to a research-supported curriculum are given more intense instruction at a higher tier. When behavior is being considered, school or local norms for behavior rates are used when screening.

The Positive Behavioral Support (PBS) model is structured similarly to RTI but addresses behavior problems. This model adopts a prevention and intervention approach, emphasizing the importance of building prosocial skills, in addition to reducing bad behavior while implementing a three-tiered "continuum of supports" from a universal to an individual level. The strategies at the universal level include defined expected behaviors, strategies to teach expected behavior, strategies to encourage and practice appropriate behavior, and consistency within and across school systems. The second level involves providing targeted support for individuals and groups that are at risk. The final level concerns individuals that persist in their bad behavior and involves functional behavior assessments, instruction-based plans, and collective comprehensive plans including families and community agencies. PBS can be implemented at a school-wide, district-wide or even statewide level. Recently, local school systems and even state departments of education have been demonstrating a rising interest in PBS because the program requires little training time and limited money and staff. In 2002, the New Hampshire Department of Education organized a statewide initiative to introduce PBS into New Hampshire schools. PBS has also become popular in Maryland, as more than 33% of state's schools implemented the program in 2006.