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Applying Positive Psychology to Education

written by Dave Shearon 17 March 2007

Dave Shearon, MAPP, applies positive psychology to both law and education. Dave writes articles about applications of Positive Psychology to law and education at his site. He co-authored the recently published book, Smart Strengths: Building Character, Resilience and Relationships in Youth. Full bio.

Dave's articles are here.

School Building

School Building

K-12 education is under the microscope in this country, and leaders in the field feel the pressure.  Next month, I’ll be joining with Bill Robertson, one of my professors from MAPP, to present a one-day seminar to school superintendents, and two of my MAPP colleagues have just made points in their posts that I have discussed with Bill as we prepare for that seminar.

First, Margaret Greenberg focused on how strengths can be a different lens for viewing development.  Public education tends to follow trends in the business world, often taking them to extremes.  That’s certainly the case with competencies. In the world of education, the competencies list for principals is known as the “Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium Standards for School Leaders” (ISLLC-SSL).  This document is the product of a committee of movers-and-shakers operating under the auspices of the Council of Chief State School Officers.  In 2001, forty-one states reported that they had either adopted the ISLLC document or “aligned” with it.

The ISLLC-SSL is a 24-page document that contains six “standards” each broken down into “knowledge”, “dispositional”, and “performances” components.  There are 43 items under “knowledge”, 43 more under “dispositions”, and 99 more under “performances.”  One might think, given the quantity of these standards that they are specific, concrete, and circumscribed items, but such is not the case.  Knowledge items include such things as “learning goals in a pluralistic society”, “effective communication”, and “effective consensus-building and negotiation skills.”  And that’s just under the first standard!

Clearly, administrative and policy leaders in education could benefit from developing the strengths-based lens for looking at leadership development that Margaret suggests.

Emma Judge suggested that leaders in the business world might best begin to apply positive psychology by establishing systems for measuring levels of optimism, hope, efficacy and resilience.  Couldn’t agree more.  In fact Sherri Fisher and I did exactly that, providing data on optimism, happiness, view of work, and character strengths for teachers in a system with over 10,000 students.  (Email me for a copy of our report on this effort.)  School systems today have some outstanding accountability data, but they have virtually no data about the positive emotions, positive thought patterns, and positive relationships that can really make an organization soar.  Today, we have the tools to gather such information efficiently and without undue disruption to the teaching and learning efforts that must be the focus of schools.  It’s time to get at it.



Greenberg, M. (2007). Creating a Bridge b/t Competencies & Strengths. Positive Psychology News.

Judge, E. (2007). So what should leaders DO?. Positive Psychology News.

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Senia 19 March 2007 - 2:27 am

Dave, I’m with you two for two. (Unbelievable that the schools’ competency report is 24-pages-long! What?!) I’m with you on whittling down to a comprehensible number like Margaret suggests. And I’m totally with you on measuring all these things that could use some measuring – optimism, affect, etc. – like Emma, you, and Sherri suggest.

(I cannot believe the length of that report for schools! Thank you for the examples of what some of the lines say). Great summary of needed techiques – thank you,


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