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Integrating positive psychology into schools: Implications for practice

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Abstract

Traditional approaches for working with children and families in the schools focus on problems and disturbance. The concept of positive psychology as a way to change this focus is offered through exploration of its integration within school psychology. Specifically, the application of positive psychology can form the basis of preventive practices within the school setting. Examples of this application are provided within common roles of the school psychologist (consultation, direct work, educational assessment and planning). © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Psychol Schs 41: 163–172, 2004.
INTEGRATING POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY INTO SCHOOLS:
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE
MARK D. TERJESEN, MATTHEW JACOFSKY, JEFFREY FROH, AND RAYMOND DiGIUSEPPE
St. John’s University
Traditional approaches for working with children and families in the schools focus on problems
and disturbance. The concept of positive psychology as a way to change this focus is offered
through exploration of its integration within school psychology. Specifically, the application of
positive psychology can form the basis of preventive practices within the school setting. Exam-
ples of this application are provided within common roles of the school psychologist (consulta-
tion, direct work, educational assessment and planning). © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
School psychology has experienced many paradigm shifts (see Reschly & Ysselydke, 2002).
However, one major change that has not yet had significant impact on school psychology practice
is the field of positive psychology. Positive psychology contradicts the historical and traditional
emphasis of assessment and intervention practices on pathology. Instead, positive psychology
focuses on the unique positive characteristics of the individual and maximizes his/her potential.
This paper proposes a paradigm shift in school psychology toward positive psychology, offering
examples regarding its fit within traditional roles of the school psychologist.
Positive Psychology Overview
The disease model of repairing mental illness has driven psychology for the past half-century.
Psychology (including school psychology) has viewed the world though problem-focused or def-
icit lenses—but focusing strictly on pathology may not provide a complete understanding of all
aspects of human functioning. That is, not everyone surrenders and raises the white flag when
faced with life’s misfortunes. Rather, most people persevere and succeed in the face of adversity.
Such traits have accounted for the survival of the human race (Sheldon & King, 2001). However,
if perseverance and human excellence are so important to the survival of our species, why have
psychologists failed to attend to such aspects until recently? The three main goals of psychology
before World War II were to (1) cure mental illness, (2) make the lives of all people more fulfilling,
and (3) enhance and identify human excellence. Unfortunately, after the war, the goal to make the
lives of all people better and more complete was abandoned (Seligman, 2002a; Seligman & Csik-
szentmihalyi, 2000) in lieu of emphasis on curing mental illness.
This emphasis does not imply that the identification and treatment of pathology was harmful
to psychology or school psychology. On the contrary, following the disease model advanced the
field of psychology and made a great contribution to society. We now have a good understanding
of the etiologies of many psychological disorders. Also, we have developed empirically based
interventions for many disorders. Given these advances, it is good that psychologists receive
training in the diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders because many people fall prey
to such problems (Sheldon & King, 2001), but such contributions are not without limitations. By
focusing on people’s weaknesses, psychology (including school psychology) has abandoned part
of its original mission (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).
It is understandable that the positive aspects of original goals of psychology have not been
fulfilled given the lack of evidence to support its effectiveness (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi,
The authors would like to thank Dr. Mark Sciutto for many helpful comments regarding earlier drafts of the manuscript.
Correspondence to: Mark D. Terjesen, PhD, Department of Psychology, Marillac Hall SB36, St. John’s University,
8000 Utopia Parkway, Jamaica, NY 11439. E-mail: Terjesem@stjohns.edu
Psychology in the Schools, Vol. 41(1), 2004 © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI: 10.1002/pits.10148
163
2000). For example, a search with no restrictions in PsycINFO for “positive psychology” resulted
in only 52. Thus, if limited empirical support exists, why should school psychology expand its
parameters and consider integrating positive psychology? Many areas of practice in school psy-
chology focus on identifying the etiologies of problems experienced by children and their fami-
lies. By expending our resources researching factors that lead to psychological distress rather than
the preventive and protective factors that buffer against pathology, we may be shortsighted and
hinder the advancement of the field. We may lack the knowledge necessary to teach students,
parents, and teachers the skills required to maximize their potential and indirectly alter their
psychological distress.
In summary, for psychology to work toward fulfillment of all of its original goals, (school)
psychology needs to be more proactive rather than reactive. For example, school psychologists
may benefit from following a prevention model that advanced public health. By following the
disease model for the past 50 years, psychologists have developed many empirically based strat-
egies to deal with many problems effectively that plague our nation’s youth. However, by follow-
ing the disease model, psychology has failed to gain an understanding of the prevention of such
problems (Seligman & Peterson, 2000). Psychology has yet to fully learn about protective factors
(optimism, hope, and resilience) that may buffer individuals against adversity and pain. Taking a
positive approach and investigate such factors, we can expand our ability to promote more fulfill-
ing development in all students, not just those considered being a problem. This requires a shift in
the field, asking practitioners, trainers, and researchers to think outside the traditional service
delivery models.
Positive Psychology and Prevention
Enhancing the strengths and virtues of children can accomplish effective prevention. Focus-
ing on children’s strengths can increase the chances that they will successfully manage difficulties
they confront in the present and how they will cope with future battles. Seligman and Peterson
(2000) suggested that psychologists become aware that the principles of positive psychology
guide many services (e.g., school consultation) that they already provide. However, the “fix it”
principle currently dominates those services. Instead, focusing on the strengths of the individual
and of the school setting will not only foster the development of healthier relationships between
the school psychologist and his/her clients, but also promote more successful outcomes. More-
over, amplifying the target individual’s strengths rather than focusing on repairing their weak-
nesses may lead to more effective treatment. That is, nurturing human strengths such as optimism,
courage, future mindedness, honesty, and perseverance serve as more efficacious buffers against
mental illness as compared to medication or therapy (Seligman, 1998).
The concept of resilience holds great potential for work with children in a preventive manner.
Masten and Reed (2002) proposed that the adversities that undermine the basic human systems
(health, education, nutrition) for development are the greatest areas of risk for children. They
concluded that, “efforts to promote competence and resilience in children at risk should focus on
strategies that prevent damage to, restore, or compensate for threats to these basic systems” (p. 83).
Masten and Reed offered examples such as prenatal and ongoing medical care, health/nutritional
programs, and quality education as devices to “promote the protection of brain development,
attention, thinking, and learning that appear to play a powerful role in the lives of children who
successfully negotiate challenges to development” (p. 83). These strategies do not only reduce the
risk likelihood but also seek to have an impact on the child’s life through affecting the major
processes that exist.
Through changing how we view working with children from a remediation/intervention
philosophy to a process establishment one, Masten and Reed (2002) proposed that we can promote
164 Terjesen, Jacofsky, Froh, and DiGiuseppe
long-time effects on children. They briefly describe a mastery motivation system that would enhance
self-efficacy and student motivation through a series of graduated mastery experiences. This sys-
tem could be applied to academics, athletics, and socialization activities, but a greater understand-
ing of the system is essential.
Applications of Flow and Positive Affectivity to Schools
Among the core terms of positive psychology are those of “flow” and “positive affectivity.”
Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi (2002) described life through the concept of flow, in which: “a
good life is one that is characterized by complete absorption in what one does” (p. 89). It is in
essence an intrinsically motivated activity. Athletes often describe experiences such as “being in
the zone,” which is similar to “flow.” Kahn (2000) reported that the principles of “flow” already
exist is some applied settings, such as the Montessori schools. Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi
(2002) described the Key school in Indianapolis in which the “goal is to foster flow by influencing
both the environment and the individual.” Teachers create a learning atmosphere that fosters flow
through activity choice and has children engage in “serious play.” (For a complete discussion of
the Key school, see Whalen (1999) and Csikszentmihaly, Rathnude, & Whalen (1993).) Perhaps
greater attention to the key characteristics of such applied examples will help us understand how
to promote “flow” for all students.
Stable individual differences in the experience of positive emotions are described as positive
affectivity (Watson, 2002). That is, people that are high on this dimension have frequent episodes
of intense positive emotional experiences. Watson reported that life conditions do not control
positive affectivity levels. That is, people do not require much to feel cheerful, enthusiastic, and
interested in life. This suggests that anyone can experience high levels of positive affectivity. So,
how does a school psychologist work to raise the level of positive affectivity of those with whom
that they work? Watson (2000) suggested that inducing a state of high positive affect is easier
through action (doing) rather than cognition (thinking). Watson describes research that suggests
social behavior and physical activity/exercise can both be used to increase positive affectivity.
Watson also posited that to strive toward, not necessarily achieving goals, is crucial for happiness
and positive affectivity. The school psychologist can work with students to build high positive
affect through attention to “doing.” Although students may reflect back on experiences, the key
may be to get them to be active: socially, academically, and athletically. That is, using the mastery-
achievement strategies discussed earlier, school psychologists can make sure that students’current
levels of proficiency are matched to tasks that they are going to attempt.
Fredrickson (2002) posited that positive emotions signal optimal functioning for both short
and long term benefits. School psychologists should work with clients to develop positive emo-
tions for achieving growth and improved functioning. However, Fredrickson carefully pointed out
that people (or a psychologist for that matter) cannot simply will themselves to experience a
specific emotion. Therefore, any emotional induction techniques are indirect by nature. Fredrick-
son highlighted the importance of the idea of contentment and how it might cause greater cogni-
tive changes. Contentment “calls forth the urge to savor the present moment and integrate those
momentary experiences into an enriched appreciation of one’s place in the world” (p. 129). The
school psychologist could develop a program that works on increasing students’ pleasant events
(socializing, exercising, creating) and allows them to experience these events. The contentment
that they experience might increase their optimism and overall motivation to pursue additional
positive experiences, possibly in previously avoided arenas
Many concepts in positive psychology might receive acknowledgment of their importance,
but putting positive psychology into practice in the schools can be difficult. School psychologists
need to be part B.F. Skinner and part P.T. Barnum. That is, they need to demonstrate empirically
Integrating Positive Psychology into Schools 165
the effectiveness of positive psychology in the schools while also “selling” this approach to the
community. Below we address the applications of positive psychology to the roles of the school
psychologist in consultation, direct work, and educational assessment and planning.
Positive Psychology and Consultation
School psychologists often use the concept of reinforcing the positive in school settings.
Conducting consultations with parents and teachers often relies heavily on this concept. However,
as often happens with “traditional” school consultation, reinforcing students’ strengths is utilized
as a buffer to soften the blow of the negative news that is to follow or is suggested as a potential
adjunct remedy for decreasing already existing negative behaviors. That is, we often discuss the
positive so that no one views us as only discussing the negative. However, reinforcing students’
strengths does not have to settle on the role of buffer. Instead, once school psychologists have a
more comprehensive understanding of positive psychology, they will incorporate this mentality
into their consultation with parents and teachers. This in turn will increase parents and teachers’
abilities to reinforce the positive in students, and come up with not interventions, but activities that
will enhance and nurture students’ lives.
A beginning step in the potential use of positive psychology is to show how these concepts
can be used to prevent future problems from occurring. For example, one may argue that current
school-based consultation practices are analogous to those in clinical psychology in that they
follow the disease model (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Teachers and parents often solicit
consultation services only as problems with students arise. Unfortunately, this process again only
reinforces the remediation philosophy of service delivery. Sadly, far less attention is placed on
reinforcing positive behavior or fostering the positive qualities of both problem and non-problem
children simply for the sake of promoting maximum well-being. Rarely are students referred to a
school psychologist because they potentially could have a problem.
Nonetheless, prevention represents a step in the right direction as one is concerned with
discovering the fullest potentialities of the individual. The beauty of prevention is that to a certain
extent its practice already exists within the schools. More specifically, because of increasing gov-
ernment mandates stemming from heightened parent advocacy and awareness from extensive
media coverage of issues affecting today’s youth (e.g., school violence, academic accountability)
school psychology has begun to place greater emphasis on prevention programs, which has led to
a shift in thinking from remediation to prevention. What better way to demonstrate the practicality
of positive psychology then by incorporating its ideas into prevention efforts that may decrease
the number of referrals generated. Fostering a system wide program toward reinforcing positive
aspects of child development may help in the long-term reduction in referrals for academic and
behavioral difficulties.
We understand that a change from a corrective to a preventive stance does not simply occur
overnight. However, if practitioners are shown the potential benefits and practical utility of posi-
tive psychology through the means described above then this should lead to the third and final step
in the process of rediscovering and introducing positive psychology within the school setting. This
step refers to the actual accomplishment of some goals of positive psychology, which include
identifying, examining, and fostering the already existing “strengths and virtues” (Sheldon &
King, 2001) of human beings. Consultation with parents and teachers represents an optimal oppor-
tunity within the school to achieve these goals. Although the process of consultation would remain
the same, the content would now be different. More specifically, instead of focusing on remedia-
tion as in the past, school psychologists could now devote efforts to consulting with teachers and
parents about students’ potentials and already existing strengths. This in turn will lead to the
increased potential of these students experiencing what has been called “positive emotions” (e.g.,
166 Terjesen, Jacofsky, Froh, and DiGiuseppe
joy, interest, pride, etc.) (Fredrickson, 2001). “By building people’s personal and social resources,
positive emotions transform people for the better, giving them better lives in the future” (Fredrick-
son, 2001, p. 224).
To achieve this goal, school psychologists must begin to fine-tune the most valuable asset
they possess when conducting school consultation: their knowledge. Specifically, school psychol-
ogists must now expand their already existing knowledge base to include current research exam-
ining advancements in positive psychology. Efforts should begin by incorporating into the knowledge
base a user-friendly definition of positive psychology, and information concerning the types of
constructs studied within the area (e.g., optimism, well being, virtues).
As previously stated, while the principles of positive psychology are somewhat already in
place during consultation, greater opportunity still exists for expansion of its involvement. And,
consultation represents a good starting point for incorporating a positive mentality into school.
Positive psychology’s developmental orientation represents a means of improving on some of the
possible existing pitfalls of consultation. The first amongst these is failure to produce results
across times and settings (e.g., traditional methods usually focus on immediate quick fix alter-
ations of the classroom environment, which produce short-lived results). Positive psychology will
redirect school psychologists’ focus from specific target negative behaviors to specific positive
strengths or attributes (Hughes, 2000). We are so concerned with correcting problem behavior that
we are forced to take time and resources away from children who are doing well. However, why
should these children be denied the opportunity to develop to their fullest potential? Regrettably,
sometimes the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many in the classroom. While still
working to develop the positive qualities in the students who demonstrate more problematic behav-
ior, the school psychologist might do the greatest amount of good through larger-scale consultation.
Positive Psychology and Direct Work
Did you ever scratch your head, while talking to a child, and ask yourself, “I do not get it.
How does he do it? Given all that has occurred to him, how can he maintain the approach that he
has taken?” School psychologists probably don’t do this often as they do not often interact with
students who are functioning well in adverse situations, instead spending more time with those
who are not functioning well. Interactions with students who function well under adverse circum-
stances may reveal that that do not ignore the positive. If positive things are not dismissed (“I
should be able to handle that problem well. No big deal”), then people may continue to operate
under the paradigm of looking for problems and remediating those rather than focusing on effec-
tive helpful cognitions and behaviors (Terjesen, 2000). Reinforcing their ability to focus on how
well they handled/approached specific aspects of the problem and looking at their own data can be
helpful: “In the past, you might have avoided the situation; this time you didn’t avoid it. Let us
look at what you told yourself to let you handle these problems and you did.”
The cognitive therapy model has focused on identifying faulty/harmful thinking patterns and
developing effective coping strategies and behaviors. While research has demonstrated effective-
ness of these models (Lewinsohn, & Clarke, 1999; Bennett, & Gibbons, 2000) long-term mainte-
nance of gains are not as strong as would be desired. This may occur because the individual (child,
parent, teacher) may revert to their familiar (yet self-defeating) pattern of thinking. As such, more
of a philosophical change needs to occur, fostering more optimistic and hopeful ways of thinking.
This is not just adopting a “glass half-full” perspective, but making a major philosophical change.
Seligman (2002b) describes how “learned optimism” training programs involve teaching the indi-
vidual to “recognize their own catastrophic thinking and to become skilled disputers” (p. 5) ( Peter-
son, 2000; Seligman et al., 1995, 1999).
Integrating Positive Psychology into Schools 167
Direct work with children. Research has shown that teaching optimism (Jaycox et al., 1994;
Seligman et al., 1995) can be effective in preventing at-risk children from developing depressive
symptomology. By using cognitive training and social problem solving, elementary school aged
children at risk for depression were taught optimistic ways to view events. Following the training,
a significant difference was noted with the treatment groups reporting less depression than the
control group with this effect increasing over a two-year follow-up. Roberts, Brown, Johnson, and
Reinke (2002) described work by Snyder and colleagues that demonstrated modest positive changes
in children who were taught cognitive beliefs in one’s own ability to produce workable paths to
goals. More controlled studies that compare a cognitive restructuring approach with one that
integrates core tenets of positive psychology would be helpful in determining if positive psychol-
ogy prevented problems, and led to more positive affect and achievements beyond the gains
experienced through traditional cognitive therapies.
An important consideration when counseling is to consider and evaluate the mindset that the
student brings to the therapy process. Specifically, what are their expectations and attitudes toward
counseling? It is interesting to consider some sources of belief formation for these students, with
many of them developing false ideas about what psychotherapy is by inaccurate portrayal in the
media or from their peers. Therapists would benefit from addressing this point at onset, asking the
student “what do they think happens in therapy?” Many students falsely believe that being in
therapy means they are crazy. Education about counseling and a discussion about what crazy
means can help in modifying these thoughts.
School psychologists should also recognize that problem students present with different atti-
tudes toward change, and understand that wanting to change is an area in which positive psychol-
ogy may be used. For example, Prochaska and DiClemente (1982) developed a model for examining
how people think about change. The first stage of change, the precontemplative stage, reflects that
the individual has no desire to change. Because many students are referred by others, their moti-
vation to change may be small. With many students attempting to establish independence, being
told what to do by another adult may further entrench them their resistance. The school psychol-
ogist would be better served to consider the stage of change of the student before presenting
positive approaches to change. Presenting interventions before the student recognizes a problem
and understands the core ideas of positive psychology may only further elicit resistance. The
second stage is the contemplative stage, where people are willing to explore whether change is
desirable. Self-evaluation is more difficult for younger students and may increase in accuracy as
students get older. Using the concepts of hope and optimism can be crucial here at getting a
commitment to change. In the action stage, the individual takes steps toward change. Regrettably,
not all action will be met with success. The continued belief in the core concepts of hope and
optimism will further buffer against nonsuccess. Finally, in the maintenance stage, students attempt
to consolidate the changes that they have made. This stage can be used for further evaluation of
goals for the future, building on previous successes.
Another important point for school psychologists to consider in direct work with students is
that most students do not come to therapy to receive help with a problem. They come because
someone else (parent, teacher) perceives them to be a problem. Asking a student “why they are
here?” may be a good question to assess the students’ own ability to identify problematic behav-
iors, but most students may know that you are already aware why they were referred. Perhaps, a
better question may be “I was already given some information about you, but I am curious why
you think you are here.” However, this type of question may further reinforce the notion that we
are there to “correct” the child. Thus, an even better question might be: “Tell me about some
things that you do well and some things that you would like to do more.” This may be foreign to
them because they are now given the option of setting goals and someone is asking/listening to
168 Terjesen, Jacofsky, Froh, and DiGiuseppe
them about their strengths as a person. If students have difficulty with this question, the school
psychologist may assist them by offering examples of their own strengths or those of other children.
A final note concerning attitudes and expectations involves those of the referral sources. Very
often parents and teachers have their own set of beliefs about what therapy is supposed to be like
and what their role/involvement in therapy should be. They may have concerns about their “dirty
laundry” being aired or fear that the therapist will side with the child and blame the parent or
teacher. In addition, some way wish to have no/minimal involvement in the therapeutic process
and just want “their child fixed.” Others may want to be educated about certain parenting/teaching
approaches, but may want to keep their direct involvement to a minimum. Still others may acknowl-
edge that they may play a role in maintaining and reinforcing behaviors, and may be willing to
modify their behaviors and/or beliefs. A “positive” school psychologist could utilize some of the
previously outlined points about positive psychology to work effectively with referral sources that
have different beliefs.
Direct Work with Parents and Staff. Occupational stress among school personnel (Guglielmi
& Tatrow, 1998; Maybery & Reupert, 1998; Yagil, 1998) is another area that school psychologists
may be involved with, and thus, may provide another opportunity to integrate positive psychology
into practice through use of stress reduction approaches. For example, looking at the explanatory
style of the child’s behavior by a teacher and how they might internalize some of these behaviors
can be a major factor in predicting stress. Additional perceptions of a lack of support by col-
leagues, administration, and parents may further contribute to the process and occupation of teach-
ing as less than enjoyable. Looking for what they had previously found enjoyable about the teaching
experience and fostering additional opportunities to experience these positive aspects along with
traditional stress reduction methods may help buffer teachers from stress.
The active role that parents play in children’s educational decisions can further be an area that
we can use positive psychology. Getting parents to view their child’s strengths and not focusing on
his or her weakness might allow for reinforcement of the child’s capabilities from multiple dimen-
sions of his/her life, which might lead to greater carry-over. Also, taking a family-centered approach
to provision of services may also assist in reinforcing and enhancing many good skills that the
parent has already rather than focusing solely on where they are lacking.
School psychologists can play an active role in parent training. Parent training typically
involves working with families of children who are “exhibiting problematic behaviors,” probably
more externalizing behaviors. School psychologists may operate under two approaches when
working with families: (1) that there is a skill deficit and that they do not know how to most
effectively handle the children’s behavior; or (2) that there is a skill performance problem in that
they know what to do but just have great difficulty in performing it. Positive psychology can be
used with both treatment approaches through looking at what the parent’s strengths are and reinforc-
ing those strengths. Strengths can involve both behavioral strengths and cognitive assets (e.g.,
hope and optimism for change).
Parents experience a range of emotions as well (Terjesen, 2000). Stanton, Parsa, and Auste-
nfeld (2002) proposed that a vital objective of psychotherapy is a stable expression of emotions.
They discuss emotionally focused therapy (EFT) “which seeks to help clients achieve more adap-
tive functioning through evoking and exploring emotions and restructuring maladaptive emotional
schemes” (p. 154). Stanton et al. described research on EFT with couples demonstrating the
efficacy of this approach in reducing martial distress. However, a review of the literature regarding
parent training lends to limited, inconclusive results. By discussing emotional experiences that
parents may have about their children’s behavior, one might work toward experiencing of more
healthy, positive emotions when they are with their children. The goal is not for parents to be
happy about their children’s misbehavior, but for parents to be more appropriately upset, which
Integrating Positive Psychology into Schools 169
would allow them to make effective parenting decisions. They could think about times that they
were experiencing positive emotions with their children and work on increasing the opportunity
for those experiences to occur.
School Refusal and Positive Psychology: An Illustrative Example. So exactly how might
positive psychology suggest a different approach to dealing with specific problems of childhood?
Again, it all comes back to how we understand the “problem,” placing a greater focus on why
other students may not develop “problems.” School refusal will be used to show how a concep-
tualization of the problem using positive psychology could lead to developing effective alterna-
tives approaches.
School refusal behavior (SRB) is defined as having difficulty attending school or remaining
in school for the entire day (Kearney & Silverman, 1990). Approximately 5% of students are
reported to engage in SRB (King & Bernstein, 2001). The onset of school refusal behavior can
occur over a time or as an immediate response to a stressful life event. However, no one refers the
child until the behavior has become problematic. Therefore, treating this boy or girl appropriately
and efficiently is imperative. Essentially, early assessment aids in treating school refusal behavior.
Here, considerations should be given to the child’s affective, cognitive, and behavioral function-
ing, both generally and in relation to the specific circumstances of the refusal (Elliot, 1999).
So while looking at the factors that contribute to school refusal behavior can greatly assist in
remediating the problems that these students experience, we might want to consider what factors
lead the approximately other 95% of students to attend school. They may experience many of the
same stressors as those that do not attend and the same external reinforcers may exist for these
students as well, yet they continue to attend school regularly. Identifying what factors influence
their behaviors can be used to help those who are not attending. What is it about school and
learning that allows these students to be optimistic and effectively manage and how can this be
used toward working with those that are not attending? How can we instill a similar pattern of
hope in all students may be a challenge to the school psychologists.
We could use positive psychology in two ways to address school refusal. First, the student
may present with a problematic behavior (school absenteeism) that can be addressed through
traditional interventions (e.g., home-school collaboration/communication, stress reduction, removal
of external reinforcers) while also teaching students some core concepts of positive psychology
(e.g., hope, optimism). Second, as the frequency of the problem decreases, positive psychology
can be used again to increase strengths and assist the student in working toward their maximum
potential.
Positive Psychology and Educational Assessment and Planning
The assessment of child and adolescent personality is a frequent activity of school psychol-
ogists as it helps us understand more clearly the problems that students may face. Knoff (2002)
describes how. . . .
personality assessment is a process, not a product. It is simply not enough to describe or even under-
stand a child’s behavioral or social-emotional problems. School psychologists must move from problem
analysis to interventions that resolve these problems and that facilitate children’s normal development
and positive mental health (p. 1300).
Assessment practices using this perspective provide an ideal place for positive psychology.
Through personality assessment, one might identify strengths of the student and use this data to
develop a program geared toward building on these strengths. For example, Snyder et al. (1997)
developed the Children’s Hope scale (CHS) which identifies children who exhibit hope at high
levels who can serve as models for other children and identifying children who might benefit from
170 Terjesen, Jacofsky, Froh, and DiGiuseppe
improvement in hopeful thinking. Additional measures that we could introduce into personality
assessments include the Children’sAttributional Style Questionnaire (CASQ; Seligman et al.,1995)
and the Life Orientation Test (Scheier & Carver, 1985).
In addition, developing Individual Education Plan (IEP) goals is another area that school
psychologists might use positive psychology. As research has shown, the more clear the goals, the
more likely participants are to meet them (Melton, 1978). This may hold implications for school
psychologists as they focus on developing IEP goals. By developing goals directed toward the
students strengths and increasing them, it will force the clinician to “think outside the box.” When
writing goals that directly assess remediation of areas of deficiency, school psychologists can
think of addressing and reinforcing the student’s strengths so that they may indirectly affect the
areas of deficiency.
In summary, instead of a traditional assessment question that asks, “Why might some stu-
dents experience greater difficulty than others?”, perhaps a better question is, “Why might some
students succeed in spite of their difficulties?”. That is, although a myriad of factors affect learn-
ing, one of those factors could be the coping strategies and cognitive approach that a student takes.
In our educational assessment and planning, perhaps we should be writing about a student’s strengths
along with goals that reinforce and enhance those strengths rather than solely remediate weaknesses.
Conclusion
The opportunity for individuals within the education field to actually achieve the goal that
every child to succeed to the fullest potential may exist within positive psychology. As a profes-
sion, we must promote an optimistic, yet realistic (Peterson, 2000) future for positive psychology
to be recognized and given an opportunity to thrive. Although school psychologists may be ini-
tially resistant to adopting positive psychology given current preoccupation with focusing on the
negative rather than positive, its tenets should not be easily dismissed. As evidence in support of
positive psychology grows, it may become more apparent that fostering positive qualities will be
more effective than remediation of problem behavior.
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172 Terjesen, Jacofsky, Froh, and DiGiuseppe
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... Positive psychology asserts that without good character, students may not have the desire to engage in activities to learn new skills (Park & Peterson, 2009). When maximized, students' positive traits (e.g., optimism, hope, resilience, kindness, honesty) can help buffer against the risks inherent to their psychological or environmental challenges (Terjesen et al., 2004). The P2 program targets the 24 unique and malleable character strengths (e.g., perseverance, enthusiasm, optimism, self-control; Peterson & Seligman, 2004) established in positive psychology. ...
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