Achievement and positive psychology

Achievement is often talked about in the classroom, but often only in terms of recognising who gets the highest marks. Success and achievement can look like many different things for different students. Setting clear objectives, and helping students to develop and persevere, will help them to focus better on their own progress and develop a stronger sense of wellbeing.

This will help you:

  • define and explore achievement in the context of positive psychology.

  • understand how to help students feel a sense of achievement in the classroom.

Girl with green apron in woodwork class

What does achievement look like?

Achievement, in positive psychology, is about more than getting top marks in the class. When students can see their own progress in learning and mastering a subject or skill, they will feel a sense of achievement. For this to happen, a redefinition of success and achievement is needed in order to move the emphasis away from academic achievement. In this new definition, achievement requires:

  • clearly defined objectives, goals or expectations

  • a realistic timeframe for students to complete their work

  • a strong understanding of the fundamentals needed to complete a goal

  • a ‘reward’, which might be as simple as acknowledgement or feedback.

Why is achievement important in a classroom?

Studies have shown that feeling a sense of accomplishment is an important element in students developing positive wellbeing over time. Research also shows the following:

  • People with a strong sense of purpose, persistence and accomplishment perform better at work.

  • People are more likely to give up on a task if they don’t feel they have the necessary skills.

  • A person who can align a task to their sense of meaning is much more likely to complete it.

  • Achieving something that feels important has greater wellbeing benefits than accomplishing a task with no personal value.

How do I bring this to life in my classroom?

1. Set personal goals

The best way to develop a sense of purpose and accomplishment is to develop clear, tangible goals. It’s important to remember that goals for each student will be different and not all goals will focus on marks. For some students, submitting assignments on time or turning up to every class might be important markers of progress and their achievement of a goal. Teach your students about setting goals.

2. Celebrate achievements meaningfully

There are lots of ways to celebrate achievements. Examples include visual clues in the classroom (e.g. pictures from excursions, favourite activities), reflecting on students’ different personal achievements (e.g. academic, part-time job, extracurricular activities) and wins, and discussing as a class what students are proud of. Individually, never underestimate the value of telling a student directly that you’ve noticed their achievement. Showing them that you have recognised their efforts will help them feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in what they are doing.

What can I do now?

  • Help your students to identify the key goals they want to achieve.

  • Create opportunities for students to reflect on how they are progressing with their goals.

  • Read more about the PERMA model and consider some ideas for bringing it to your classroom.