Engagement and positive psychology

Imagine a classroom full of students who listen, contribute to discussions, discuss ideas with classmates, and are keen to participate. The reality is that positive psychology can effectively engage a classroom of up to 30 students, each with their own needs, values and interests. By applying PERMA’s positive psychology theory of ‘engagement’ in your classroom, you will be able to support students to become focused and achieve better learning outcomes.

This information will help you:

  • define engagement in the context of positive psychology

  • understand how to engage students in the classroom.

Boy with striped sweater and girl in lecture

What does ‘engagement’ mean?

‘Engagement’, in terms of positive psychology, describes a specific way of being involved with a task. It is often described as being so invested in a task that time flies by. Another name for this is ‘flow’. Engagement typically occurs in students when:

  • they recognise they are good at a task (e.g. maths)

  • a task challenges them, but is still achievable (e.g. learning a new equation)

  • an experience causes positive emotions, such as curiosity or joy (e.g. they correctly solve a problem)

  • a task is adapted to their level, introducing new challenges once they have mastered old ones (e.g. they want to try new and harder maths problems).

Why is it important for students to be engaged?

When students are engaged, they are focused on their work. This doesn’t just make the classroom more manageable; it also means students are more likely to learn, retain the content, and grow.

Research shows that people who are engaged and able to use their strengths will feel happier over the longer term. Engagement also helps build physical and mental wellbeing and self-esteem.

How can I engage students in the classroom?

Different students will find different activities engaging, so it’s good practice to use a range of strategies to engage the diversity of students in your class. Here are some simple ways to engage students:

  • Differentiate your lessons. Engagement starts when a student is challenged but finds the work achievable.

  • Vary your activities. Repetitive tasks can be tedious and will disengage your students.

  • Play to students’ strengths. If you know that certain students are struggling, tailor activities that build on their strengths.

  • Allow flexibility. Every student has different strengths, and allowing them to use the skills they have will help them feel engaged.

  • Encourage students’ voices. When doing an enquiry task, letting students write their own questions will help engage them.

  • Set stretch goals. These are additional goals for those students who want to push themselves, and will help them feel a sense of accomplishment.

  • Scaffold tasks. Build engagement in the class by breaking up larger chunks of learning with quick activities.

What can I do now?

  • Explore the articles on PERMA and find out how to explore positive psychology in your classroom.

  • Start from strengths. With the class, create a list of the skills students have and use this to inform your lesson planning.

  • Break up larger chunks of learning with small, quick-win activities to give your students a sense of accomplishment.