Meaning and positive psychology

Do your students understand the value of their time spent in class? Do they know what their interests are and what they’re working towards? Having a sense of meaning is an important element of the PERMA framework, as it gives students a purpose to drive their efforts.

This will help you:

  • define and explore meaning in the context of positive psychology

  • understand how to bring meaning to the classroom.

Girl in blue shirt reading in library

What is meant by ‘meaning’?

In positive psychology, ‘meaning’ is about connecting to the things that motivate you. In the classroom, students can do meaningful work when they understand the value of their time spent in school and how their current lessons connect with material they’ve already learnt.

‘Meaning’ in the classroom is not just about connecting to the curriculum content. When students participate in lessons, they’re building tools for thinking critically, developing a love of learning, and nurturing a sense of their own strengths and interests. Through lessons and interactions with the whole-school community, students build a broader sense of purpose and of connection to something bigger than themselves.

Why is meaningfulness important in a classroom?

When students understand why what they are doing is important, they improve their capacity to understand the material and to apply critical thinking skills. But research shows that meaningfulness also has important benefits for wellbeing:

  • Having an understanding of how their work connects to something bigger than themselves helps students to improve their engagement and interest in the work.

  • Those who experience trauma or painful events in their lives will find it easier to get back on track if what they are doing is meaningful to them.

  • A deeper level of engagement can be achieved if students understand why they are doing something.

How do I bring meaning to the classroom?

Linking classroom activities to students’ interests and values is a vital step in helping them to find meaning in their education.

1. Identify what’s important

Take time in class to reflect on students’ strengths and interests, and to guide them through a reflective activity where they can identify the things that are meaningful to them. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Ask students to identify issues that are important to them.

  • Find out students’ career goals and the fields that interest them.

  • Encourage students to use their own examples and to suggest topics to explore.

2. Relate classroom content to students’ lives

Bring classroom discussions back to students’ lives, interests and things they can relate to. Make sure they understand how their goals are linked to their education and, where possible, create opportunities for students to link their interests to their coursework.

3. Map the connections

To ensure that students understand the purpose of what they are studying, make the overall flow of the content clear and meaningful to them. This can include explaining connections as you’re moving through material, referring back to previous lessons and content, and using past examples to build on students’ understanding of new content. Explaining the end goal, and providing a timeline for students, will also help them to form these connections.

4. Allow student choice

Providing students with choices, whether it be the topic to explore, questions to answer or processes for getting there, will give them a greater sense of purpose. Tasks will have more meaning for them, and they will be better able to apply their skills and interests. This will increase their engagement and application.

What can I do now?

  • Run an activity in the class that helps students to identify what is meaningful to them.

  • Facilitate flexibility in coursework to enable students to draw on areas that interest them specifically.

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