At Shipley, Positive Education is the lens through which we view our students and the world around us. Positive education is a philosophy, a set of principles, a practice, and a perspective.

What is Positive Education?

Positive Education is the approach to educational practice that promotes both academic excellence as well as students’ character and well-being. Using data-driven methods backed by the science of positive psychology, the goal of positive education is to increase well-being and cultivate flourishing…within the entire school community.
By focusing on strengths and aiming to broaden and build what’s good, positive education is rooted in positive psychology and decisively demonstrates the power of changing perspective. It is a shift in focus as the whole community concentrates on topics such as well-being and life satisfaction, optimism and gratitude, character strengths and self-efficacy.

What is the History?

In 1998, renowned researcher and University of Pennsylvania Professor Martin Seligman became president of the American Psychological Association. Although his most famous work at that point was for “learned helplessness” and depression, he switched gears to concentrate on how we might make what’s already good even better. Rather than focus on fixing what depletes us, Seligman challenged the scientific community to figure out how to build what’s best in us. He called for positive research that would aid in the establishment of positive institutions—and educational institutions were among the first to adapt.

What Have We Learned?

Small changes in the way we view our world can have a truly seismic shift in well-being. As Shipley implements positive education, we aren’t just learning about concepts like optimism, resilience, gratitude, and compassion—we’re living them.
Positive psychology is an evidence-based science that looks at what’s working well and asks how we can make it better. That’s exactly what Shipley wants for our students, and it’s how we challenge our students to change the world. 

Where Will We Go Next?  

Shipley is the pioneer positive education Pre-K through 12 school in North America, patterned after the Geelong Grammar School model in Australia. In line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, Positive Education directly links directly links to goals three and four. We are excited about the ongoing integration of our positive education and diversity and inclusion practices and will look to serve as the model positive institution for other schools who want to change the world for the better.

List of 3 items.

  • Reasons behind Shipley’s Positive Education Integration

    As we learned more about Positive Education, it became clear that Shipley has always been committed to the philosophy underlying Positive Education. However, there is now a scientific framework as well as evidence-based education practices and tools to better strengthen the excellent programs and initiatives we already have in place. Using Dr. Seligman’s well-being model, PERMA, we are able to provide our students and teachers with the knowledge and means to improve each component of their well-being. 

    PERMA is composed of five core elements that are necessary for psychological well-being and happiness. Positive Emotions is the most obvious element connected with happiness. This model emphasizes the importance of focusing on the positive aspects of life instead of the negative ones. Reminding children to center their attention on the highs in their lives can offset the stress and challenges they’re going through. Engagement is a little harder to define. Students can experience engagement or flow by becoming absorbed in an enjoyable and challenging task, one that causes them to lose sense of time. This level of engagement is healthy and conducive to thriving within school and beyond. Building authentic PositiveRelationshipsand social connections are vital to our well-being as well. These healthy relationships potentiate positive experiences in life and cushion challenging ones to be able to bounce back from adversities. The fourth ingredient is MeaningandpurposeIt highlights the value of one’s existence and the search for meaning in life – a sense that we are dedicated to and driven by a purpose larger than our individual goals. The last and final piece of PERMA is Achievement. The satisfaction a student gets from crafting a goal that is aligned with a calling or vocation, using character strengths to achieve that objective, and then finally reaching that goal, is overwhelming. Creating goals and achieving them builds self-efficacy and provides a sense of accomplishment, building resilience within each student along the way.
  • What about Shipley’s SEED (Social, Emotional, & Ethical Development) Program? Will Positive Education replace it?

    No! Positive Education at Shipley is, in so many ways, the natural next step in the development of our SEED program. Led by the Director of Positive Education & Student Support, Dr. Sharron Russell, and a group of other PK -12 colleagues, SEED has been at the heart of our efforts to support our students both as learners and as people. As you might recall, enhancing our successful SEED program was a key component of the Strategic Plan adopted by the Board of Trustees last year. Knowing that SEED is integral to achieving our goal of Educational Excellence, we are committed to advancing our position as a recognized leader in social, emotional, and ethical development so each of our students continues to be uniquely prepared for success in college and in life. There is no rigid Positive Education teaching method; rather it is a community-wide approach to developing life skills to improve well-being for ourselves, our students, and ultimately strengthening everything we already do at Shipley, including SEED.
  • What can you do to support Positive Education?

    1. Develop a mindfulness practice, which includes not only things like meditation and yoga, but is defined as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us (
    2. Use Active Constructive Responding to allow your child/ren to re-live and savor the positive experiences, and use “I” statements to give feedback on the “not so positive” events.
    3. Start a gratitude journal – write down three good things that happen each day and reap the benefits of positive emotion.
    4. Adopt a growth mindset for yourself. It is impossible to have one for others without first having one for yourself.
    5. Focus on character strengths in all situations. Dr. Lea Waters book The Strength Switch is a great place to start to learn more about how to do this.

List of 2 members.

  • Photo of Sharron Russell

    Sharron Russell 

    Director of Positive Education and Student Support, 504 Coordinator
    Phone/Extension: 4116
  • Photo of Nicholas Holton

    Nicholas Holton 

    Associate Director of Positive Education


The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.