Positive education: Learning and teaching for wellbeing and academic mastery


  • Mathew A. White St Peter's College - Adelaide Melbourne Graduate School of Education The University of Melbourne
  • Margaret L. Kern University of Melbourne




Positive education, positive psychology, wellbeing science, professional practice, culture change, critical perspective


Over the past decade, positive education has emerged as a rapidly growing arm of positive psychology that has attracted both interest and critique. Through a case study, we show that positive education can positively impact students, teachers, and others within the educational community, but success is not immediate nor imminent. We suggest that successful positive education programs blend evidence-based learning from the science of positive psychology, best practices in learning and teaching, whole school strategy, and evaluation, and consider pedagogy, philosophical assumptions, and the school’s culture. Positive education must be studied, applied, and managed responsibly, as there is also potential that attempts are ineffective or do harm. Finally, we consider implications for training, teaching, and professional practice. Positive education has made significant progress, but future research and application will benefit from a unified theoretical framework that adequately incorporates educational knowledge and pedagogical practice.


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Author Biographies

Mathew A. White, St Peter's College - Adelaide Melbourne Graduate School of Education The University of Melbourne

Associate Professor Mathew A. White (PhD, The University of Adelaide) is an Associate Professor and Principal Honorary Fellow in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at The University of Melbourne, where he has been a Fellow for 11 years. His research interests lie in leading change, education strategy, policy and international education. In recent years, he has focused on wellbeing and positive education. He was appointed an Affiliate in the Wellbeing Institute at the University of Cambridge (2013), and an Adjunct Lecturer at The University of Adelaide (2011). Mathew is Director of Wellbeing & Positive Education at St Peter’s College – Adelaide where he has served on the Senior Leadership Team since 2011. He has 20 years teaching, 18 years’ management and 8 years’ executive leadership experience.

As an academic, Mathew has published widely on the topics of wellbeing, positive education strategy and practice. He has authored 16 chapters and coedited three books within the past three years. These include Evidence-based Approaches to Positive Education in Schools: Implementing a Strategic Framework for Well-being in Schools (Springer, 2015), Flourishing in Faith: Theology Encountering Positive Psychology (Wipf & Stock, 2017) and Future Directions in Wellbeing: Education, Organizations and Policy (Springer, 2017).

His scholarly publications include two of the most downloaded articles in the Journal of Positive Psychology. He has published in the International Education Journal, International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry, International Journal of Well-being, Oxford Handbook of Happiness, Psychology and Psychology of Well-Being Theory, Research and Practice. Mathew has delivered 17 keynotes, over 60 workshops and convened 17 symposia panels on wellbeing internationally and nationally at International Positive Education Network Festival; International Positive Psychology Association’s World Congress, International Positive Education Network Festival, International Symposium on Coaching and Positive Psychology in Education, Jubilee Centre for Character and Values, University of Birmingham at Oriel College, Oxford, Positive Education Schools Association, Australian Positive Psychology and Wellbeing Conference, Conference of the; Educational and Developmental Psychologists National Conference.

Mathew’s public sector presentations include Wellbeing Summit No. 10 Downing Street, Government of South Australia's Office for the Public Sector, South Australian Governor’s Leadership Foundation. Mathew represented St Peter’s College - Adelaide as lead partner in Martin Seligman’s appointment as Thinker in Residence – Department of the Premier and Cabinet for the Government of South Australia.

Mathew served as the Chair of the first National Positive Education Schools Association Conference (2014). He was elected founding Secretary of the South Australian Chapter of the Positive Education Schools Association (2015) and was appointed one of 50 representatives from the International Positive Education Network that represent 28 different countries to bring IPEN’s mission to a Global audience (2015).

Mathew serves on the Education Committee of St Mark’s College, Adelaide’s largest university residential college. In 2016 Mathew was elected by his peers as one of only 11 Fellows in the Australian College of Educators, the national professional association which represents educators across all sectors and systems, as a highly valued and exemplary educator who has made an outstanding contribution to the teaching profession. 

Margaret L. Kern, University of Melbourne

Center for Positive Psychology