Mindfulness in the classroom: How to connect with young people on any subject
Our Head of School, Peter Ryan, interviewed Connie Meizinger, at our Open House.
Hi, Connie, could you give us an overview of Positive Psychology, and tell us about its place in the recent history of psychology?
Martin Seligman, of the University of Pennsylvania, is one of the founding fathers of Positive Psychology. He wrote: “Positive Psychology is the scientific study of optimal human functioning. It aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive.” The late Christopher Peterson, another founder of PP, described it this way: “Positive psychology is about helping people move north of neutral.” Simply put, PP is about building what’s right with you, not just fixing what is perceived as wrong.
Seligman is the psychologist who developed the concept of learned helplessness, right? He did experiments with dogs and rats, and studied how people learn to give up hope when faced with overwhelming, “no exit” situations.
Yes, that is interesting how he shifted. He is a research scientist, a theorist, and from this, Seligman’s interest is in describing what is going on, not necessarily telling people “how to get better”. He researches the “what and why” of interventions. What works, and why does it work. The overall emphasis of Positive Psychology is “wellness”, and “wellness” has to do with seeing the total being, not just the things a person feels are going badly.
You see, traditional psychology, especially after World War II, was based on a disease model. Psychologists and psychiatrists “fixed” what was wrong with people. This is what Peterson means by getting “north of neutral”. We try to help people enhance the positive aspects of their lives. Just because someone is not sick does not mean they are healthy. Just because they are not depressed does not mean that they are happy or feel fufilled in their lives. The appoach of Positive Psychology seeks to be more balanced than the older models, by trying to encompass the whole of human experience.
So tell us a little about your work.
My work and mission is to make mindfulness and positive psychology concepts, skills and strategies accessible to teachers, youths, adults, and families. I work with small groups and individuals. I conduct workshops and speak at engagements.
What do you see as missing in high school education today, and how is PP and your work a corrective to this?
I think what is missing is a platform and general ability for students, parents, teachers, and administrators to be “present” to be “mindful”, that is, aware and awake to the present moment…on purpose. I want to help schools promote pro-social behaviors which empower and support teachers to instruct and meet students where “they are” with a clear continuum of options that can realistically address and define objectives, personal growth and well-being.
My hope is that my work introduces, encourages and promotes a pathway to presence, attention, awareness and wakefulness to the present moment. The general concepts of PP and mindfulness offer a research based approach which is appropriate, practical, and sustainable. The need for stress reduction among our teachers and students is enormous.
What do you see as the most important developmental task for younger high school students?
I would say that cultivating independence and learning strategies for solving problems in real life situations. And the ability to soothe oneself.
In closing, Connie, what would you like people reading this to understand about your work?
I would like people to understand that cultivating an authentic, independent sense of self can be grounded in learnable skills. That problem solving and related strategies can encourage the development of a foundation for connecting mindfully, for responding rather than reacting. I would like people to experience the whole range of emotion, negative and positive, but have the tools to use these for learning and growing.