How The Positivity Project Evolved To Meet The Challenging and Unprecedented State of EducationBy Joey Pagano
The Positivity Project (P2) has faced its fair share of challenges since Jeff Bryan and Mike Erwin co-founded it in 2015. But this year, the organization has evolved more than one could have expected in a short period of time.
Facing COVID-19 Head On
When concerns over COVID-19 forced schools nationwide to abruptly transition to online instruction, P2 Partner Schools needed to find ways to implement their classroom curriculum into a virtual environment. With a fully digital suite of resources for Pre-K – 12 based in Google Apps for Pre-K – 12, P2 was able to quickly scale their resources to support their Partner Schools’ shift into teaching from their homes.
As the 2020-21 school year approaches and it is uncertain whether schools will carry out instruction in-person, virtually or through a hybrid method, The Positivity Project has prepared for all situations. They have spent the summer continuing to put the necessary systems in place to support Partner Schools in any classroom environment whether they be virtual, hybrid, or in-person.
Preparation has consisted of building upon the plan to help educators and parents continue character education from home. The organization has intensified its daily 15-minute lessons for students and teachers, and introduced a new tool, P2 For Families (P2F2) to help extend the discussions about character strengths from school into the home.
P2F2 is designed to help start conversations in the students’ family about character by boiling each character strength down to one quote, one video, and three questions.
Students may also recognize that the organization’s defining characteristic has slightly changed. The organization discovered that some people considered the #OtherPeopleMatter catchphrase a distraction from the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We realized that if a large percentage of people are immediately questioning the intention of our hashtag and motto, then we simply can’t achieve our mission: to empower America’s youth to build positive relationships and become their best selves,” Bryan said.
Partner Schools voted to change the motto to “Positivity in Action.” They also re-labeled the equation for positive relationships as the “Other People Mindset.” It was formerly the “Other People Matter Mindset.”
Maureen Mulderig, the New York State P2 Leader and a retired principal from the Westhill School District, added that despite looking different P2 is going to have the same mission it always has — relationships. “Emphasizing relationships has become more important recently,” she said.
The protests against racism early this summer demonstrated to Mulderig and other P2 leaders that now isn’t a time to let up. Heading into the unprecedented school year, The Positivity Project has continued furthering its mission of being non-political, non-religious, age-appropriate, and diverse in order to support the 320K students they serve across the country.
Kari Hammond, a P2 faculty ambassador at Fayetteville-Manlius High School, added that for educators, the coming months are more about helping students to contextualize the world around them. When things shifted online, she shifted her focus to relate to the current climate in society, finding materials that students could connect with. She plans on continuing to teach the given curriculum through discussions about social issues and the movements which address then.
“BLM and LGBTQ+ movements are not political movements, but movements toward equality and humanity, and I hope that students will want to cross over into these topics and learn to be good allies,” she said. “I hope that as the pandemic continues, kids will use P2 to open up to discuss what is happening in the world around them, to see that the world is bigger than they are, but the problems are solvable.”
The most important thing, she said, is for students, parents, and teachers to isolate The Positivity Project from external noise. Ongoing battles for justice, when free from rhetoric, can be understood through the Other People Mindset, she and Mulderig agreed.
Mulderig added that teachers can facilitate discussions about racial inequality through the 24 character strengths such as love, fairness, teamwork, and open-mindedness. When talking about the pandemic, she said, teachers can tap into perseverance, optimism, self-control, and gratitude. At P2, they believe that the common vocabulary that is created by discussions on character strengths (e.g. kindness, open-mindedness, perspective) within daily P2 lessons will be critical in conversations around COVID-19, racial inequality, and the other challenges that are directly impacting the students in our country.
The Importance of Relationships
The coming weeks will present unforeseen challenges for The Positivity Project and its Partner Schools, Bryan said. Though the organization got a taste of the struggle in the spring, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what the problems will be. Regardless of the arising problems, Partner Schools must continue to make relationships the center point of character education, and go from there, he said.
“We know that building positive relationships and creating a strong classroom community are vital to a successful school year. We also know that many educators are asking how we will create this sense of community as we start the year with virtual learning,” said Bryan. He added students are facing stressors and challenges that no one could have foreseen. “Positive relationships have always been tough to build and maintain,” he added. “With social distancing due to COVID-19, developing positive relationships in our lives has become even tougher. This is especially true for children, many of whom are still trying to understand why they can’t go to school and see their friends — while sorting through emotions they have never felt before.”
Simply put, in the fall, it will be important for schools to adapt their curricula to students’ needs. The Positivity Project encourages educators to look beyond the traditions of focusing on English, history, math, and science, with the goal of placing more emphasis on social and emotional well-being.