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Have you heard about the Positivity Project, sometimes referred to as “P2?” Maybe you have seen the hashtag:  #OtherPeopleMatter? Or possibly you have seen an adult or child wearing a green shirt or hat with the positivity project logo?

The Positivity Project, started by two West Point-trained military veterans, was not initially about schools, but it was the location for the launching of a program that now includes over 180 schools in 13 states. Their approach is, “Relationships are the cornerstone of health, happiness, and resilience. We equip schools with the training, strategy, and resources to inspire students to build positive relationships.” Teachers are trained in character traits and then use time every day to engage students with those concepts.  For instance, the months of September and October have included exploration of curiosity, open-mindedness, teamwork, integrity, perspective, and creativity.

The Positivity Project is about human decency, has no religious undertones, but definitely promotes wellness and community.  These are values that parents hope to instill in their children.  It is what we hope teachers model and promote. Children do need these values taught so that they can recognize good traits in others and develop their own inner core of behaviors.  More importantly, many of the promoted attributes are horribly absent in our culture today.

My two daughters are participating in their school district’s initial year of the Positivity Project.  Almost every afternoon for the past seven weeks, I have heard both of them grumble, complain, and declare the futility of the Positivity Project.

[bctt tweet=”Why are my daughters so angry? ” username=””]

Why are my daughters so angry?  The characteristics fostered in the activities are not foreign to either of them.  They have been shown models of words like integrity and curiosity at home.  Regardless of how much they may appreciate the sentiment, the persistent vibe from them is that the Positivity Project is a joke.

One reason for their negativity stems from their age. Both children are enrolled in a middle school housing fifth through eighth grades.  Middle school can be turbulent, and my oldest daughter can attest to the truth of how difficult navigating the middle years can be.  Introducing character education in middle and high schools comes with a great deal of backlash from the tween and adolescent student.  This age group enjoys complaints.

However, age is not the only factor for their disdain for the Positivity Project.  The main reason for their annoyance is dissonance.   Both girls see student’s inappropriate behavior continuing with no end in sight.  My nine-year-old daughter’s entire fifth-grade class was hauled into the school auditorium this week to be informed that they were acting disrespectfully as a class. My daughter was pissed.  She learns in an environment where a few students create disruptions and the entire class is labeled as “bad.” One of her teachers did apologize to the “good” students about the need for the assembly, stating that many students are doing what is expected. It is difficult to be positive individually when you are labeled collectively.

[bctt tweet=”It is difficult to be positive individually when you are labeled collectively.” username=””]

The day after the assembly, the entire district wore the green shirts for a photo opportunity on the football field.  Picture a 1,000 people standing together with fake smiles, pretending that they enjoy the program.  The picture is like a Christmas card featuring a happy family on the edge of divorce.  It rings hollow.

The same week as the photo opportunity, my oldest daughter is assigned a detention for having her iPod out in the library during study hall. The teacher who assigns the detention treats my child as a criminal, a rule-breaker, a bad seed.  After he informs her of her punishment, she cries in his room and he does nothing to comfort her.  He tells her, and later myself, that she knew the rule:  if a student is sent back from the library they earn a detention.  End of story.  The adult may believe he is modeling integrity (the previous week’s word) but instead he is teaching my kid that #otherpeoplematterjustnotyou.  In his mind, she did not deserve to tell her side of the story and a detention is a path to future obedience.  The principal misguidingly believes that a large group assembly will affect behavior change.  Dissonance. Have the adults, including the administrator, truly embraced the intent of the Positivity Project?

Taking a picture; writing character traits on rocks; wearing a green t-shirt; learning new words–these are all benign activities. There is nothing wrong with positivity.  However, the adults need to model the words. They need to catch the students living the definitions and celebrate their achievements.  The students are never going to buy the program until they are experiencing the benefit of positive behaviors.  Yes, consequences for breaking rules is essential in schools, but students need frequent celebrations for commendable behavior as well.

Maybe my children are experiencing the natural growing pains of the first year of implementation of the Positivity Project?  Perhaps my children are being critical brats?  I might be feeding off my kids’ negativity.  However, I began my teaching career in an eighth-grade classroom.  I taught for eight years in a fifth through eighth-grade middle school.  We tried William Bennett’s Character Education program.  It flopped.  The adults did not embrace the program and the activities ate up instructional time.  My experience and my children’s current attitudes leave me wondering if values can be taught in school?  Should mental wellness be an additional burden placed on schools?  Or, is it simply more difficult to discuss character with older students? Many elementary teachers and parents love the Positivity Program.

I am reaching out to you dear readers.  Please tell me your experience with, or your children’s attitudes toward, the Positivity Project.  What can I learn? How might I grow?  Can a values approach to education be successful in schools?

The more I teach, the more my compassion for students, parents, and teachers grows. Thank you for...

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  1. Though I didn’t have to implement P2, I did several similar programs filled with one-off photo ops. And you’re right, if the teachers cannot filter their actions and decisions through whatever the character/value framework is, then it’s pointless. … And maybe even damaging to kids who then experience the hypocritical nature of it all.

  2. I have a problem with programs like this being taught to young minds. My first grader’s school is participating in this program. The 24 character traits are being implemented and I don’t hear much from any parents. I have a problem with the government teaching values which are supposed to be taught at home by me and my husband. Specially when they are teaching: Social Intelligence and Teamwork and citizenship, which are part of these 24 characters of strength. The latter is defined as follow: You work well as member of a group or team and sacrifice your individual desire for the greater good. That right there is pure socialist indoctrination. How dare them suppress my child and brainwash him with their propaganda.

  3. As a high school teacher, I really love some parts of the positivity project. We’ve just started implementing this year. As a science department we tackled the curiosity week this year and LOVED it. I think, done well, it is something that can have a great benefit. As to whether or not this should be taught to young minds- my children are in elementary school and their school has also adopted the positivity project. My kids ARE being taught these things at home and it should complement what is being done at home. The problem today is there are MANY children who do not get this education at home, they don’t have the support at home and sometimes they aren’t exposed to these things. Done right I think it’s a great tool. However, we also tell our students that although we talk about these things (and in the high school ages, it lends to great discussions), we are not perfect and don’t expect them to be either.

  4. I work in a special needs school that is trying to implement the positivity project. The signs and posters are everywhere. T-shirts were handed out to staff. Some of the kids may get the message, some may not. I see that educators and parents have a hard job trying to compete with student peer issues and social media. The social media can be a toxic negative place that adults are contributing to and young people deal with cyber bullying on a daily basis. The politically correct movement has met with back lash in the last four years. People have freedom of speech in the United States, I get it. But is anyone thinking of the long term consequences of a Twitter comment driven culture? So I appreciate people trying to be positive and teaching young people they can too. However, if they see conflicting messages on a daily basis it can cause cognitive dissonance which comes out in behavior. Parents need to be diligent in providing a dialogue with their children about their values versus what is going on around them in society and culture.

  5. Change takes time….. We must ask ourselves how we can be part of the change. I believe we all want everyone to live out these characteristic traits. It is easy to find the negative in everything. We just started the Positivity project at our school this year. As a parent, the first moment I heard about it I felt it was awesome. Something good everyone can rally around. How can I be part of it. I am working on being the community liaison to the local businesses and explain the goal of the program and how they can take part and speak to young people when they come through their businesses. Know the word of the week, challenge themselves to think about it and interact with students and families in the community. It’s obvious that many adults need to work on these traits themselves along the way. Ask your children how they can rise above people who don’t display these characteristics instead of being negative toward people who act this way. It’s easy to point at someone else not doing the right thing instead of looking inward at ourselves and our reactions to things. I love the saying… Don’t base what you do on what others don’t do…. Do the right thing always.
    I hope you can find the positive in the positivity project.

  6. I just watched a segment on a TV program about this Positivity Project. I looked it up out of curiosity. Also, I worked several years for our school district, K-6. At the ‘older end of things’ now, but having teen grandchildren, I still feel in touch with more recent times concerning raising children.

    I have seen on Facebook where parents have told the daughter to “go ahead and wear that blouse because it’s a stupid rule!” Knowing it was breaking a dress code rule! Then, are angry that they had to take a change of clothes to the school or their daughter was sent home. I believe that is teaching the daughter she can pick and chose what rules she wants to obey. Wouldn’t that be nice, if only life was that way! Too bad… is definitely not like that! I’m sure mom would not be too happy if her daughter decided to obey only certain rules mom has in place.

    From what I’ve read, your daughter did not get an opportunity to explain why she ‘broke the rule’ and had her iPod out during Study Hall. I’d like to know what her reason was and if there is an exception to the rule. With no exceptstions there would be no excuse without getting permission first. As far as the teacher not consoling her, I would think if your daughter knows the rule and broke it anyay, no consolation is warranted. Not to be cruel, just a lesson learned for her future thinking. That is a hard lesson for parents also! I know, having been there and having to follow through with similar situations on my own. Trust me, it is well worth your children learning early on.

    Having read several very positive things on line about this project has made me wonder about the negativity in your writing. As I’m sure you are aware, parents and home environment play a huge part in the exposure these children encounter! In my years working with children, it certainly presented some very ugly, harmful and sad situations!

  7. I’m late to the conversation, but the rational that we shouldn’t be teaching character to students because it is not our duty to do so as educators, is unreasonable to me. Yes, in an ideal world parents would instill those values in their children and every child would come to school ready to learn with minimal disruptions. However, this is not the case and our society is seeing the ramifications of a failed school system. I completely understand where your daughter is coming from and how being a student that follows the rules, she is angry that her classmates are allowed to get away with whatever they want. One of my students went from a very structured classroom with me for 2 years, into a classroom where students were not held accountable. She became a completely different student. She was moody and having meltdowns at home. I don’t think the Positivity Project works in isolation with educators who are not going to hold kids accountable and just use the program for extra busy work, etc. I do like the idea of character education but state testing and district mandates take away from where our priorities should be. My school has just adopted this program, and this is definitely a concern for me. It will not work without admin and teacher buy-in. If we’re just wearing t-shirts without truly teaching what it means to be a good person, then I will definitely be frustrated. Social emotional wellness is so incredibly important during this era of Online School. Thank you for sharing your thoughts as it give me an opportunity to pose those questions and concerns early on.

  8. The problem is that they are taking time from necessary subjects to teach this ideology.

    When you collectively punish people from the mistakes on a small group of people you are not teaching integrity. You are teaching them, their rights don’t matter.

    Imagine if we go to jail because our neighbors robbed, raped killed?

    Meantime, my 2nd grader is being taught “If today is Monday what day is tomorrow?. “What comes after 150?”.

    That’s the real issue to me. Whether or not the children have parents who teach them good values. Relationships are taught simply by being around others. At school they learn how to get along with coworkers (classmates), and bosses (teachers).

    There are really 2 types of important relationships in one’s lives. At home with parents (however that is) and with the person you choose to be. While at home you learn about sharing, taking, receiving, asking, being close, trust… as well as the opposites of those).

    Asking a child to not think for himself is toxic. You can’t love others if you can’t Love yourself first.

    At the plain, they tell you, first put the mask on yourself first, then your child and for good reason.

  9. My beef is the total lack of empirical data on the methods used to teach character traits. Positivity as a trait has been proven many times to be beneficial. But when I asked our rep for any hard data or studies on the P2 actual activities and methods, he could only offer testimonials (from the same people in various schools who justify the money spent. That’s a moral hazard.)

    What I also know is that a lot of kids came back depressed after the pandemic, and pushing positivity trait activities on someone who is clinically depressed can backfire and be harmful – it’s pressure. For sure it is not for amateurs to be discerning this, and I see no way to mitigate the armchair warrior risk.

    In the end, I find am uncomfortable teaching moral values in high school to kids who roll their eyes at these kinds of things, when I am already quite unsure that I might be triggering some of them…from a program that has excellent PR but can’t provide empirical data on their specific methods.

  10. Currently enduring the problems of P2 with our school district. There are many valid points brought up that have been my concern. There is an additional aspect to that. One of the creators of this program based this entire program on the research of his mentor, who dedicated his life to “marry psychology with religion,” and all these virtues they are teaching are biblical virtues and then a few extra. Not to mention that those who do not meet the markers for the “desirable virtues”/character traits may feel excluded and think that their beautiful spirits/character traits they have aren’t enough or good enough.

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