Finding Purpose in Education: A Positive Psychology Approach for Teachers

When teachers align their work with their personal values and connect it to a higher purpose, they not only enhance their own wellbeing but also create a more fulfilling and impactful learning environment for their students. In this article, I will explore how teachers can use a positive psychology approach to find meaning and purpose in education while improving their overall wellbeing.

Tamara Judge

6/22/20236 min read


In the realm of education, finding purpose is not just reserved for students; teachers too can discover a profound sense of meaning and purpose in their profession. When teachers align their work with their personal values and connect it to a higher purpose, they not only enhance their own wellbeing but also create a more fulfilling and impactful learning environment for their students. In this article, I will explore how teachers can use a positive psychology approach to find meaning and purpose in education while improving their overall wellbeing.

Understanding Meaning and Purpose in Education:

Meaning and purpose in education go beyond simply delivering curriculum. It involves discovering the deeper significance of one's role as an educator, the impact they have on students' lives, and the larger societal contribution they make. Research by Steger and colleagues in 2012 (1) emphasises that finding meaning and purpose in work is associated with higher levels of job satisfaction, engagement, and overall wellbeing.

As an educator, senior leader, coach, and school governor, I've personally experienced how easily we can become consumed by the fast-paced nature of school life. Amidst the daily hustle and bustle, it's easy to overlook the profound ripple effect we create as educators. Our positive influence extends far beyond the walls of the classroom, reaching pupils, families, and colleagues, and even touching the lives of individuals we may never meet. Taking a moment to pause, reflect, and feel proud of our contributions can greatly enhance our sense of meaning, purpose, and overall wellbeing.

Strategies for Teachers:

  • Reflect on personal values and connect them to teaching goals.

  • Identify the positive impact and difference they can make in students' lives.

  • Seek opportunities to align teaching practices with a broader purpose, such as fostering lifelong learners or promoting social justice.

Cultivating Positive Relationships:

Meaningful connections with students, colleagues, and the school community contribute to a sense of purpose and fulfilment in teaching. Positive relationships not only enhance student learning but also create a supportive network for teachers. A 2009 study by Jennings and Greenberg (2) highlights the positive effects of teacher-student relationships on teacher wellbeing and job satisfaction and the findings from my own masters research align closely with this perspective, shedding light on young people's perceptions of primary school elements that significantly influence their wellbeing.

In interviews with children, their relationships with teachers and friends emerged as the primary factors impacting their overall wellbeing. They expressed a dislike for teachers who appeared stressed and prone to shouting, perceiving them as disinterested in their lives. Conversely, they gravitated towards kind-hearted teachers who knew how to strike a balance between having fun, making jokes, and maintaining firm boundaries.

I discovered that dedicating time each day to engage in meaningful conversations with my students about their lives communicated a profound message: I valued and genuinely cared about them and their perspectives. This simple act played a pivotal role in fostering stronger connections with the young individuals and positively shaping their behaviour in lessons. When they sensed my genuine concern, their own investment and commitment in the educational process flourished as well.

Strategies for Teachers:

  • Build authentic connections with students by showing care, respect, and empathy.

  • Foster a collaborative and supportive school culture through teamwork and professional development opportunities.

  • Engage in peer support networks to share experiences and learn from fellow educators.

Emphasising Growth and Development:

Teachers who embrace a growth mindset and prioritise their own professional and personal development often experience a heightened sense of purpose. By continuously seeking new knowledge and honing their skills, teachers become lifelong learners and role models for their students.

According to Hakanen and colleagues' research (3), experiencing personal growth in the workplace significantly enhances overall wellbeing. Continuous Professional Development (CPD) holds a significant place in the field of education, with many teachers embracing "Love of Learning" as one of their top strengths. However, in my opinion, teachers' growth and development should extend beyond acquiring subject knowledge or pedagogical skills. It should encompass a comprehensive approach that integrates coaching and mentoring, enabling teachers to set and achieve personal and professional goals, thus fostering flourishing lives and careers.

While enhancing teaching and learning practices remains essential, it is equally vital to prioritise building teachers' confidence, self-esteem, and resilience mindset. Becoming a mentor and coach for student teachers undergoing in-school training proved to be one of the most impactful experiences during my own teaching journey. This process compelled me to engage in deep reflection on my own practices and articulate the reasons behind them. Not only did it bolster my confidence and prompt me to recognize my own accomplishments, but it also empowered me to establish goals for my professional growth. This mentoring experience benefited not only the dozens of student teachers I supported but also contributed significantly to my personal and professional development.

By recognizing the broader dimensions of growth and development, teachers can truly flourish in their careers while nurturing their own wellbeing. It is through a holistic approach that integrates coaching, mentoring, and reflection that teachers can unlock their full potential, resulting in an educational environment where both teachers and students thrive.

Strategies for Teachers:

  • Pursue ongoing professional development opportunities and engage in relevant training programs.

  • Set personal goals for growth and improvement in specific areas of teaching practice.

  • Reflect on achievements and celebrate milestones to cultivate a sense of progress and fulfilment.

Practising Gratitude and Self-Care:

Gratitude and self-care play integral roles in nurturing meaning and purpose within the teaching profession. Seligman, Steen, Park, and Peterson's 2005 research (4) provides evidence that practising gratitude enhances subjective wellbeing and life satisfaction. However, in my experience working with dedicated teachers, I have observed that despite their unwavering commitment, the demands of their work tend to encroach upon their personal lives, making self-care a challenging endeavour.

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of delivering a highly acclaimed inset training day focused on empowering educators to create a healthier life balance, effectively manage their time, and cultivate the ability to switch-off from work. A central message conveyed during the training emphasised the importance of acknowledging the positive aspects of the profession and prioritising one's own wellbeing as a means to experience greater fulfilment.

In addition to assisting educators in carving out dedicated moments for self-care, we explored strategies for expressing gratitude and kindness towards colleagues. By actively acknowledging and appreciating each other's strengths, and extending gratitude for their contributions, we witnessed the transformative impact of seemingly small gestures. Moments of shared laughter and joy had a lasting effect, resulting in a more joyful and harmonious school environment and contributing to the overall happiness of both staff and students.

By recognising the significance of gratitude and self-care, educators can cultivate a sense of fulfilment and lead more balanced lives. Embracing moments of appreciation, prioritising personal wellbeing, and fostering positive connections within the school community can create a more vibrant and thriving educational environment for all.

Strategies for Teachers:

  • Maintain a gratitude journal, noting down moments of joy and appreciation in their teaching journey.

  • Practise self-care through regular exercise, adequate rest, and engaging in activities that bring joy and relaxation.

  • Seek support from colleagues, friends, or mentors to navigate challenges and maintain a healthy work-life balance.


As teachers, we have the power to find profound meaning and purpose in our profession, shaping not only our own wellbeing but also the lives of our students. By embracing a positive psychology approach, we can unlock the transformative potential of education and create an inspiring and impactful learning environment.

By aligning their teaching practices with personal values, fostering positive relationships, and emphasising growth and development, teachers can enhance their sense of purpose and overall wellbeing. Recognising and appreciating the positive aspects of our profession, prioritising our own wellbeing, and expressing gratitude to colleagues creates a more joyful and harmonious school environment. By carving out moments of self-care and engaging in activities that bring us joy, we replenish our own energy and resilience.

As we navigate the complexities of the education field, let us remember that finding purpose is not a luxury; it is essential for our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of our whole school community. By embracing a positive psychology approach, we can unlock the true potential of education, creating a transformative learning experience and leaving a lasting impact on the lives of those we serve. Together, let us foster a culture of purpose, meaning, and wellbeing in education.


  1. Steger, M. F., Dik, B. J., & Duffy, R. D. (2012). Measuring Meaningful Work: The Work and Meaning Inventory (WAMI). Journal of Career Assessment, 20(3), 322–337.

  1. Jennings, P. A., & Greenberg, M. T. (2009). The prosocial classroom: Teacher social and emotional competence in relation to student and classroom outcomes. Review of Educational Research, 79(1), 491–525.

  2. Hakanen, Jari & Schaufeli, Wilmar. (2006). Burnout and Work Engagement Among Teachers. Journal of School Psychology. 43. 495-513.

  1. Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–421.