In this article we discuss the teaching approach of three former teachers who taught in rural schools in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. Despite several policy interventions, the South African education system is still encountering numerous challenges, such as the high drop-out rate of learners, disciplinary problems, alcohol and substance abuse among learners and poor performance in subjects such as Mathematics and Science. Furthermore, education in rural areas is hindered by poverty, a shortage of resources, poor infrastructure and remote schools, which contribute to irregular school attendance and a lack of motivation among both parents and learners.
Not only does this article challenge negative perceptions of teaching and learning in under-resourced rural schools, but it further aims to illustrate that a positive teaching approach can contribute to the well-being of learners despite the challenges they may be facing. This study is driven by the following central research question: How does a positive teaching approach contribute to the development of learners’ well-being skills? By focusing on the present and being aware of the future, well-being skills assist learners in coping with their challenges.
This theoretical article is based on auto-ethnographic research of three former teachers, capturing their thoughts on rural learners’ experiences of a positive teaching approach at three different rural schools in the Northern Cape. Through introspection and reflection, the former teachers relived their teaching practices in rural schools and explored and described the impact of a positive teaching approach on learners’ well-being. The narrative methodology assisted the former teachers in presenting rich descriptions of their teaching practices and analysing the stories for their embedded meanings.
As in many rural areas in South Africa, learners in the rural areas of the Northern Cape mostly are from poor socioeconomic backgrounds that are characterised by, among other things, poor housing, inadequate resources and a lack of information, technology, communication and fiscal power. Despite efforts by the South African government to create equal opportunities for all, issues such as poverty and poor infrastructure contribute to negative experiences, especially in schools in rural areas. The negative experiences of the learners were characterised by a lack of confidence and assertiveness, as well as fear of failure.
Data for this self-study were generated through reflective narratives – each former teacher writing about his or her own experiences and perceptions of teaching at a rural school. Self-study involves methods of stepping back and an awareness of the political, social and historical embeddedness of the self. The data were analysed using Seligman’s (2018) PERMA model. An overview of the concept of well-being served as point of departure for the theoretical framework. Aligned with Watson’s (2012) views, well-being can be articulated in terms of emotions (happiness and confidence), psychological well-being (a feeling of autonomy) and social well-being (positive relationships). Positive interaction among people contributes to positive well-being. The well-being of individuals differs, as the same level of resources does not necessarily lead to a similar state of well-being. Of significance for this article, we drew on Seligman’s (2018) five elements of well-being that are based on positive psychology, namely positive emotions, learner involvement, positive relations, meaning and achievement. Positive education regards the well-being of learners as just as important as learning.
The narratives of the former teachers are discussed according to four themes: the affective domain of learning; learner challenges; learner involvement and a sense of belonging; and creativity in the classroom to evoke positive emotions. In attempting to mitigate learners’ negative experiences and contribute to learners’ well-being, the three former teachers implemented a positive teaching approach to motivate their learners to change their thinking regarding the circumstances in which they found themselves. By taking learners on excursions while involving them in practical applications of curriculum content, one teacher managed to motivate learners to show appreciation for the area in which they lived. This had the result that the learners gradually started to view themselves and the world they lived in from a more positive perspective. By focusing on developing learners’ language abilities, breaking down stereotypes and involving learners in assessment activities, one of the teachers succeeded in helping learners to develop their own identity and a sense of belonging. In an attempt to boost positive feelings, thoughts and behaviour, another teacher conducted home visits, assigned important roles to learners in the classroom and created spaces for dialogue. As a result of these strategies, the learners challenged their circumstances by becoming more self-directed, improved their relationships with one another and excelled academically.
The narratives further illustrate that creativity in the classroom can evoke positive emotions. In the Home Language classroom, positive emotions of learners were promoted by writing positive sayings on a board and watching trailers and advertisements. Consumer Studies learners accompanied the teacher during shopping for practicals, while visual aids and a language day enhanced the positive emotions of the learners. A Senior Phase teacher created dialogue spaces in his classroom where learners had the opportunity to share their own stories and experiences. The three teachers’ teaching approaches resulted in learners’ developing a sense of being in that they showed involvement in, appreciation for and acceptance and revisiting of their own identities. When individuals experience such positivity, they may experience a greater sense of being, implying that they may feel that they are part of something greater than themselves.
The article illustrates that teachers can make a difference despite numerous challenges in the school environment. When a positive teaching approach is followed, learners can forget about the negative elements around them and focus on the positive. Positive emotions develop learners’ well-being skills and contribute to their creativity. A positive teaching approach acknowledges learners for who they are, as they feel appreciated and develop a sense of belonging in the classroom, which, in turn, leads to an improvement in their involvement in classroom activities. A positive teaching approach takes time and requires passionate teachers with determination. New research can shed light on the effect of a positive teaching approach on learners’ academic achievement.
Keywords: classroom; narratives; positive psychology; rural education; self-study; teaching approaches