Educator Seeks to Reinvent Education Approach Using Positive Psychology

In nearly five decades as an educator, Metuka Benjamin says she has seen too many students with the potential to accomplish incredible things, but unable to flourish.

"I saw kids that were very negative and did not have the proper teachers with the proper attitude," Benjamin said.

Benjamin, an educator at Bel-Air's prestigious Milken Community Schools, says schools didn't give those students emotional tools and only offered motivators based on negative psychology.

"You remain the same and you're very depressed. And you see yourself as a failure," Benajmin said.

It's a phenomenon she says connects her to her students.

In them, she sees herself as a youngster, and remembers when at 9 years old, her art teacher allowed her classmates to make fun of a picture she had drawn. She says the memory of that stings to this day.

"It has very serious implications on your life," Benajmin said.

Benjamin says, although she loves and appreciates art, she still fears expressing herself creatively.

To make sure her students don't to go through the same thing, next fall, she will reinvent Milken's approach to education.

"It's a different outlook on life altogether. It's not only the classroom," Benjamin said.

Headmaster Gary Weisserman said Metuka's approach is something called "emotional intelligence."

"We want kids who are accomplished, but also are happy," Weisserman said.

He, along with everyone else on the staff, has been retrained to teach using "positive psychology." Students will be taught how to turn everything that school and life tosses their way -- especially failures -- into constructive experiences.

"When we have a kid who hasn't become the whole person that they can be, we've failed," Weisserman said.

Although the program has yet to launch, elements of it have already seeped into the curriculum.

"In this program, I get to pursue multiple passions of mine," says 16-year-old Alex Marley, a Milken student.

Metuka says Alex wasn't very passionate about robotics and electrical engineering as a freshman, but with constant reinforcement from Milken's teachers, peers and parents, he has flourished.

She says when students like Alex hear the wrong message, it stifles their happiness and their passion suffers. Positive psychology, Benjamin says, will allow students to connect with teachers on a whole new level.

"Education is changing, the world is changing, and schools need to change," Benjamin said.

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