I recently spent a month at Geelong Grammar School. For any positive psychology or positive education junkies out there, you will know that this is the mecca for wellbeing educators.
A little over 10 years ago a team of teachers from GGS flew to UPenn to learn wellbeing from the godfather of positive psychology, Martin Seligman. The problem- the statistics of mental health among students and staff was distressing (and when you are distressed about the levels of distress you might be in a vicious circle that requires flying across an ocean to find an expert to help). Marty and the team returned to GGS where the branch of educational psychology now known commonly as positive education was born.
What’s different about the way Geelong Grammar School does wellbeing lies in their Learn, Live, Teach, Embed model which has been widely researched. When properly implemented the model:
A meta-analysis conducted by Sin and Lyubomirksy (2009) with 4,266 participants found that positive psychology interventions do increase happiness and decrease depressive symptoms significantly.
Teaches students and staff tools to thrive
Schools delivering Positive Education found that the students were able to gain a full understanding of what factors helped a life thrive, flourish, as well as teach them some practical skills for everyday use (Green, 2015).
Improves academic outcome & engagement
The emphasis on positive psychology interventions in education increases engagement, creates more curious students, and helps develop and overall love of learning (Fisher, 2015).
Makes teachers’ lives easier
Creating a school culture that is caring, trusting, and it prevents problem behavior and improves job satisfaction while simultaneously reducing teacher stress (Fisher, 2015).
Higher motivation among students
Goals associated positively with optimism resulted in a highly motivated student (Fadlelmula, 2010).
Results from 19 controlled studies of UPENN’s resiliency program found that students were more optimistic, resilient, and hopeful. Their scores on standardized tests increased by 11% and they had less anxiety approaching exams.
But what exactly does embedded positive education look like?
In the classroom
Positive education is taught as a stand alone subject the students call “Pos Ed” where lessons can range from learning about character strengths, growth mindset, gratitude, and mindfulness.
Inside other classes pos ed is used as a tool to open conversations.Imagine if in your freshman english class you could discuss the character strengths of various literary heroes and heroines. “What strengths does Juliet show in the final act?” Or in history a discussion about the second world war, students are asked to ponder if the shadow-side of a strength might have been part of Hitler’s power.
In the staff room
Each year new teachers attend a 3 day Discovering Positive Education course that helps them learn the language and lifestyle of a positive educator.
Returning staff are invited to PosEd 4 U once each term- these 1 hour workshops keep everyone (from maintenance staff to the vice principals) focused on the way they are educating AND the way they model positive psychology to their students. It’s hard to teach students to thrive if the adult role models aren’t also walking the talk!
When prospective students arrive to visit GGS the admissions team use the character wheel as a way to encourage them to discuss their strengths. Often admissions sees transcripts and reads what parents have written but hearing first hand what a student thinks they are good at is a great conversation tool.
In the office
One of the best examples of positive education in action comes from the main office administrator. The GGS has a front office entrance that boasts water views and architectural beauty. The back entrance, the one students walk by on a daily basis has a continual progression of memes, cartoons, inspiring thoughts and daily quotes. This is a fabulous example of creativity inspired by being part of a positive education campus.
In the cafeteria
Greetings are heartfelt when you arrive in the cafeteria. And even while eating there are signs that remind students and staff how to fuel a body optimal
At an outdoor education campus
The Timbertop campus is a unique program at GGS for the first year of high school. In a small, supportive and secure community, students are exposed to intellectual, physical and emotional challenges under demanding environmental conditions. In total, students camp for between 50 and 55 nights during the year. The most important activity, in terms of time and in the minds of the students, is hiking. Alpine National Park is challenging – the terrain is mountainous, with routes often involving ascents and descents of 1,000 metres, sometimes all in one day. When they do get home the students are busy chopping wood to fuel the hot water or helping clean the classrooms. Nowhere is resilience more needed and the campus has more overt reminders of Positive Education that anywhere else.
I am fortunate. If Martin Seligman is the founding father of Positive Psychology, our team at the Institute of Positive Education (based out of the Geelong Grammar School campus) are the first family of Positive Education. I think of myself as the crazy adopted cousin from America and I feel blessed beyond belief to be a part of team spreading a new way of educating, where heart and mind are both prioritized.
*If you want to learn more about bringing Positive Education to your school, please contact me through the form below.