Canada isn’t the only Country experiencing a mental health crisis. Globally, the total number of people with depression was estimated to exceed 300 million in 2015. A similar number suffer from some type of anxiety disorders. And many experience both simultaneously (comorbidity). The consequences of these disorders on families, individuals, workplaces and schools are massive. Depression is ranked by WHO as the single largest contributor to global disability (7.5% of all years lived with disability in 2015); anxiety disorders are ranked 6th (3.4%). Depression is also the major contributor to suicide deaths, which number close to 800 000 per year (WHO, 2017)
As a mother of four I have watched as my children and their classmates are expected to cope with levels of stress far beyond reasonable. The normalizing of this stress has created a frog in the pot situation. If you drop a frog into boiling water it will immediately jump out, but if you put a frog in cool water and slowly bring it to a boil, the frog won’t notice the heat until it is too late. (sorry frog lovers) Watching the children in my community, the friends of my sons and daughters, become agoraphobic, failing to make it through on year of University after graduating at the top of their high school class, or not sleeping or eating I was inspired to find some answers.
In 2006 a few teachers at Geelong Grammar School were noticing the same challenge,an increase in depression, anxiety, and stress at the school. They discovered research out of UPENN that was making positive impact on wellbeing which in return decreased stress, anxiety and depression. Martin Seligman, the founding father of positive psychology, brought his family and research team to Geelong Grammar School (GGS) and provided the catalyst for what would become one of the most significant innovations in the world of educational psychology. By 2008, the term ‘Positive Education’ had been coined at GGS and the first large-scale training of GGS staff was underway. These first steps eventually led to the creation of Geelong Grammar’s Institute of Positive Education which employs 25 full time staff and has trained over 10,000 educators around the world from over 500 different schools and organizations.
The Positive Education Approach
Positive Education is a whole school approach to student and staff wellbeing that brings together the science of Positive Psychology with best practice teaching, to encourage and support individuals and communities to flourish.
Positive Education has transformed the way GGS approaches education, delivering a greater depth and breadth of exceptional education. In an ever-changing society, schools must adopt new roles that help support our students embrace the complexities of next-generation learning and living. Mental illness and psychological distress continue to increase, with initial onset during formative years. Positive Education has complemented and enhanced GGS’s holistic approach to education, by supporting, protecting and empowering students to strengthen their relationships, build positive emotions, enhance resilience and enable the exploration of meaning and purpose in one’s life. Through committing to Positive Education, GGS has shown that schools can, and should, consider health, wellbeing, and flourishing to be as important as traditional academic learning.
In consultation with world-experts in Positive Psychology and based on Seligman’s PERMA approach we developed a ‘Model for Positive Education’ – an applied framework comprising of six domains: Positive Relationships, Positive Emotions, Positive Health, Positive Engagement, Positive Accomplishment, and Positive Purpose.
This model has been augmented with four fundamental active processes that underpin successful and sustained implementation of Positive Education: Learn It, Live It, Teach It, Embed It. These processes bring the Model to life in a school and are grounded in and informed by GGS’s extensive, unique experience in assisting schools around Australia and the world to implement sustainable change.
Through regular training opportunities, staff and parents ‘learn’ about Positive Psychology and are encouraged to ‘live’ the principles of Positive Education by modelling the behaviours in their actions and interactions with each other and with students. ‘Teach it’ refers to the delivery of Positive Education skills and knowledge to students via two distinct pathways. Dedicated or ‘explicit’ Positive Education classes are taught to students from Grades 5 through 10 and are devoted to cultivating wellbeing; providing students with time to reflect meaningfully on the relevance of concepts to their lives. The ‘implicit’ teaching of Positive Education refers to the infusion of wellbeing concepts into pre-existing subject areas so that academic objectives are approached in ways that also support flourishing. ‘Embed it’ refers to the broader vision of creating a whole-school culture and community for wellbeing. The Learn It, Live It, Teach It, Embed It processes are additive, synergistic, and dynamic as they continually augment and inform each other.
Although it remains a mystery why Australia is so far ahead of North America in the realm of proactive mental health, I am delighted to help North Americans to avoid reinventing the wheel. We are pleased to announce the first of our North American training dates has been set.
World Health Organization. (2017). Depression and other common mental disorders: global health estimates (No. WHO/MSD/MER/2017.2). World Health Organization.