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“Education is What’s Left When They Forget Everything You Taught Them”

“Education is What’s Left When They Forget Everything You Taught Them”

I wish these were my words. They came from Mark Turner, the new head of my sons’ school. They are the words that convinced me he is awesome.

He was talking to parents at our school and explaining that after students have forgotten the history of Canadian pioneers and the Pythagorean theorem, the lessons we sometimes call soft skills will be what remains. These are the parts of education that are truly important to a student’s success and happiness.

This lesson was reinforced when we held a research event on campus at Geelong Grammar School that included 2 current grade 12 students and 2 students in their 3rd year of university. When asked about their experience of Positive Education classes at the school all four agreed that despite moments of resistance (that included eye-rolls and groans about gratitude letters and mindfulness)  they all use what they learned in “Pos Ed class” every single day.

One of the great challenges in the field of Positive Education is telling people what it is in a simple sentence. I often find myself saying “it’s difficult to define and easy to do”. This video from my colleagues at Flourish Dx is a really good beginning! It talks about empowering people to be mentally healthy. “Beacuse mentally healthy workplaces work better” Take a peek…

Want to learn more about increasing wellbeing at home, at school or at work? Contact me.

Esther Perel’s Couples Therapy Just Solved Organizational Relationships

Esther Perel’s Couples Therapy Just Solved Organizational Relationships

I love Esther Perel. Her podcast Where Should We Begin gives an inside look as real couples navigate their relationship issues that seem largely centered around sex. When I heard she was speaking at SXSW about workplace relationships my curiosity as a positive psychology practitioner was piqued. How would sex therapy translate to organizational wellbeing? An organization’s wellbeing depends on the same domains as individual wellbeing:

  • purpose
  • relationship
  • accomplishment
  • engagement
  • emotions
  • health

Her talk titled What Business Leaders Can Learn About Workplace Dynamics from Couples Therapy is all about navigating relationships and cultivating relational fluency which, according to Perel,  is equally important at home and at work. Here’s a brief summary of Esther’s key points. I highly recommend watching the entire talk.

Each of us carries specific narratives which guide our needs and expectations – how we connect to others, how we define trust, and how we engage or avoid conflict. Most importantly, these inner stories determine how we communicate and elicit curiosity and collaboration. We don’t magically become different people when we walk into our office. Once considered a “soft skill” in the workplace, relational intelligence is now one of the top currencies of business success. Her question to us:

How much are we investing in our relationships at work

Esther points out that

  • 65% of start ups fail due to relationship issue between founders
  • The quality of our relationships at work determines the actual quality of our work and our overall ability to success.
  • Unlike performance, relationships are hard to measure, sustain, and repair.

Relational intelligence refers to:

  • Our ability to connect with others
  • How we connect and form trust
  • How we engage in or avoid conflict

Some parallels between relationships at home and at work

  • The rise of expectations- never before have we expected so much from our career or our partner. We want flexibility, we want our workplace to be attentive to our wellbeing and we want our jobs to help us find a sense of meaning and purpose (pretty tall order!)
  • We now bring emotional capital into the workplace. We are encouraging emotions at the workplace. Authenticity, trust, belonging, transparency and psychological safety are common workplace discussions
  • We have shifted from a production economy to a service economy. We no longer go to work to put bread on the table, we work to fulfill ourselves.


Every relationship deals with

  • Autonomy and interdependence
  • Conflict management and communication
  • Self- awareness and accountability

We all grow up with a relational culture. Our beliefs about what we can expect from people form the lens through which we view our relationships at work.

  • Were relationships central to life?
  • Do you believe that you are the only one you can rely on in this world?

Every system from living ecosystems to families to organizational systems is balancing:

  • Commitment and freedom
  • Stability & change
  • Togetherness & individuality

Often in a relationship there is one person who is more in touch with a fear of losing the other and one more afraid of losing themselves. The one afraid of abandonment will be eager to please and quick to give in, The other will be stubborn and afraid of giving in.

Every relationship involves both explicit and implicit communication.

  • Power and control
  • Closeness
  • Care and Recognition

Under relational impasses it is often not what is being talked about bit the power struggles for power, recognition

THE GOLDEN RULE- If you want to change the other, start by changing yourself.

Why Is It So Hard to Be Nice To Yourself? The Science of Self-Compassion in the Classroom and in Life

Why Is It So Hard to Be Nice To Yourself? The Science of Self-Compassion in the Classroom and in Life

Teachers often come to self-compassion work looking to help their students to be a little easier on themselves. It might be a seed planted after a crisis like a suicide or when they hear (once again) the nauseating stats around teen depression, anxiety, and debilitating levels of stress. (1 in 4) Parents and educators alike want to help kids to feel less compulsion around getting straight A-s, getting into an Ivey, or graduating at the top of their class. Social media isn’t to blame and yet when a maturing person with an under-developed pre-frontal cortex (decision-making part of the brain) is tasked with homework, volunteer work, sport, music, and a navigating the complexity of social life, it’s easy to see how anyone can get caught up in behaviours that range from self-deprecating to self-sabotaging.

What is Self-Compassion

The science of self-compassion is new. Most of the research is less than 15 years old. Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer are the reigning experts and their site SelfCompassion.org offers a wealth of resources. Eighty percent of us are more kind to others than we are to ourselves. 80%!  Self-compassion happens when you treat yourself in a way that is:

  • Kind
  • Gentle
  • Forgiving
  • Open-hearted

Self-compassion feels expanding and it provides you with permission to be imperfect, or perfectly imperfect as I like to say.

Why Be Self-Compassionate?

People often see their lack of self-compassion as motivating. They also mistake self-compassion for self-indulgence. Self-compassion has even been labeled as weak. I like to remind adults that modeling self-compassion is really the only sure-fire way to show the younger people in your life how to treat themselves. Telling you child or a student not to be so hard on themselves rings untrue and inauthentic is we aren’t living self-compassionately first.

What Does Self-Compassion Look Like?

Mindfulness versus over-identification. This refers to an individual’s ability to recognize something without catastrophizing. In the case of a student, one C in biology can send them on a downward spiral where they now won’t get in to University and now the rest of their life is ruined because all they have ever wanted to do is practice medicine. Seeing the C as one mark on one test rather than an indicator of potential or latent ability is self-compassion.

Common humanity versus isolation. We are all in this together. We all experience some successes and some failures. We all feel sad or angry at times. When an experience connects rather than disconnects you, you are being self-compassionate.

Self-kindness versus self-judgment. When you make mistakes and use a growth mindset to see them as part of the process rather than proof that you are somehow inadequate you are offering yourself kindness.  Our youth need reminders that part of being human and growing up is learning to do hard things.

How Self-Compassionate Are You?

If you are curious about how your own self-compassion rates, take this online assessment.

If you need to improve your self-compassion, know that you are not alone! There are many simple ways to get better at treating yourself with respect.

  • Talk to yourself like a self-compassionate person would. “This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. Let me be kind to myself in this moment”
  • There are a variety of guided meditations that follow a loving kindness philososphy. I love these ones on Chris Germer’s site.
  • Using Soothing Touch. Our bodies are wired to release compassion inducing chemicals like

oxytocin when we feel skin to skin contact. Hold your own hand. Give yourself a gentle brow, cheek, and chin massage. O r give yourself a hug. These all release opiates that help regulate moods.

Self-Compassion is good for you.

People who are self-compassionate are also more motivated, more proactive and less likely to procrastinate. They are more compassionate to others and they are more able to cope with life’s difficult moments.

What is the Difference Between Kindness and Self-Compassion?

They sound an awful lot alike however compassion prompts action which leads to elevating the suffering.

One More Reason (this one isn’t about you)

Research on mirror neurons has shown that we have something called empathic resonance. This means the sadness we feel on behalf of someone else is not less than our personal sadness. The reverse is also true. The emotions you are experiencing are contagious to those around you. You might be unintentionally spreading your emotional heaviness to your family, your friends and your colleagues. In the words of author Jack Kornfield

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete”


Why Canadian Educators Don’t Need to Reinvent the Wheel When It Comes to Mental Health

Why Canadian Educators Don’t Need to Reinvent the Wheel When It Comes to Mental Health

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.

Learn More


World Health Organization. (2017). Depression and other common mental disorders: global health estimates (No. WHO/MSD/MER/2017.2). World Health Organization.

Want To Get Hired? Lead With Emotional Intelligence

Want To Get Hired? Lead With Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is popping up everywhere- from Facebook to LinkedIn there’s more and more buzz about why EI is the new IQ. Emotional intelligence includes your ability to recognize what emotion you are feeling and to manage that emotion in a way that allows you to use the emotion rather than becoming overwhelmed by it. It also includes your ability to accurately interpret and respond appropriately to the emotions of other people. It is involved in your capacity for resilience, motivation, empathy, reasoning, stress management, communication, and your ability to read and navigate sticky social situations. Understanding the strengths of your own Emotional Intelligence and being able to convey these strengths on a CV, resume, college application or in an interview will help you in achieving your goals.

Once thought of as part of the soft skills of employment, leaders are now recognizing that hiring enthusiastic employees who have a growth mindset and high emotional intelligence matters. It’s easier to provide training for the so-called hard skills that to help someone increase their EI.

Daniel Goleman, author of What Makes a Leader, suggests working these types of questions into any interview process:

Self-awareness Question

“Tell us about a time that one of your weaknesses had a negative impact on your work team’s performance.”

Self-regulation Question

“Tell us about a situation in which you became frustrated in a professional setting and you were able to redirect these feelings in a positive manner.”

Social Skills Question

“Describe a situation involving your work team where you were able to manage conflict

within the group to help them move forward.”

Empathy Question

“Share an actual situation that happened at work that showcases your ability to consider

other people’s feelings in your decision making.”

Motivation Question

“Is there a work-related situation you can tell us about where you put a lot of energy and

effort into an important project that went unnoticed or unrecognized by others?”

Good candidates arrive ready to answer questions like these, great candidates address the areas of motivation, empathy, self-awareness, self-regulation and social skills right in the application or on their CV.

Selling Yourself Means Knowing Yourself


If you are interested in emotions, learning about them will satisfy your curiosity. If you depend upon emotional knowledge in your job, learning more about emotions would likely help.

John Mayer

Taking time to learn more about your unique strengths might mean reading Strengths 2.0 and taking the Clifton Strengths Finder assessment.

It could also mean understanding your values in action through a free VIA Character Strength Assessment.

Check out this list of assessment tools I love.

Once you have a list of words that describe you in, pick the ones that feel like a vital part of who you are and incorporate them into how you describe yourself. Weave them into your CV or cover letter or use them in interview answers. When you know yourself and can speak confidently about both your areas of strength and the areas where you could grow, you show yourself to have Emotional Intelligence. If you think you need a little help increasing your EI this blog post has some great exercises. Or check out the fabulous Ramona Hacker’s TED talk.

Becoming more aware of emotional intelligence has no downside. When you increase your self-awareness you level-up your ability to interact with people in a way that allows you to get more of what you want. Make yourself impossible to ignore!

“No doubt emotional intelligence is more rare than book smarts, but my experience says it is actually more important in the making of a leader. You just can’t ignore it.”

Jack Welch