Volume 6 Number 9
September 6 - October 10 2010
The Melbourne Graduate School of Education (MGSE) is playing a leading role in an exciting new development for Australian schools: positive education.
Positive education demonstrates that, just as we can teach our young people skills in literacy and numeracy, we can also teach them skills in resilience and wellbeing.
The Graduate School is actively engaged with positive education in a range of ways: through its research, teacher education programs, development of school programs and developing relationships with international experts.
Associate Professor Lea Waters says the principles are simple. “Positive psychology, of which positive education is a sub-discipline, puts science behind what we already know: unless we’re happy and healthy we won’t reach our potential. Research shows that raising our levels of wellbeing simultaneously raises our creativity, productivity and willingness to contribute to broader societal purposes.”
High quality positive education research is coming out of MGSE says Associate Professor Waters.
“Experts such as Associate Professor Erica Frydenberg, Professor Michael Bernard and Dr Brenda Beatty are undertaking influential work in the fields of adolescent coping, student and teacher resilience and the emotional wellbeing of school leaders.”
According to Associate Professor Waters schools are the perfect place to introduce young people to positive education’s tools and techniques.
“Traditionally, psychological practice in schools has been problem-focused, helping students overcome social, emotional and/or learning difficulties. While this is an important role for psychology in schools, a positive psychology approach helps students in the healthy functioning range achieve peak social, emotional and academic performance. Associate Professor Frydenberg’s program Think Positively: A Course for Developing Coping Skills in Adolescents is a great example of a tool that helps do this.”
MGSE is also committed to introducing positive education into Victorian schools, currently through two notable programs: the new Master in School Leadership and Teach for Australia (an independent program, for which MGSE delivers the academic content).
Between these two programs, MGSE is taking both a top-down as well as a bottom-up approach to educating school leaders and graduate teachers about positive education.
MGSE is also inviting some of the world’s leaders in positive psychology to share their expertise with Australian audiences. One of the most recent visitors has been James Pawelski, Director of Education and Senior Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, the home of positive psychology. During his visit, James delivered a public lecture where he made the case for extending positive education to include the introduction of the positive humanities to curricula.
According to Dr Pawelski, the positive humanities offer an enhanced understanding of disciplines, as well as a way to cultivate wellbeing.
“For example, in literature, there is a tendency to focus on the tragic; but there is a valid place for literary criticism that focuses on the positive”, he explains.
“That’s not to say negative perspectives shouldn’t be considered, but we should also be including the positive perspectives. We look at the tragic flaws in characters; what about their saving graces? In literature classes, we tend to spend more time exploring the tragic than the flourishing.”
Dr Pawelski believes curriculum change is needed to truly embed positive education in schools. “We need to do something about the current epidemic of depression among young people. Isn’t the point of learning to help young people succeed; not just in exams, but also in life? Wellbeing programs are an important first step, but they shouldn’t be seen as stand alone units. The next step is curriculum change; teacher education and disciplines themselves need to change.”
Associate Professor Waters agrees with Dr Pawelski that positive education includes strategic curriculum change, but recognises it will take time to build momentum for this. In the meantime, she believes there will be a butterfly effect from the small pockets of practice being introduced.
Master in School Leadership students are already taking positive education practices back to their schools, with exercises in gratitude, appreciative inquiry, understanding ‘what went well today’ and ‘paying kindness forward’ being used in schools such as Euroa Secondary College, Hume Central, Melbourne High and Mortlake Primary School.
Australia is increasingly being recognised as a world leader in positive education, and Associate Professor Waters and Dr Pawelski are both optimistic about its future. The important first step, as both experts say, is for us to “recognise wellbeing as a legitimate goal of education.”