Positive Education is the science of education that seeks to harness cutting-edge research from social, cognitive, neuro and life sciences; and combine it with world-leading pedagogical and educational practices. David Bott discusses how it is benefitting students all over the world.
In 2008, Geelong Grammar School (GGS) was the first school in the world to implement a whole-school approach to wellbeing based on the science of positive psychology. Ten years on, Positive Education is being applied by thousands of schools around the world as educators and researchers increasingly appreciate the social, emotional and academic benefits of placing wellbeing science at the heart of education.
Having supported more than 1500 schools around the world with their Positive Education journeys, the GGS Institute of Positive Education team is proud of its contribution to this pivotal development in education.
However, one of the many challenges faced in the early years of Positive Education was determining how to fully embrace parents in the journey. Although parents were always an important consideration, we probably underestimated the critical role they need to play in the transformational change we envisaged.
Perhaps this is because school systems are used to innovation being a top-down process. Senior leadership typically assumes responsibility for development and subsequent downstream communication of strategy and programming. In many ways, with Positive Education we trusted the science, we embraced the philosophy and we brought it to life without necessarily incorporating parents as genuine partners in the development phase.
Among the many lessons we are continuing to learn about wellbeing, one of the most important is that parents are the foundation of a child’s Positive Education journey. This concept is depicted in the Pyramid of Passion (pictured below).
In situations involving school-wide, sustainable development, there are four layers of stakeholders. As schools evolve, it is imperative that direction is given from senior leadership (including school council) at the top of the pyramid. This layer provides the catalyst in the short-term and resources in the long-term that are necessary for sustainable change. Next, the change must be supported and invested in by the teaching staff.
It is this layer that constitutes the cultural bedrock of a school and the layer that directly interfaces with students. Thirdly, change needs to be effectively and sensitively communicated to students who, ideally, perceive the change as worthwhile and beneficial. Finally, parents need to be on-board with the change to maximise support at school and at home.
The pyramid depicts senior leadership as the change agents most heavily invested in the school-transformation process. However, what happens when we consider this pyramid from the perspective of an individual child’s wellbeing? Who is most passionate about little Charlie’s wellbeing?
Of course, senior leadership care about Charlie. But in a large school, they may not even know Charlie’s name or much about Charlie as an individual.
Charlie’s teacher likely has a much deeper relationship with him/her because they spend so much time together. In a primary setting, a teacher might spend four or more hours a day with a student.
Charlie is even more invested and passionate about his or her wellbeing than the teacher, and is likely to constantly seek opportunities for personal growth, contribution and happiness.
However, it’s possible there’s someone even more passionate about Charlie’s wellbeing – the parent. The importance that many parents place on their child’s wellbeing often exceeds their own. The principal, teachers and students matter – but perhaps the parent matters more.
The Pyramid of Passion illustrates each stakeholder’s significance in whole-school change processes and in individual wellbeing. Although parents may not drive school strategy, they absolutely constitute the foundation of a child’s wellbeing.
This is why the long-term success of Positive Education, in many ways, pivots on the involvement, support and partnership of the parent community.
This lesson can be particularly significant in primary school settings. In these early school years, the fundamentals of life-long wellbeing are formed. Students are learning about themselves, others and their world. They are developing foundational skills of character, resilience and relationships that they will depend on throughout their lives.
As we have continued to learn, some of the key strategies that GGS is now employing include:
• Offering Positive Education parent and grandparent training and workshops;
• Inviting parents to wellbeing focus days and incursions;
• Forming a Positive Education Parent Committee; and
• Designing a Parent-Child mindfulness workshop.
While we acknowledge that the pyramid model is a simplification of a complex, interconnection of relational experience for each child, and that not all children are fortunate enough to have a nurturing family environment, the lesson remains pertinent for schools – what happens at home significantly impacts the work we are doing to nurture our students’ wellbeing.
As we continue to place wellbeing science at the heart of education, let’s not forget that parents belong at the heart of each child’s education.
Institute of Positive Education
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