Wellbeing, Curiosity, and Meaning-Making: Preparing for the 21st Century World - Education Matters Magazine

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Wellbeing, Curiosity, and Meaning-Making: Preparing for the 21st Century World


At the Institute of Positive Education, we have tailored our training to equip teachers with the tools and skills necessary to assist them to impart a 21st century approach not only to their teaching, but their lives.

Benjamin Franklin once wrote that “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished”.

Undoubtedly in our rapidly evolving world, schools need to rise to the challenge of equipping young people with the skills to make meaning of and navigate a future we can only imagine. This is a future where those students entering preschool in 2017 are preparing for a vast array of jobs, many of which are yet to be invented. Teachers are tasked with providing our students with opportunities to develop skills and knowledge, the ‘tools for life’, so that they may have the wisdom, courage, and conviction to navigate a world of increased complexity and uncertainty. This uncertainty, coupled with increasing prevalence of stress-related mental illness forces us to ponder the complicated question: ‘how can we prepare our students for a 21st century world, in which they are best equipped to flourish and thrive?’ It is this very question that has catalysed researchers and practitioners around the world in ongoing development and application of ‘next-generation’ curriculum and pedagogy.

This growing global learning movement enables young people to adapt and thrive through an education system designed to “promote skills of collaboration and problem solving, making and designing, empathy and emotional acuity, rather than dutiful diligence in following a routine to deliver the expected answer at the appropriate moment” (Leadbeater, 2016).

In a report released by the World Economic Forum, 21st century learning comprises of three key skill areas:
Foundational Literacies: numeracy, literacy, ICT, scientific, financial, cultural and civic literacies
Competencies: critical-thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration
Character Qualities: curiosity, grit, initiative, adaptability, leadership, and social and cultural awareness

If we really want to prepare our students for their futures and “build a strong platform for healthy development and effective learning… then we must pay as much attention to children’s emotional wellbeing and social capacities as we do to their cognitive abilities and academic skills” (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, p. 7). As Waters (2011) concludes, teaching for wellbeing is, and must be, a key aspect of 21st century education in properly preparing our students for their futures.

Interestingly, of the sixteen skills of the 21st century learning model, twelve have an intentional focus on the emotional and social capacities our students need to help build their wellbeing. Topics like grit and curiosity have formed a firm research base within Positive Psychology, a field in which the objective is to explore the science of optimal human functioning by investigating concepts such as; happiness, wellbeing, human strengths, and flourishing (Gable & Haidt, 2005).

Over the past decade, Geelong Grammar School has helped lead hundreds of schools around the world in the translation and application of the science of Positive Psychology into an education setting. Positive Education brings together the science of Positive Psychology with best practice teaching to encourage and support schools and individuals within their communities to flourish. Increasingly, schools are weaving and embedding Positive Education into curriculum and school culture by exploring foundational concepts such as empathy, values, and curiosity.

Pioneering researchers in the field, Seligman and Peterson (2004) identify that curiosity is one of 24 universal strengths. Curiosity involves “taking an interest in all of ongoing experience. It involves actively recognising and pursuing challenging opportunities and seeking out new knowledge. Curiosity can be broken down into three categories: interest, novelty seeking and openness to new experience. It is this strength that drives individuals to make discoveries and to explore the boundaries of human knowledge” (VIA Classification, Seligman and Peterson, 2004).

Curiosity can be taught in schools either explicitly as a topic or implicitly through the culture created in your classroom and school, thereby encouraging students to investigate content and concepts in new and novel ways. Curiosity drives the way we make meaning and understand the self and the world. In turn, this evolving understanding assists us to navigate the journey of every-day life. The meanings we construct are subjectively based on one’s personal history and idiographic way of experiencing the world. Our students are curious, active meaning-makers who construct meaning and add to their personal history and narrative every day.

Yet the way we understand ourselves and the world is also shaped by our culture, language, and ongoing relationships. Thus curiosity, meaning-making, and story-telling all contribute to our understanding of ourselves, our world and our wellbeing (Wong, 2011).

So how can we then foster curiosity with our students so that they engage in new and novel ways with the world around them? Using curiosity as a lens, how can we encourage our students to think about the culture that surrounds them? How can we help them harness curiosity to help make sense of their place in this world? How can we use curiosity to further develop their use of language and their exploration of this language? And how can we use curiosity to help our students make meaning of their ongoing relationships, and to use this to build solid foundations – now and in the future?

Curiosity, is both an integral part of the way we make meaning of the world and an avenue that is scientifically grounded in helping us build wellbeing.

Critically, the shift towards facilitating 21st century learning and placing wellbeing at the heart of education requires an evolution in teacher education. Teachers need support in understanding emerging science and how it fits within their teaching and learning pedagogy. Furthermore, given the newness of the wellbeing space, there is little support material for teachers to draw upon, unlike in traditional subject areas that have a range of resources and textbooks. Developing resources to support teachers is imperative, as is examining how pre-service teaching and teacher professional development can support the teaching of concepts pertaining to wellbeing.

Here, at the Institute of Positive Education we have tailored our training to equip teachers with the tools and skills necessary to assist them to impart a 21st century approach not only to their teaching, but their lives.

A core feature of the training is assisting teachers to navigate the concepts within Positive Education through our applied model: Learn It, Live It, Teach It, Embed It.

Participants of the training come, first and foremost, to learn about the principals of Positive Psychology, after which this knowledge enables them to live out the principles in an authentic way. This paves the way for participants to teach these principles to their students in genuine ways, given their own experience with the material, which then leads to the whole-school approach of ’embed it’, and the school’s ability to weave Positive Education throughout its culture, language and relationships.

Jennings and Greenberg (2009) found that “when teachers and school staff have high levels of social and emotional wellbeing, this has a positive influence on the students” (as cited Waters, 2011). In order to be truly sustainable and highly effective, Positive Education requires a whole-school approach in which all staff (teaching and non-teaching) are trained in Positive Education so that the principles can be modelled and supported, and woven throughout the entire fabric of the school. These are not objectives that can be achieved overnight. However, schools like Geelong Grammar are working hard to model a paradigm shift in education that requires ongoing support for teachers, students and parents in their ability to translate and apply scientific findings.

In many ways, Positive Education provides an overarching, evidence-based framework, where wellbeing is the focal point of schooling, where 21st century teaching and learning is embraced, and where students are best prepared to flourish and thrive now and in the future.

Jennings, P. A., & Greenberg, M. T. (2009). The prosocial classroom: Teacher social and emotional competence in relation to student and classroom outcomes. Review of educational research, 79(1), 491-525.
Leadbeater, C. (2016). The Problem Solvers: The teachers, the students and the radically disruptive nuns who are leading a global learning movement. Retrieved from London: https://www.pearson.com/content/dam/corporate/global/pearson-dot-com/files/learning/Problem-Solvers-Web-.pdf
National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2006). Children’s emotional development is built into the architecture of their brains. Report 2. Retrieved from www.developingchild,net.
classification (Vol. 1). Oxford University Press.
Schleicher, A. (2015). Educating for the 21st Century. Retrieved from: http://bigthink.com/big-think-gesf/educating-for-the-21st-century-2
Torii, K. and O’Connell, M. Preparing Young People for the Future of Work. Mitchell Institute Policy Paper No. 01/2017. Mitchell Institute, Melbourne. Available from: www.mitchelinstitue.org.au
Waters, L. (2011). A review of school-based positive psychology interventions. The Australian Educational and Developmental Psychologist, 28(02), 75-90.
Wong, P. T. (2011). Positive psychology 2.0: Towards a balanced interactive model of the good life. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 52(2), 69. Gabel & Haidt 2005
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and

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