Rhiannon McGee

cConnect Article

The fourth annual Positive Education Schools’ Association Conference has concluded and our hearts and minds are full. This residential conference, held at GGS, spanned three days and was attended by more than 830 delegates from across Australia and worldwide. The theme for PESA 2018 was Connect with the aim of providing opportunities for educators to connect with their colleagues from across sectors, states and countries; to connect with leaders and experts in the field, so that we might return to our own schools equipped with current research and practice wisdom and finally, to connect with our shared vision of placing wellbeing at the heart of education.

Throughout PESA 2018, delegates embraced this ‘connect’ theme with a generosity of spirit and open-heartedness that was humbling to behold. Whether participating in the Wellbeing Adventure Race coordinated by Dr Aaron Jarden, Dr Suzy Green and Dr Jo Mitchell; engaging with the plethora of keynotes, masterclasses and workshops on offer; attending the range of wellbeing activities available from Equine Therapy to Tai Chi; dancing at the Gala Dinner or enjoying a fireside chat; the connections made were multifarious and profound. We are particularly grateful to our numerous keynote, masterclass and workshop presenters who generously shared their hard-earned knowledge, expertise and in many cases, their own personal journeys. 

Delegates (2) 450 x 300 Fountain 450 x 300

Day 1 was powerful, commencing with Dr Martin EP Seligman, the catalyst for this decade-long Positive Education movement. Seligman’s hopeful message that we are not defined by the past, but that we have multiple possible futures was reinforced by many of the speakers who followed him, including Dr Lucy Hone who shared her own challenging story of Resilient Grieving and Anh Do’s inspiring journey from arriving in Australia as a refugee to finding success as an author, artist and comedian. We were charmed by Campbell Remess, the 14-year-old founder of Project 365 whose message was that ‘kindness is simple’ and we learned about wellbeing through the lense of elite sport from Patrick Dangerfield and Brian Cook of Geelong Football Club. Georgie Harman, CEO of Beyond Blue, challenged us to consider how we promote mental health in schools and Dr Helen Street reminded us that whatever approach we adopt…context is everything.

Anh Do 450 x 300 Martin 450 x 300

The second day commenced with Dr Lea Waters, whose research on strength-based parenting might be the ‘missing piece’ of the Positive Education puzzle. We explored the fascinating science regarding the benefits of compassion with Dr Tony Fernando and Dr Kerry Howells reminded us of the importance of cultivating gratitude in order to enter our classrooms in a ‘state of preparedness’. A panel of experts investigated the role of mindfulness in schools and the role this practice can play in helping students connect to themselves and others. We learned of the outstanding work being done by educators such as Dr Toni Noble and principals Collette Bos (Salisbury North R-7 School) and Anne Johnstone (Ravenswood School for Girls) in furthering Positive Education in diverse settings. To conclude the day, Cam Greenwood of Monsta Surf, challenged us to reconnect with our sense of purpose by asking the question: what does the world need that your passions and talents can provide?

Brain Break 450 x 300 David 450 x 300

On the final day, our focus shifted from a national to an international perspective. Dr Abdulla Al Karam shared the noteworthy progress of Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority in placing wellbeing at the heart of education and we heard about the work of the Positive Education Chinese Academy (PECA) in promoting the wellbeing message in their country. The CEO of PECA , Anna Han, informed the PESA Conference of a plan to introduce Positive Education to 367 million children in China. Demonstrating that Positive Education can be taken to scale, Dr Alejandro Adler shared his extensive work implementing national and state-wide Positive Education programs in Bhutan, Mexico and Peru, as well as the promising data indicating the success of these programs in improving wellbeing and academic outcomes. The study can be accessed here:

Emily Larsen, Director of the International Positive Education Network highlighted their vital role in connecting researchers, educators and policy makers across the world to further the global movement for wellbeing in education. IPEN’s second international conference, being held this year, will seek to accelerate this movement with a 3-day Appreciative Inquiry summit. For more information, you can access this link:

The strong message at the conclusion of PESA 2018 was that Australian educators are well advanced on our Positive Education journey and we have a great deal to offer the rest of the world. We can be proud of all that we have achieved, but our challenge is to contribute what we have learned to help shift the educational paradigm on a global scale, enabling all to thrive.

Gratitude Wall (2) 450 x 300 Gratitude Wall 450 x 300