Learning and Living Positive Education

Theresa Blake

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This past month I had the privilege of being embedded in the Institute of Positive Education’s head office at Geelong Grammar School, Australia. This opportunity afforded me the chance to reinforce and shape three key planning elements as I consider the upcoming year.

First, “start with teachers” (Robinson, 2019). Other than the students themselves, the most important factor influencing success in the classroom is the teacher (Hattie, 2003; Leithwood et al., 2003; Dinham, 2008). As educators, in the classroom we teach who we are. If we are excited about a concept, students will be engaged. Likewise, the opposite can be said: if we are not comfortable or don’t believe in what we are teaching, students may disengage. In other words, teachers need to first learn, live and believe in Positive Education practices before they can teach or even embed them into their program area. And perhaps the most important reason for placing the emphasis on teachers’ knowledge and enthusiasm is that in doing so we are helping them develop skills and outlooks to manage the demands of the profession effectively and buffer teacher-related stress. With research showing that the level of stress experienced by a teacher increases the chance students experiencing stress themselves (Cullen, 2016), starting with the teachers learning and living of wellbeing skills will have the trickle-down effect of supporting student wellbeing.

Next, “less is more” (Robinson, 2019). As a school community, it is important to understand where and when the implementation of Positive Education can, or in some cases is already coming to life. With the six domains of Geelong Grammar School’s Positive Education Model (Positive Relationships, Positive Emotions, Positive Health, Positive Engagement, Positive Accomplishment and Positive Purpose), and countless evidence-based practices within each, it can seem overwhelming as to where to start with explicit and implicit instruction, and at which grade level. After completing my Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology two years ago, I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I was so eager to share with my teenage twins the amazing and undeniable evidence-based benefits of positive psychology practices (after all, I only want them to be the best version of themselves!). My twins were patient at first, but soon I would get the proverbial eye roll or impatient comment of “mom, not again”. During my time at the Institute I observed a thoughtful and purposeful approach to scope and sequencing of the explicit curriculum planning and its delivery in order to minimize unneeded repetition of content. Moreover, teachers embed the language and practices of the six domains that resonate with them as individuals. Just as one study on positive interventions highlighted that writing about three good things for one week can have a positive impact on an individual’s sense of personal wellbeing for up to six months (Seligman et al., 2005).

Last, “with them, not to them” (Robinson, 2019). As we have been differentiating pedagogical content for years in the classroom, when considering how to implement Positive Education it is essential to meet students, faculty and staff where they are at on their learning journey and where they are on any given day. In a Senior School Positive Education classroom, students were given an interdisciplinary task where they were asked to research a personal area of interest within or beyond their school community, and to apply the knowledge and skills learned within the domains of relationships and meaning in the service of others. On another day, I listened to the Head Student address his peers at an all school assembly about an event that had taken place on campus where he spoke of personal examples of courage, compassion and curiosity. And in one afternoon workshop, staff were offered the opportunity to attend a session on developing self-compassion where this concept was broached using Kristin Neff’s research as a basis. So, whether the implementation of Positive Education be a coaching conversation with students, a workshop for staff or faculty, or an explicit instruction in the classroom, it is essential that it be woven into the needs of the individual and the school’s community.

My time with the experts at the Institute of Positive Education has shown me that although Positive Education is a multidimensional approach to fostering a community of wellbeing within a school, its promotion does not have to be complex. Laying the foundation for this cultural shift is about developing teachers’ ability and confidence first, tailoring the learning of concepts and skills to all individuals within the community, reflecting on where and how it is happening, having a healthy dose of patience. So, what are your next steps in supporting the wellbeing of your school community so that everyone can be the best version of themselves?


Cullen, C. (2016, June 27). Stress contagion possible amongst students and teachers: UBC study. Retrieved from University of British Columbia: https://news.ubc.ca/2016/06/27/ubc-study-finds-stress-contagion-amongst-students-and-teachers/

Dinham, S. (2008, May). Feedback on Feedback. Teacher, pp. 20-23.

Hattie, J. (2003, October). Teachers Make a Difference, What is the Research Evidence? Australian Council for Educational Research.

Reihl, K. L. (2003). What We Know About Successful School Leadership. Laboratory for Student Succes, Temple University.

Robinson, J. (2019, August 23). Positive Education. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: Institute of Postive Education.

Seligman, M. E., Steen, T.A., Park, N. & Peterson, C. (2005). Postive psychology progress:  Empirical validation of intervions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410.

White, M. (2016). Why it won’t Stick?  Positive Psychology and Positive Education. Psychology of Well-being, 6 :2.

Theresa Blake

Theresa Blake is the Director of Social and Emotional Learning at Appleby College, one of the top Canadian independent day and boarding schools. She recently spent one month at the Institute of Positive Education’s Head Office in Geelong, Australia, where she was immersed in Geelong Grammar School’s Positive Education program.