INSPIRATION FROM THE FIELD OF POSITIVE EDUCATION

Charlie Scudamore

The following is an edited extract from Charlie Scudamore’s keynote address at the 2017 PESA conference. The images are selected slides from his presentation.

I am a teacher. I am not an expert. I’m not a scientist. I’m not a researcher. My love is for children, and that is what has really motivated me over time.  I feel very blessed to have had the opportunities that I have had in education. What still drives me, in the same way as it did on my first day of teaching, is my passion for ensuring that our students’ lives are happy, fulfilling and meaningful. 

As I begin to explore how I have been truly inspired by the first ten years of Positive Education, I want to share my experiences through the lens of three virtues: humanity, courage and justice.

Slide from Charlie Scudamore

I put this first slide up, under the banner of humanity, because for me what’s been inspiring is the way the focus on adolescent wellbeing has grown, as well as the vast number of schools that are now looking at and thinking about Positive Education. I believe all of our schools care about wellbeing. Geelong Grammar School has had a strong focus on pastoral care since 1855 - we’re primarily a boarding school - and yet, there was a realisation back in 2006 that we could be doing more. Why are youth suicide rates in this country so high? Why is it that our school had a girl last week who self-harmed? Things are certainly not perfect at Geelong Grammar School. We have students who, at times, experience great emotional difficulties. So one key component of what Positive Education is about, as far as I’m concerned, is trying to prepare kids to be proactive, to give young people some tools or interventions to help them cope with adversities that they’re bound to come across at some stage in their lives. 

Many schools are doing wonderful work in this area. What’s been inspirational is the sharing,  the collaboration of schools; State, Catholic, Independent, all dedicated to improving the lives of our students and all committed to sharing strategies, tools, and knowledge. In 2016, Geelong Grammar School’s Institute of Positive Education worked with 232 schools of which 21% were Catholic, 33% were Independent, and 46% were state/government schools. You know what’s wonderful about this in my opinion? These schools are deciding for themselves that they want to be involved. They are making the decision to explore wellbeing. It’s not an edict from up on high stating that ‘you must do this’. I think there’s a bit of a myth floating around stating that Positive Education is just for the wealthy, independent schools. This is not the case at all. I’m going to be honest and say that some of the best work I’ve seen in relation to applying Positive Education has occurred in state schools. This is all incredibly inspiring.

Slide from Charlie Scudamore

I’m also inspired by the amazing philanthropic support that Positive Education is garnering. People like Gerry Higgins, the Handbury family from Western Victoria, the Bei Shan Tang Foundation, who are subsidizing Positive Education in Hong Kong. These individuals, families and organisations I find inspirational. 

Then you’ve got the courage; the courage of the people who go out and do the research. In this room today, we have Dr Suzy Green, Dr Mathew White, Dr Lea Waters, Dr Peggy Kern, Dr TanChyuan Chin – just to name a few. People producing the papers and the research which is changing the way people think about wellbeing. The research is incredibly important and more and more is being produced to validate Positive Education. I take my hat off to this group who work and produce the research, but we need to keep working hard to adapt and apply the research to our own unique school settings.

Independent research led by Dr Dianne Vella-Brodrick’s team from Melbourne University had shown that Year 11 students at Geelong Grammar School experienced a spike in stress and anxiety. So what did we do with these findings? We developed a two-day Resilience Retreat for our Year 11s. This year will be the third Year 11 Resilience Retreat, aiming to provide advanced resiliency skills and knowledge that our Year 11s can harness in their day to day lives – borrowed from the field of Acceptance Commitment Training.  

Slide from Charlie Scudamore

And you, the teachers, are inspiring. The applied work that classroom teachers are doing at schools like Mount Barker, schools in the Hunter Valley, Tal Ben-Shahar’s Mativ Centre in Israel, St Peter’s College, and at Berry Street, who work with some of the most disadvantaged students in the country. They inspire me. And so does Bentleigh Secondary College. They’ve built a mindfulness centre. They decided to use their limited and precious resources to do that at their school. Internationally, there’s phenomenal work happening at places like Wellington College, numerous state schools in Hong Kong and TecMilenio University in Mexico. PESA and IPEN have been established to bring schools and people together from around Australia and the world. These are the organisations which are going to help take Positive Education to scale. And the more support these organisations have, the better it’s going to be. This I find inspirational.

Slide from Charlie Scudamore

And finally, I’ve decided to put this picture up. It’s the world’s first ever federal Minister for Happiness: Her Excellency Ohoud Al Roumi. Her department is helping roll out a country-wide wellbeing programme that will be delivered into all schools in the UAE. I find that and other international efforts like the UNESCO Happy School Framework, inspiring. 

Slide from Charlie Scudamore

Now, just a few closing statements focusing on the future and the way forward. Later on today Dr Peggy Kern’s going to be talking about Positive Systems Science. It’s an amazing approach that looks at how all different parts of the school system work together. Student agency is another exciting area. I don’t think we’ve engaged our kids enough in this.  At the PESA board meeting, we spoke about setting up student membership, and everyone around the table said that’s a great idea. Let’s do it. 

Other key areas include accessible training, developing world-class curriculum resources, and growing access to formal qualifications. Once again, at the PESA Board meeting, we spoke about accreditation. I think this is where justice comes into it, fairness and objectivity. There’s lots happening out there in Positive Education, it’s fantastic that it’s growing, but what is good Pos Ed teaching, interventions and materials and what isn’t? How are we going to ensure that resources being used are appropriate?  I remember when I visited the USA in 2013, a frustrated senior educational official asked “Can I have a copy of your Positive Education curriculum books? I want teachers to teach the materials next Monday!” This official was deadly serious. They had such problems in their schools that they wanted the ‘package’.  I said that there was no package. Positive Education is not a McDonalds, you don’t just go in and buy a ready-made, mass-produced product. 

To be successful and sustainable, the teaching of Positive Education needs to be applied to your school setting. You take the ‘ingredients’ from Positive Education and you apply them, uniquely, into your setting. I think there is an incredibly important factor we must all, and this includes governments, need to consider: one size or one approach to Positive Education will not satisfy the needs or the diversity of schools that exist. The teaching of Positive Education must be adapted to suit your circumstance, your environment. For this to work properly the training and upskilling of your staff is critically important.  The most important focus all schools must zoom in on, if they intend to introduce Positive Education into their schools, is the training of their staff. You’ve got to get your staff on board, they must be properly supported and they need to have a sense of ownership.

Finally, the students. We’re told by the experts, and I talk to the students about this on many occasions at Geelong Grammar School, that there are five key elements that makes a supportive community, makes a great class, makes a good family, makes a great school. These five things are: Trust, Integrity, Forgiveness, Compassion and Hope.

Slide from Charlie Scudamore

I look at this boy in the slide. I look at those arms outstretched. I hope that child and every single kid trusts me. I hope that when he makes a mistake, I will show compassion and forgiveness. I hope he will develop his strengths and understand the importance of integrity in all that he does. Above all else, I hope that boy, when he’s 40 years old, lives in a kinder, more peaceful world. Actually, I hope that when he’s 40 years old and he sends his children to school there will be no such thing as ‘Positive Education’. All they will find is ‘Education’, because in the not too distant future wellbeing concepts and interventions will be totally and utterly embedded in all that we do as educators. 

Wellbeing must be placed at the core, not at the periphery of education.


Charlie Scudamore
Charlie Scudamore

Charlie Scudamore is the Vice Principal at Geelong Grammar School where he oversees staff and student welfare, Positive Education and Creativity. He has been responsible for the organisation and implementation of the Positive Psychology/Education strategy at Geelong Grammar School and has supported the strategic direction and implementation of the Handbury Centre for Wellbeing and Institute of Positive Education initiatives.