RESEARCH OVERVIEW

In 2018, we celebrate a decade of Positive Education and reflect upon 10 years of learning and discovery.  See below for a summary of our research achievements:

The Model of applied Positive Education

The Model of applied Positive Education at Geelong Grammar School has the overarching goal to promote flourishing among the school community and is based on Professor Martin Seligman’s PERMA model of wellbeing, extended to also include positive health. The Model holds that flourishing can be best supported through six inter-related domains; positive relationships, positive emotions, positive health, positive engagement, positive accomplishment, and positive purpose. The Model was developed by the key members leading Positive Education at GGS and published to provide a pathway for implementing Positive Education in schools. Click here for reference.  As part of this work, literature reviews into the current evidence base of each domain and other aspects of Positive Education were conducted and made available as a resource to schools.

The Model has been strengthened research led by former Geelong Grammar School Research Fellow, Dr Meredith O’Connor, who examined whether positive mental health in adolescence was predictive of successful transition to young adulthood. Findings demonstrated that positive mental health during the adolescent period was a measurable asset that predicted stronger engagement with two domains of young adult development; successfully establishing a career (educational attainment and perceived competence) and taking on responsibilities of citizenship (volunteering and civic activities). Click here for reference.

 

Research with our students

 

Wellbeing measures

In 2011 the School delivered the Australian Council for Educational Research Social-Emotional Wellbeing Survey to Year 7, 9 and 11 students. The survey was designed to assess environmental, individual and overall indicators of social emotional wellbeing.  Results indicated 37% of Geelong Grammar School students reported high social emotional wellbeing, compared to an average 21% of students across Australia.  In 2016 and 2017 the School delivered the Wellbeing Profiler survey, developed by Centre for Positive Psychology, University of Melbourne. The survey assesses wellbeing across six different domains; psychological, cognitive, emotional, social, physical and economic. While anxiety symptoms and stress levels were an area of concern, particularly among older adolescents, GGS students overall reported high life satisfaction, high cognitive and psychological functioning and positive relationships. Results from the Profiler led to the development of the Year 11 Resilience Retreat to specifically target stress and anxiety among this group.

Independent Evaluation

Since 2013, Geelong Grammar School have been a part of one of the largest, most comprehensive longitudinal studies of the impact of Positive Education of secondary school students. The initial pilot study ran during 2013 to assess the wellbeing outcomes in Geelong Grammar School students in Years 9, 10 and 11. The study was led by Professor Dianne Vella-Brodrick with further support from Positive Education and Positive Psychology research experts from University of Melbourne. A range of wellbeing and mental health indicators were assessed at the beginning and end of the school year (questionnaires, mobile monitoring), during which students participated in substantial Positive Education curricula. The same measures were obtained in the same school year in a sociodemographic matched comparison school in Melbourne. Initial findings indicated that wellbeing among GGS Year 9 students improved over the school year, was stable in Year 10, and declined somewhat in Year 11.  None of these improvements were observed in control students supporting the potential for the Timbertop program to promote student wellbeing.

The findings of this initial study served as a pilot for a larger, and more comprehensive Australian Research Council funded project that ran from 2014 to 2016 inclusive, and included two secondary schools with Positive Education and two secondary schools without Positive Education. The project, titled Enhancing Adolescent Mental Health through Positive Education, was similarly led by Professor Dianne Vella-Brodrick from University of Melbourne, and measured the same indicators as before, while adding biomarker measurement of cortisol and heart rate variability.

Beyond schooling years

Beyond the independent evaluations as described, GGS students have participated in postgraduate student led research studies. During 2015, Master of Educational and Developmental Psychology student Nina Stevanovic investigated the benefits of Positive Education beyond schooling years. The study investigated the extent to which Geelong Grammar School graduates, who engaged in at least four years of Positive Education, used skills acquired through Positive Education to mitigate challenges encountered in early adulthood. This study also identified barriers and enablers to using positive education skills to cope. Participants included 21 Geelong Grammar School graduates (9 male, 12 female, aged 18-19 years) who completed telephone interviews. The semi-structured interview focused on the types of challenges the participants encountered, skills they used to cope with challenges, and factors that affected their use of Positive Education skills.

 

Research with our staff

Drivers and barriers to engagement

In 2014, Ms Elizabeth Clancy, an Master of Industrial and Organizational Psychology student (co-supervised by Dr Arlene Walker and Dr Wendy Sutherland-Smith, Deakin University), investigated staff experiences of Positive Education, in terms of what has helped build staff engagement and to identify opportunities to further enhance staff experiences. Qualitative interviews were conducted with 21 teaching and non-teaching staff with items relating to their experiences of Positive Education and its implementation, drivers of efficacy and engagement, and barriers to engagement and wellbeing. Staff reported that experiences of Positive Education were generally positive including training, professional and personal applications. Drivers of engagement were predominately job resources, feeling competent, strong relationships and the autonomy to make and implement decisions, all of which increased with the implementation of Positive Education. Potential benefits of Positive Education for staff, emerging from this study, was the importance of managing work demands and authentic leadership.

The value of PosEd4U sessions

The whole school approach to Positive Education supports staff wellbeing through initial training in Positive Education for all staff (both teaching and non-teaching) at the commencement of employment. Additional ‘booster’ PosEd4U sessions are offered, to allow continual development of positive education skills.  Research led by Master of Educational and Developmental Psychology students Megan Smalley and Angela Tran evaluated the PosEd4U session in relation to changes to staff wellbeing and relevant outcomes such as engagement. The study used a mixed method, single group design that assessed changes at 3 timepoints: before the session, one week after the session, and six weeks after the session.

One hundred and three members of teaching staff from three campuses at GGS participated in the study. Teachers rated the session acceptability as high, specifically in terms of the session usefulness (content) and timing. Teachers were interested in specific skills and classroom activities to apply to their own specific challenges. They valued that presenters were able to interact authentically with the audience through warmth, humour, giving real life examples and interactive games. Teachers reported that they would like more opportunities for group activities and discussion with other staff members to share practice and experiences.

Eighty-seven non-teaching staff also gave ratings of the session acceptability, their wellbeing and work engagement.  Overall the staff had a relatively positive response to the PosEd4U session. Much of the general feedback focused on the technicalities of running the sessions, for example, the timing and length of the sessions. When commenting on the presentations, it was the enthusiasm and passion of the presenters themselves that was highly regarded.

Results supported the hypothesis that wellbeing levels would predict levels of work engagement in both teaching and non-teaching groups. The results show a positive linear relationship, which suggests that if wellbeing levels increase, as should work engagement.

Positive culture and work environment

A focus of the Positive Education journey has been how to best measure and evaluate the whole school approach. As such, the Positive Institution Project was developed and led by Dr Paige Williams, Positive Psychology Project Manager from 2009 to 2013. The project explored the extent to which the approach could be applied at an organizational level to create a positive culture and work environment. The research analyzed the pattern of relationships between positive psychological capital, perception of a virtuous organizational culture, and level of happiness at work. Psychological capital is about having the confidence and effort to take on and succeed at challenging tasks, optimism to succeed, persevering to achieve goals, demonstrating resilience when faced with problems and adversity. Organizational virtuousness was characterized by forgiveness, trust, integrity, belief in organization members, and acts of compassion and concern for follow members.

Staff completed a series of surveys at three time-points over an 18 month period. Findings showed that staff members with higher levels of psychological capital were more likely to perceive more organizational virtues in the school culture. Further analysis suggested that individuals with low levels of psychological capital, and low perceptions of organizational virtuousness reported the lowest levels of workplace happiness. In contrast, those with high psychological capital and high perceptions of organizational virtuousness reported the highest workplace happiness. These findings suggest a dynamic approach where efforts are focused on both bottom-up (support to develop staff psychological capital) and top-down (developing a positive culture) to support employee wellbeing. Click here for reference.

 

Action research

While experimental research studies offer empirical evidence to inform practice, it can be unrealistic and difficult to implement large scale evaluations within school settings. Action Research is practice-based and involves iterative processes of continuous improvement, reflection and adaptation.   The School has undertaken various action research projects investigating Positive Education interventions and programming including the effect of using a blessings journal on students’ gratitude and sleep, the impact of an equine-assisted learning program at Timbertop, and the wellbeing outcomes of a Year 11 resilience retreat. Action Research allows findings to be rapidly incorporated into school initiatives, and to build the evidence base of how to best promote flourishing in the school community.