Positive Education and Nurturing Strengths

According to Linley and Harrington (2006), a character strength is a “natural capacity for behaving, thinking or feeling in a way that allows optimal functioning and performance in the pursuit of valued outcomes.” Character strengths are proposed to have benefits for wellbeing and contribute to success in important life domains (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). 

A character strengths approach to education focuses on the unique qualities of students that can be used to enhance their wellbeing, overcome challenges, and nurture relationships. Many different character strengths exist within each of us. By understanding and developing them, students can become more adept at using their own character strengths to their advantage. Understanding character strengths is an essential tenet t of Positive Education and is one which has been integrated in to the existing structures of Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School. 

Bunbury Cathedral Grammar school believes that helping young people understand their strengths through Positive Education strategies provides them with the curiosity, creativity, and persistence to make valuable contributions to their own lives and society. 

Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School’s Positive Education journey with the Institute of Positive Education started in 2012, when Associate Head of Secondary School, Brad Goerling, and School Counsellor, Andrew Lincoln  were part of a group of eight key staff who attended a four-day Positive Education workshop held by the Institute in Corio. 

“The Institute of Positive Education provided us with the tools to explore and enact Positive Education strategies. We took this knowledge, and assessed how we could best refine what we learned, to suit some of the activities and programmes that we were already running at our school” said Mr Goerling. 

Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School is home to around 1,000 students from Kindergarten to Year 12, both day and boarding and is situated in a magnificent campus south of Bunbury, Western Australia. The  mission of the school and its 175 teaching and support staff is to “provide excellence in all-round education within a unique environment by promoting best practice in pastoral, academic and co-curricular programmes, creating a caring, stimulating, structured and Christian setting and encouraging students to use all their gifts to flourish and achieve their potential”. 

Mr. Goerling believes that Positive Education enshrines and supports good teaching practices. “We are using Positive Education strategies to be better than our best with what we already have at our disposal. Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School recognises that schools have the capacity to influence the whole young person and not just equip students with academic skill and knowledge. We are continuing to explore, refine, and live the model of Positive Education and embed it in to our teaching philosophies. We are being strategic in our approach by effectively using the resources at our disposal. We have developed a staged implementation approach focusing on one element of Seligman’s Perma model at a time strategy to inculcate Positive Education strategies, activities and language throughout our curriculum. In particular, we are focusing on gleaning a better understanding of our student’s strengths. Positive Education at Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School is certainly taking a Character Strengths focus,” he added. 

In order to identify Character Strengths, students at Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School undertake the VIA character strengths survey. Upon completing the survey, students explore their strengths and how these strengths can be nurtured, developed and applied to multiple aspects to enhance not only their education, but also their lives. 

The character strengths approach at Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School focuses on students and support staff and students to discover theirs and novel ways in which to use them. Staff and students are also encouraged to adopt a growth mindset- holding the belief that character strengths can be worked on and nurtured. 

With sport being so central to the school community, infusing Pos Ed into the Sports Programme has also become a priority. Recently the School, has worked with Matt Scholes, a leader in Positive Sports Coaching to try to achieve these outcomes. Workshops with staff, students and parent coaches, looked at Positive coaching strategies and the building of resilience and hope through sport. 

The practice of mindfulness is also being developed at Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School. Some staff have been successfully passing on the benefits of their training in this area in appropriate contexts, opportunities and encouragement to engage in this practice. In particular mindfulness in being practiced prior to exams and assessments to alleviate stress, and maximize  performance. 

Mr Goerling believes that the credentials behind the Positive Education movement, along with its scientific backing, have given greater merit to the school’s caring and learning philosophy, endorsing and refining good practice.  

Like Geelong Grammar, Bunbury Cathedral Grammar is willing to help other schools considering embracing Positive Psychology and as such, have appointed Mr Andrew Lincoln, as Head of Positive Education (HOPE).


Linley, A., & Harrington, S. (2006). Playing to your strengths. Psychologist, 19, 86-89.

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23, 603-19.

​December 2015