Positive Education and Collaboration

Education is a collaborative process and Positive Education even more so. In order to be most effective, Positive Education should be enthusiastically embraced by staff at all levels, by the students themselves, and the school community at large. The impressive impact of this collective collaboration is demonstrated at Mount Barker High School in the Adelaide Hills. 

Teaching staff from Mount Barker High School first attended workshops held by the Institute of Positive Education in July 2013. A second group attended workshops in September of the same year. In July 2014, representatives from the Institute travelled to South Australia to hold workshops for the remainder of the teaching staff and many non-teaching staff at the school itself. 

Prior to becoming involved with the Institute of Positive Education, Mount Barker High School had already begun embracing Positive Psychology. In 2012, Martin Seligman was the Adelaide Thinker in Residence. During this time, he visited the school several times and later gave a public lecture in the Mount Barker High School gymnasium. The promising impact of this connection contributed to a desire to more formally embed Positive Education in to the school’s curriculum. 

In 2015, Mount Barker High School began spending one lesson a week in all year levels specifically focusing on Positive Education. Teachers are also working together to utilise Positive Education in the syllabus of every subject. Maths teachers are using Carol Dweck’s Mindsets to challenge student’s preconceptions about maths. Year nine science classes include a unit on the brain, neuroscience and neuroplasticity. Students look at the science behind Positive Education and how they can change their own negativity bias and patterns of thinking. 

At Mount Barker High School, Positive Education isn’t just a lofty ideal from senior management; all teachers are expected to contribute.  Jenni Cook, Assistant Principal at the school, said that “staff collaboration and collegiality has increased and group projects amongst staff are more common. They have taken a lot of responsibility for curriculum writing and development”. 

Positive Education is also encouraging students to work together and with staff to achieve new outcomes. As Ms Cook noted, “Since implementing Positive Education our students have become much more actively involved in leadership in the school and will often promote the benefits of Positive Education to others”. 

Several students took the initiative to help a friend who was having a tough time by creating a ‘happiness journal’ for her. It included pictures of the student with her friends and notes from each of them telling her of some of her qualities that they value. Each day had a positive task for her to complete such as writing down the things for which she was grateful.

Positive Education has brought a change to the school atmosphere. It may be difficult to measure but it seems that the school is calmer and friendlier and relationships are stronger. There has also been a decrease in more serious student behaviour issues and measurements are showing an increase in staff and student wellbeing. 

Positive Education has been the catalyst for a substantial, whole-school change that has had a lasting effect on the culture of the school, and to some degree, the local community.  “We have endeavoured to embed Positive Education into the school so that it has become part of the culture rather than just something we do. “Not only has our school embraced Positive Education, but so has our local community. The success of Positive Education has seen Mount Barker High School invited to make presentations about Positive Education to our local council and youth sector network."

“Positive education is being embraced by Mount Barker High School and the model of Positive Education is also having a positive impact on our local community’, concluded Ms Cook.

​December 2015