Transforming the community

Positive Education has both influenced and reshaped the curriculum of many schools across Australia, but it extends far beyond the classroom for Northern Connections and the Northern Adelaide Positive Education Partnership.

Northern Connections, a state government unit based in northern Adelaide, is implementing principles and practices of Positive Education across a region to not only improve levels of wellbeing and resilience in local schools, preschools and children’s centres, but also to extend this across the broader community to enable young people and their families to live good lives and to flourish.

Northern Connections began its journey with Positive Education in early 2012 when Dr Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, was appointed as an Adelaide Thinker In Residence.

Building on the great interest shown by the South Australian community in Dr Seligman’s message, Northern Connections approached local education leaders and invited them to consider implementing positive education in their schools. Receiving an encouraging response, they set about providing the leadership and support to enable the journey to commence in five state schools and one catholic school. 

In 2013, twenty five teachers from the six ‘early adopter’ schools attended a 4-day Discovering Positive Education course at Geelong Grammar School. The feedback from attendees was overwhelmingly positive. Since then, Northern Connections has facilitated a further two 4-day Discovering Positive Education courses run by the Institute of Positive Education and attended by a total of 235 teachers and other school staff from across the northern Adelaide region. Northern Connections has also supported a more advanced course for 12 teachers and leaders in partnership with the SA Centre for Wellbeing and Resilience. A third 4 day DPE course for 140 participants is scheduled for April 2016. 

In 2014 in order to manage the increasing interest in joining northern Adelaide’s “Pos Ed” journey Northern Connections established the Northern Adelaide Positive Education Partnership (PEP). This collaborative Partnership enables member schools to implement positive education policies and practice with the assistance of Northern Connections and a supportive network of other schools (from state catholic and independent sectors). Schools within the PEP are able to reflect and share learnings and resources, as well as receiving assistance to train staff and accurately track progress by using common measures of wellbeing.

Northern Connections with Trinity College (a PEP member) and other partners, has held three well attended community lectures by Dr Martin Seligman and Brigadier General (Ret) Dr Rhonda Cornum, the inaugural Director of Wellbeing and Resilience Program for the US Army. These lectures raised the interest of a much wider group of people in Northern Adelaide and have challenged the Partnership to broaden its thinking to expand Positive Education programmes in schools to positive education and positive psychology programmes for other community groups and organisations. 

At the end of 2014, community leaders in Northern Adelaide endorsed the development of a regional wellbeing strategy in line with the Martin Seligman approach and extending and embedding the work commenced by Northern Connections, ,as a priority for Northern Adelaide.

Since that time the PEP has grown to include more than 30 schools, preschools, and children’s centres in Northern Adelaide with still more schools indicating interest in joining. Training for staff continues, the first measures against PERMA+ have been received by Partnership schools and work to scope out Positive Education in the curriculum (both explicit and implicit) from R-12 is commencing.

Northern Connections is currently supporting the work of the Wellbeing and Resilience Centre in bringing wellbeing and resilience training to the work places of two automotive companies. It is also partnering with a local Volunteering agency to train volunteers in positive psychology skills in order to use them in supporting people affected by the closure of the automotive industry.

It is still early days but the work of Northern Connections is showing that with a collaborative approach, strong partnerships and good planning, the philosophy and teachings of positive education and positive psychology can be implemented on a large scale and in the community beyond the school system. 

Lea Stevens, Director of Northern Connections, believes that positive education is a continual process of lifetime learning for all concerned.

“We’ve learnt a number of things along the way. Important among these has been that developing and implementing wellbeing and resilience – or Positive Education in a school setting, is a journey, not a race. In each school, or each part of our community, there is emerging a familiar cycle of building understanding, learning the concepts and skills of positive psychology, embedding these in your own life, and then teaching this to others,” she said.

“Over time, this influences not only the flourishing of individuals, but has a significant impact on an organisation’s culture and ethos and the community at large,” she added.

December 2015