POSITIVE EDUCATION SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE COME TO THE FORE IN CHALLENGING TIMES

Justin Robinson

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Our thoughts and prayers go out to the thousands of Australians whose lives have been impacted and for many indeed devastated, by the recent bushfires that have ravaged our country. Our respect and admiration go out to the thousands of volunteers who have stepped up heroically in this time of need through positive action. Our thanks and appreciation go out to the thousands of compassionate people, from far and wide across our globe, who have expressed concern and support for their fellow humans, for the wildlife and for our country.

The collection of wellbeing skills and knowledge that we explore through Positive Education becomes particularly important in difficult times such as we have experienced in Australia over the past few months. Sometimes, the name ‘Positive’ Education, leads people to misunderstand the purpose and role of our work and to incorrectly and narrowly believe that it is simply about good times, smiling all the time, and promoting happiness.

One of our core beliefs about Positive Education states that ‘Pos Ed equips people with tools to meet challenging times and situations’. In many ways the skills and knowledge that we endeavour to teach and role-model, and then strive to embed within the fabric of a school community, are designed to support people through life’s inherent challenges. A wide range of Positive Education skills can be harnessed as individuals and communities face and deal with adversity and tragedy. As we navigate the ups and downs of life – the joys, successes, contributions and the disappointments, difficulties, tragedies – the evidence-based strategies underpinning Positive Education can be of great value.

Following are eight examples of key skills explicitly explored in Positive Education that can help us to effectively manage challenging times:

  • The character strength of effective Teamwork. Engaging respectfully with others through listening, inquiring, leading and supporting can result in an increased sense of belonging and coordinated actions that are greater than the sum of the individual efforts.

  • The proficiency of Emotional Literacy. Harnessing the skills of emotional intelligence allows families and communities to effectively communicate how they are feeling and how they might move forward together. Accepting negative emotions as normal in these times can also be helpful to young people.

  • The power of Acceptance and Action. Identifying factors within and beyond one’s control can foster resilience and promote healthy future orientated actions.

  • The skill of engaging one’s Signature Strengths. Given that our signature strengths are essential to who we are, and that we are energized by using them, it can be helpful to draw on these qualities in difficult times to help light up possible pathways forward.

  • The ability to effectively Seek Help. Recognising times, now and in the future, when we can ask for support from others provides us with additional resources, normalizes the help-seeking behavior and provides opportunities for others to feel helpful.

  • The intentionality of performing and receiving Deliberate Acts of Kindness. Thinking of others, making a positive contribution through words and/or actions help instill hope and love in both the receiver and the giver.

  • The capacity to spot Character Strengths in Action. Whether looking out for actions of Humanity, which include the strengths of kindness, love and social intelligence, or whether looking out for actions of Courage, Wisdom or Transcendence can assist us to accentuate the positive in trying times.

  • The clarity of staying true to one’s Core Values. Remembering and revisiting core values can help guide behavior and help us feel grounded in times of uncertainty.

Geelong Grammar School’s aspirational character is encapsulated in three words: Compassion, Courage and Curiosity. We will support our community to call upon these virtues to help navigate their way through these challenging times and to assist with caring for others facing significant loss and hardship.

We endeavour to draw on the virtue of Compassion as we seek to understand the experience of those who have suffered loss in the bushfires. Compassion includes empathy, the recognizing of another being’s emotional state, but goes a significant step further in wanting to assist in alleviating suffering. Children and student leaders both at GGS and at schools around the country and the globe are showing remarkable compassion as they creatively and authentically think of ways to action their support. Thank you also to the many educators who have reached out to our Institute with concern and compassion.

We have admired the strength of Courage as we have watched selfless firefighters, heroic volunteers and brave locals care for fellow humans, wildlife and property. It is in moments like this when we remark on the resilience of individuals and communities.

And we hope the quality of Curiosity comes to the forefront of the minds of children, adults, leaders and politicians as we collectively seek to understand causes and possible solutions. As a community we will seek to deeply understand the ongoing issues of climate change, prescribed burning and emergency management.

May we all seek to ‘Be of Benefit’ today, tomorrow and well into the future. From past experience, we understand that community recovery is very much a marathon rather than a sprint. It has been uplifting and heartwarming to see the incredible support and generosity that has been on display from locals, fellow Australians and international friends. We will continue to put our arms around those who are dealing with loss and trauma and we hope that the skills and knowledge explored through Positive Education can help make a difference in the days, weeks and years to come.

Positive Education is certainly not simply about seeking happiness. Indeed, happiness has no place in times of devastation and loss. However, Positive Education has a role to play in helping people cope and adapt within the environmental and natural disaster of a bushfire. It does not attempt to mask or prevent sadness and deep sorrow, but instead, it attempts to provide tools of purpose, perspective and possibility.

I hope that together we can continue to prioritise developing resources and resilience in our young people and in our communities.

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Justin Robinson


Justin Robinson is the inaugural Director of the Institute of Positive Education. As a passionate leader in the field of student and staff wellbeing, Justin has been invited to write for a number of publications and speak at conferences both in Australia and around the world.