Study Tour | Week 4 Wrap

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Start spreading the news… I’m leaving today… I wanna be a part of it…

New York… the city that never sleeps! Well I can assure you I slept! I had to be out of my Hotel in New Orleans at 4am to make my flight… before now I only aware of one 4 o’clock in the day!

I was is New York to visit two schools. The  Riverdale Country School and the KIPP College Preparatory School. I would also be travelling to meet with Dr Jane Gillham from the University of Pennsylvania – the international hub of positive psychology.

Riverdale Country School

According to their website, Riverdale Country School is grounded in the values of the liberal arts, Riverdale strives to maintain an appropriate balance among its courses and activities. The School treats students as individuals and respects their unique strengths, while offering the most rigorous academic program possible. It’s one of the top private schools in New York.

I’d heard about Riverdale Country School, because its headteacher, Dominic Randolph appears to know every expert in the field of positive psychology and education. He is incredibly knowledgable of, and highly regarded in the field of positive psychology and education. He and I discussed many different aspects of Martin Seligman’s and Chris Peterson’s (VIA Strengths) work and how we thought they could best be implemented into education. What I really liked about what Dominic is doing at Riverdale is that he is keen to access all the research and base his decisions on evidence. Having said that he is not bound by having to know exactly what it will look like, or how they will measure success etc… and this is a very  exciting and creative way to lead.  Dominic likes to take the best practice from all aspects of the corporate world, the arts and education and see how he can adapt them to lead Riverdale forward.

Character Strengths is something Dominic is very interested in embedding in the schools culture. He is even prescribing the 7 strengths he would like to promote within the context of the school.

Interestingly Riverdale are working very closely with the next school I was going to visit. I say it’s interesting because the demographics that the two schools draw from could not be more different.

The KIPP College Prep School of New York

The KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) School in New York is in The Bronx and the majority of their student body are entitled to free school meals. The KIPP school organisation admit children on the basis of a lottery. Parents enter their child’s name into the ballot and hope they get drawn. They too are looking at embedding character strengths into their education, but the majority of what they do is based on academic rigour.

KIPP base a lot of their educational philosophies on research that shows that kids from poor socioeconomic backgrounds actually improve at a greater rate than their middle class peers whilst in school. It is at home, or during the holidays that they regress so much they appear to stand still their entire school career.

To counter this, a typical school day at KIPP runs from 7.30am – 5pm, with Saturday School and a Holiday program. The thinking behind this being by keeping them in school longer they will not regress as much.  Another aspect of KIPP that would differ from other school is that every lesson follows the same format, with teachers submitting their lesson plans a week in advance for approval.

Although the KIPP schools have some detractors, the stats at the KIPP College Prep would indicate they are doing something right with 90% of their students going to college with a 30-40% graduation rate, compared with less than 5% of other kids in their neighbourhood.

Dr Jane Gillham & Mark Linkins

Jane Gillham is at the forefront of resiliency and depression prevention research. She works a lot with Martin Seligman and Karen Reivich, so to sit down with Jane and discuss her work, as well as aspects of what I am up to was a great opportunity for me.

I also met with Mark Linkins who was in residence at Geelong Grammar for 6 weeks training their staff in the methods of positive psychology. He now works with the school board close to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania delivering positive psychology in schools.

We look at the different methods of including positive psych in education, whether it can be done via a curriculum or whether it just needs to underpin the school as a whole. We agreed that for both to happen is the ideal.

It was very exciting for me that both Jane and Mark were very impressed with the stuff going on at my own school, and are very keen to work together in the future in developing school based programs. Given the people who Jane and Mark have the opportunity to work with on a day-to-day basis, it’s very encouraging to hear that they think I have something to offer them! If only my French teacher could see me now… 🙂

Only one week of this tour to go! I’m off to Canada next week to meet with Tayyab Rashid who is another international figure in the world of positive psychology and education. It’s forecast to be MINUS ELEVEN in Canada when I arrive… To finish my tour I fly back into the States to meet with Dr Howard Cutler, author of the Dalai Lama’s Art of Happiness series, before getting back to Sydney just in time for Christmas… I hope it’s warmer there!

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