Education Mindset Social Commentary Wellbeing

What do we lose when everyone wins?

We won’t grow resilient kids if we only talk about resilience.

Kids need to experience struggle, setbacks and failure if they are going to develop the skillset and mindset to be resilient.

If a child only ever experiences success,

then we as adults have failed.

This is the topic of my latest #OffCampus segment for the Teachers Educational Review podcast.

Check it out here:

Education Engagement & Motivation Wellbeing

What’s happening in School?

Education Wellbeing

How do you celebrate your students’ strengths?

You may, or may not know that I have been developing a strengths-based intervention program called Little Superheroes aimed at reaching kids at risk of disengaging.

It’s part of my YouthEngage initiative, and working with Ph.D candidate, Dean Grimshaw we have just submitted our first set of research findings to the Department of Education. I shall share these with you very soon, but suffice to say I’m super excited by the results and the potential that exists to build further on this program.

One of my main inspirations and sources of support in the creation of Little Superheroes has been Jenny Fox Eades.

Back in 2010 when I received the NSW Premier’s Anika Foundation Scholarship to address and raise awareness of Youth Depression, I was able to connect, meet and work with Jenny.

As the author of Celebrating Strengths it was wonderful to see her in action in schools in inner city London.

If you’re interested in strengths in education, positive psychology or positive education I cannot recommend Jenny highly enough.

She will be in Australia in May running workshops with the Positivity Institute.

You know I don’t throw endorsements around willy nilly… and I can assure you I receive nothing in return for doing so. I respect Jenny’s work, and believe she has a great deal to offer all of us.

Check out the flyer below and to grab your spot simply send an email to the Positivity Institute.


Education Engagement & Motivation Tech & Social Media Wellbeing Youth

Hear No Evil, See No Evil


One of the most common questions I get asked by schools, is along the lines of how can we teach “Cyber-Safety?”

Leaving aside the fact I’m not keen on the use of the work cyber as whilst it may have suited our needs a decade ago, nowadays it’s pretty much irrelevant.

Why do I say irrelevant? Because the inclusion of the word cyber indicates that somehow these actions are separate from the rest of a person’s life. Take cyberbullying for example… the ramifications are not confined to cyberspace, they are very – for want of a better word – real.

OK, I didn’t really leave that aside did I?

Anyway, my biggest issue with teaching – let’s call it Digital Citizenship – instead, is that we rarely listen to what the kids actually want or need to know about or do.

Take for example a group of Yr 9 students I was working with recently, who all said they were worried about their privacy online, but their parents didn’t know how to address it, and their school didn’t want to teach it. The students said they felt that the response from the adults was, if you’re worried about it don’t use it. The adults in their lives didn’t understand that this wasn’t an option. They also felt they couldn’t report any instance of bullying or inappropriate stuff (sexting etc.) because that would just result in them losing access to their phones or laptops.

I’ve written before about the way Digital Citizenship, and in particular the use of Social Media is taught in school.

If we taught kids to drive a car the same way we teach them to use social media it would look something like this:

1. Driving lessons would only be taught by adults with little or no experience of driving.

2. Driving lessons would never take place in a car.

3. Driving lessons would only focus on the dangers of driving and what not to do

Of course we wouldn’t tolerate this, but this is often the approach taken in schools and the community.

If it’s a problem, increase the firewall or ban it. How long will it take for us to realise this approach is failing out kids.

They want to be responsible digital citizens, but we don’t hear that. We just assume they’re up to no good.

No one’s helping in ways they understand, or in ways that genuinely empower them.

Except perhaps…

If you are interested in exploring a more proactive approach to digital citizenship and/or learning in your school, then I would highly recommend getting in touch with Pip Cleaves at Design | Learn | Empower or Nick Jackson at Digital Leaders Australia – and no, I don’t receive a commission, I just really respect their work, and their ability to hear the student voice and engage accordingly.

Or if you just want to learn a little more about what kids are up to these days you could check out this site from ACMA, and yes, I am aware they use the word Cyber…. 

Oh well.

Education Wellbeing

3 Common Myths About Positive Psychology

I originally wrote this for my regular Generation Next Column Banksy Yellow Lines Sunflower

In my work with schools, I’m finding more and more interest arising in the area of Positive Psychology and its offshoot Positive Education.

And as the interest around these grow, so do some of the more common misconceptions.

I’ve found some teachers to be a little cynical, and why wouldn’t we be? After all it seems we get told a new way, a better way of teaching on an almost weekly basis. Or we’re being told that what we are doing is – quite simply – not good enough. We’re not good enough. Just look at what they’re doing in Finland or China.

So believe me… I get it.


There are 3 misconceptions that I am seeing more and more regularly both in journal articles, the mainstream press or online:

1. Positive Psychology is all about positive thinking, ignoring negative emotions and putting a smiley face on it all. Turn that frown upside down! It’s a kind of uber-self-help movement.

In short, this is the most damaging of all beliefs around Positive Psychology. Nowhere in any of the literature does it suggest we should be ‘happy’ all the time – that in itself would be a mental condition. And on the contrary, rather than ignoring negative emotions, the literature suggests we need to recognise them for what they are – an essential part of being human. One of my favourite authors, Tal Ben-Shahar calls this, Giving yourself permission to be human.

What positive psychology is about is finding what enables us to be at our best more often. Why wouldn’t you want to explore that?

Maybe it’s because…

2. It’s just another thing we have to do in school.

Embedding positive psychology into how you work and live is not about box ticking, doing more stuff, or having a policy for it. Rather it is a way of living your life and working. In truth many of us would incorporate aspects of positive psychology into what we do without even realizing it. The key is to realize when we do and make that the norm rather than the exception.

Yes but isnt’…

3. Positive Education only for the richest independent schools.

Whilst schools like Geelong Grammar, St Peter’s in SA and Knox Grammar in NSW have led the charge with positive education in Australia, it should not be seen as only something for the elite. Whilst these schools may well have engaged some of the world’s most renowned thinkers in the field at significant cost, you don’t have to. Many of these schools are now sharing what they have learnt, and if I’m being honest the fundamentals of positive psychology and positive education do not require big budgets to be lived, understood and embedded in school.

If you’d like to explore Positive Psychology and/or Positive Education in a little more detail drop me a line…

Education Wellbeing Youth

Does PSHE or Citizenship have a place your school day?


On Thursday 20th February at 8pm GMT, (7am on the Friday Morning AEDT in Sydney) I shall be hosting the #UKEdChat on Twitter.

We’ll be talking about teaching citizenship, and Personal, Social & Health Education (PSHE) in schools.

In the UK, PSHE education remains a non-statutory subject, but the National Curriculum framework document states that:

 All schools should make provision for personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), drawing on good practice.

PSHE covers a wide range of concepts:

Identity (their personal qualities, attitudes, skills, attributes and achievements and what influences these)
Relationships (including different types and in different settings)
A healthy (including physically, emotionally and socially) balanced lifestyle (including within relationships, work-life, exercise and rest, spending and saving and diet)
Risk (to be managed rather than simply avoided) and safety (including behaviour and strategies in different settings)
Diversity and equality (in all its forms)
Rights, responsibilities (including fairness and justice) and consent (in different contexts)
Change (as something to be managed) and resilience (the skills, strategies and ‘inner resources’ we can draw on when faced with challenging change or circumstance)
Power (how it is used and encountered in a variety of contexts including persuasion, bullying, negotiation and ‘win-win’ outcomes)
Career (including enterprise and economic understanding).

However, with the move to more independent schools, academies and free schools in the UK, I wonder if there is a risk of PSHE being brushed aside to increase focus on ‘more important’ subject areas.

Despite the vast array of concepts outlined above, the only statutory aspect of PSHE these schools must cover is sex and relationships education (including sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS).

In Australia, much of what would be taught in PSHE is taught in Personal Development, Health & Physical Education, (PDHPE) or Health & Physical Education (HPE) and is mandatory regardless of what school you work in.

As someone who qualified and taught in the UK before moving to Australia I will find it interesting to contrast attitudes to teaching what I consider to be something that is relevant to any student in any country.

So whether you teach in the UK, Australia, or anywhere else in the world,  I hope you can join us for the #UKEdChat on Thursday 20th Feb at 8pm GMT.

Find out what time this is where you live.

To find out more about PSHE, and maybe check out the PSHE Association’s Website or this document that explores how to address PSHE in the curriculum.

Education Wellbeing

Are the smartest kids also the saddest?

Late last year, the OECD published the latest of their PISA tables.

Predictably, many went into meltdown, whether it was due to their country’s position on the table, their respective government’s reaction to the results or those who detest standardised testing.

But as this article shows, the tests are not all about numeracy and literacy.

As part of the tests, students were asked to agree or disagree with the statement:

I feel happy at school.

The responses to this statement have been mapped against their test scores in the image below.

test scores v happy kids

From an Australian point of view, should we be more concerned (than it appears we are) that students in our schools are some of the least happy kids in the OECD?

What do we make of the fact that the least happy students also come from countries that top the academic tables – South Korea, Finland, Estonia & Poland?

Admittedly Shanghai (even though I’ve looked at countless maps, and I’m still not convinced it’s a country in its own right) and Singapore are ahead of Australia in both the brains and the smiles, but I’m not really interested in starting a Happiness Race.

Sure we can get into a debate about the true meaning of happiness or whether you feel school should be “fun” or not, but I’m more interested in exploring why it is that so many kids would say they are not happy at school and what the potential knock-on effects of this might be.

Just going off on a tangent here…

Far too many people do not enjoy what they do for a living. They watch the clock, waiting for 5pm, and spend their weekdays wishing for the weekend. Maybe not you, but I guarantee you can think of a friend for whom this applies. It is not an uncommon phenomenon.

Why do we accept this? When it’s pretty much accepted that humans are at the top of the intelligence tree, why do we choose to sacrifice most of our waking hours doing something we don’t enjoy – or worse – actually hate?


When did you or your friend accept this future?

Could it be that as the OECD suggests, kids at school spend most of their day waiting for 3pm, or spend their weekdays wishing for the weekend.

Could it be that kids learn at a very early age that weekdays are just a means to the weekend?

Could it be that schools are actually doing a great job of preparing kids for the world of work that you or your friend experience?

What if, instead of the all-too-predictable response from government highlighting the “need to raise academic standards”, their response to the OECD tables was, “perhaps we should explore how we can make school more enjoyable.”

Yes we can focus on enhancing results in standardised testing – to be honest it’s not that hard.

Introduce rote learning en masse, daily repetition and cull some of the more “holistic” approaches to education and you’ll be on the right track.

But great test scores does not a happy child make.

And an unhappy child can make an even more unhappy adult. The four countries I identified above, South Korea, Finland, Estonia & Poland, have some of the highest suicide rates in the OECD.

Clearly I’m not claiming that there is a direct link between test scores and depression, nor am I saying that school should be all fun and games.

But what I am advocating is that if we focussed on engagement and wellbeing first and foremost in schools, kids would feel happier about being there and as a result achievement would rise.

This is opposed to the current trend that seems to focus on achievement at the expense of engagement & wellbeing of students and teachers.

In Australia, support is available at all times by calling Lifeline on 131 114, Mensline on 1300 789 978, and Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
Education Leadership Wellbeing

Why do so many teachers leave the profession?

This is my latest #talkingpoints video. It’s designed to act as a stimulus for discussion in your school.

What’s the attrition rate in your school? Is it something that is ever discussed?

For more reading on this, check out this article I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald last year, as well as this one (not written by me) from a couple of weeks ago.

What are some of the issues you’ve encountered in this regard? And how were they handled?

Education Engagement & Motivation Wellbeing

At last!

As posted on the YouthEngage site…
One of the main reasons for my leaving full-time teaching was to establish YouthEngage, and at last we have been given approval by the NSW Dept of Education & Communities to research the effectiveness of one of our programs.

Social Commentary Wellbeing Youth

Girls Get A’s, Then Get Surgery

This was originally published for my regular Generation Next column. 

I have a saying that my teaching colleagues will be able to appreciate.

Interesting kids have very interesting parents.

I spent the past two years resisting invitations from schools to give parent talks.

My reasoning was that whilst after 15+ years teaching, I can speak with some authority with regards to working with school students, I have only been a parent for the past five years, and I reckon parenting is the hardest job in the world!

However, this year I broke my duck and have enjoyed chatting with parents on a variety of subjects… but as yet I haven’t broached this one.

This weekend I read an article in which kids are rewarded for impressive academic performances with plastic surgery!

Apparently, according to a cosmetic nurse quoted in the article, ”Lips and cheek augmentation are very, very common with the girls prior to the formal and graduation.”

I honestly don’t know where to start with this. I mean what do you say to parents who think like this?

Here are three of my initial thoughts:

1. If your daughter has issues with her self esteem so serious that the only way to address them is with surgery, then what kind of parent makes her jump through academic hoops in order to get it?

2. If your daughter is only motivated to do well academically by the prospect of having needles inserted into her face, what messages have you been sending her about learning, identity and self worth?

3. Or perhaps I am so out of touch with what’s going on, that I really need to get with the program before my daughter graduates in which case I reckon I’ve got about 12 years to work this parenting thing out.

Parenting is hard. But some parents – and Society as a whole – make it harder than it needs to be.