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 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 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.

Education Wellbeing

Positive Education spreading across Australia…

This is my latest Generation Next blog post…

I read with interest this week an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald by John Weekes, the headmaster of Knox Grammar.

He was discussing the concept of Positive Education. Essentially, Positive Education embeds the tenets of Positive Psychology into the curriculum, both explicitly and implicitly.*

Weekes says, “Our focus on academic outcomes such as the Higher School Certificate and NAPLAN results threatens to make us factories for one-dimensional students.” He continues, “Our goal should be to produce resilient young people with broad talents and life skills.”

Positive Education activities focus on building relationships, identifying one’s strengths, goal setting, mentoring, teamwork, overcoming challenges, perseverance and how to deal with success and disappointment with the aim of increasing mental resilience and wellbeing.

And it’s not only for the students. According to Weekes, teachers at Knox are also benefitting from the program being run by Dr Suzy Green and Paula Robinson from the Positive Psychology Institute and the program’s efficacy is being studied by the University of Wollongong.

Geelong Grammar in VIC and St Pauls in SA are also leading the way in Positive Education in Australia, with the former hosting Martin Seligman a couple of years ago in order to train the Geelong staff in the philosophies of Positive Education. Many other schools and even childcare centres are following suit in and around Australia. Is yours?

*Full Disclaimer: I presented a workshop at Knox early this year as part of their staff training in Positive Education.

Education Engagement & Motivation

What’s your philosophy?

Last week I asked, “Why don’t we ask, Why more often?” I was referring specifically to education reform (or the lack thereof).

But how often do we only consider the What, When or How of what we do on a day-to-day basis?

In your area of work, do you stop to consider why you do what you do?

What’s the philosophy driving you?

philosophy(noun) – the critical study of the basic principles and concepts of a particular branch of knowledge, especially with a view of improving or reconstituting them

For what it’s worth this is the opening salvo in my educational philosophy.

“I believe all children are gifted & talented and it is my responsibility as an educator to help them realise this. We need to empower kids to learn, first and foremost about themselves, and how they can forge a sustainable future for themselves, their family and their community.”

This helps me to keep the “Why?” front and centre of my work as an educator, which is sometimes easier said than done.

Media Wellbeing Youth

The Kids Are Alright – In the National Times

Fed up with the constant media attacks on our youth, I sat down at the laptop and wrote this. And the National Times decided to publish it…

Another day, another media attack on the youth of Australia. This time it’s the turn of Channel Nine’s A Current Affair, to have a report, “All parents should see.” It claims to show, “What your kids are getting up to.”

A quick look at the headlines in the last six months would lead you to believe that most of our youth are alcohol fuelled members of fight clubs, who in between cyber-bullying and sexting, rate their sexual partners’ prowess via root rating sites. How teens find the time to do all of this in between planking, dealing drugs and causing chaos on our roads in their P-plated cars is anyone’s guess.  Read my full article at the National Times

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Education Engagement & Motivation

Just a Boy Who Likes Turtles

Of late, in my talks around the country, I have read this poem

I first heard this poem as part of a talk that my friend and unoffical mentor Richard Gerver gave in the UK last year – which you can view at the end of this post.

The overwhelming response from the audience when I read this poem is that, “Wow, that’s pretty bloody good… and how old did you say the kid was who wrote that?” – He was nine.

Imagine the reaction of the audience when I then tell that his teacher’s response to this poem was less than complimentary.

You see the problem was this kid was supposed to write a poem about what it is like to be a turtle.

Richard Gerver uses this poem as an example of what happens when we focus only on achieving a certain outcome.

I argue it also shines a light on what it means to genuinely engage students.

In this case, the teacher believes Clint hasn’t conformed to what was expected and as such saw no value in his poem. The teacher mistakes conformity (or the lack there of) with a lack of engagement.

It’s probably also worth noting that according to his teachers, Clint was one of those kids. “Maybe mild ADHD, lives in his own world, attendance could be better etc.”

My last blog post explored what genuine engagement really looks like and argued that Kids Shouldn’t Go to Schools – rather schools should go to kids.

A pre-service teacher who was in a lecture I gave at the University of Wollongong this week said the poem was “Deep.” Another likened it to something “A young Lennon might have written – he was a pommie too right?”

Maybe comparing to Lennon is going a touch far, but imagine if these two were teaching Clint.

I reckon his ADHD might settle down, and his attendance might improve a little… and who’s to say his own little world is all that bad anyway?

I really hope Richard can somehow let Clint know that Aussie teachers love his poem!

Click here to listen to Richard’s talk in full.

Media Wellbeing Youth

Talking Youth Depression on Channel 10

In case you missed my appearance on Channel 10 discussing youth depression and wellbeing, you can watch the interview here.

Please share it with your staff at your school, friends or family.

We need to keep on talking about it…

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Media Wellbeing Youth

Catch Dr Suzy Green and Me on Channel 10 – Monday 6.30pm


Just a quick note to let you know that last week I recorded an interview for the 6.30 Report with George Negus. It is due to be aired on Monday 15th September at (guess when?) 6.30pm on Channel 10 in Australia.

The subject of the story is youth depression and how education can address student wellbeing in a more proactive way. As well as me, Dr Suzy Green from the Positive Psychology Institute in Sydney also features.

If you can’t manage to see it tomorrow, I’ll post the video of it on my site in the coming days.

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Education Engagement & Motivation Mindset Wellbeing

Label kids – Limit kids.

On Friday 22nd July, my colleague Ray Francis and I had the privilege of presenting a workshop at the AIS Pastoral Care Conference. The keynote speaker was James Nottingham. He gave an insightful, entertaining and at times, touching talk on the concept of Mindsets.

Mindsets 101

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

Mindsets in Education

Using these definitions, let’s assume that growth mindsets are essential in nurturing a genuine love of learning. What does your school do to promote that?

Having spent time with Carol Dweck, James Nottingham spoke with passion and authority on the huge disservice we do to kids when we label them – even with labels we think are complimentary.

He and Dweck suggest that by labeling kids – we limit them. With labels like bright or gifted we create children with “fixed” mindsets who are afraid to take risks for fear of failure and losing their “status”.We create kids (and parents) who are only concerned with marks or grades, rather than the process of learning.

Then there are the children who underperform because they’ve been given the negative labels, as Nottingham mentioned, at school he visited, the groups were Diamond, Gold, Silver and Charcoal.

My immediate reflection of James’ talk was to ask how many staffrooms are gripped by a fixed mindset? You may remember my Pressure Fear Relief talk touches on a similar topic.

How many schools sell themselves on the notion that they are the “top-ranking” school in the HSC? How many schools publish their NAPLAN scores as a medal of educational honour?

How many teachers have a fixed mindset about ability and learning? (according to Nottingham about 80%!) And how does this impact on the education of our students?

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