The Plastic Brain


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Discovering Positive Eduction, Part Four

Today was the final day. Sessions covered:

  • Positive Purpose
  • From Discovering to Living

 

As with most of the course, the Positive Purpose session could equally be used to consider our own search for meaning, as well as providing strategies for exploring purpose with students. One of the key nuggets of gold I will take away was from the introductory session, looking at the value of purpose and meaning. To paraphrase:

Those who have found meaning and purpose are fortunate.

Those who are searching for meaning and purpose are fortunate.

It is certainly true. Both the pursuit and the finding of purpose are valuable experiences. The state to guard against is purposelessness. Unfortunately, this is often where I see students, especially towards the end of year 10. At this point my thinking links back to earlier discussions of fixed and growth mindsets. Students with a growth mindset see the search for purpose as a valuable and challenging experience, those with a fixed mindset can give up, and slip into purposelessness.

In From Discovering to Living we explored the GGS model for the introduction of Positive Education and the related change management. It is based on advice from Martin Seligman:

Learn it, Live it, Teach it, Embed it

In the four-day residential course, we had the chance to learn it and live it. Key to this is the idea of teachers truly living it before teaching it. Positive Education is not something that can simply be dropped into a school. It must be embraced by staff (and maybe even by parents and the school community) before it can be taught to students successfully. However, the model does not stop there. Embedding is about taking Pos Ed beyond the pastoral care program. It needs to infused into the school culture at all levels. It should be:

  • Applied in the academic curriculum
  • Expressed in assessment and reporting
  • Embedded in behaviour management policies and practices
  • Central to staff evaluation, feedback and professional development
  • Promoted and explained in parent communications and newsletters

Bringing together all of these aspects will support culture change, and allow the full, deep and authentic practice of Positive Education.

So there it is, we have come to the end of the course. Probably the most intensive, but also the most meaningful and worthwhile training I have ever attended. I can’t wait to get home, share with my family and colleagues and start my new way of thinking and teaching.

 

I thank my family for their love and support, without which none of this would be possible.

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Discovering Positive Education, Part Two

Today’s sessions were on:

  • Positive Engagement and Flow
  • Positive Relationships
  • Positive Emotions and Gratitude

Once again, each of the sessions involved an introduction to the whole group, break-out sessions and a plenary.

The guru of flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalli, defines flow as:

…the state of intense absorption and optimal experience that results from taking part in intrinsically motivating challenges.”

Through today’s session, I feel I have gained a much deeper understanding of flow, and more importantly, have practical tools to establish conditions in which it can occur.

Firstly, flow relies on three dimensions of engagement. These are cognitivebehavioural and emotional.Therefore, to enhance flow you must provide conditions which support these dimensions of engagement.

Secondly, flow occurs during activities in which high challenge meets high skill. Without the requisite skill, we feel anxious and frustrated by the task. Without sufficient challenge, we may become too relaxed or even bored. This is tricky in the classroom. How is it possible to supply the optimal challenge to students who are at different levels? One approach may be to use adaptive learning environment (such as Khan Academy), where the complexity of learner challenges is based on previous performance. Probably a better way is to allow students to pick appropriate levels of challenge for themselves. One of the delegates in my break-out group reported that she offered students the option of a “mild, medium or spicy” assessment tasks.

For Positive Relationships, we explored the practice of Active Constructive Responding (ACR), a technique which is well explained by Dr Martin Seligman here. Although I have done this before, it was good to have a chance to practice it again. It felt good to both give and receive ACR.

The final session focussed on Gratitude. Much of this looked at Kerry Howells’ view that gratitude actually has two stages. Firstly there is appreciation. Here is where many people stop. But she argues that to fully realise gratitude one must then act upon that feeling. We then explore numerous ways in which we can practice gratitude, some private, some shared. These included: Gratitude journals, acts of kindness, gratitude letters, gifts and so on.


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Discovering Positive Education, Part One

As promised last time, I now have a proper definition of Positive Education, after completing the first day of the Discovering Positive Education course:

Positive Education brings together the science of positive psychology with best practice teaching and learning to encourage and support schools and individuals within their communities to flourish

Geelong Grammar School, 2011

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The course is structured around a cycle of sessions.

  • Each session begins with a short slide show and theory around the topic to be discussed
  • Groups then split into break-out sessions, to discuss these ideas further and complete practical activities
  • Groups the reconvene with the larger group to summarise their discussions and share key findings or insights

So far, the sessions have covered:

  • Introduction to Positive Psychology
  • Accomplishment and Mindsets
  • Positive Emotions

There has been much of interest, and so many ideas to take back to the classroom. One of the main things I have noticed about this course, compared to other PD I have attended, is that the instructors really practice what they preach. It is an approach which is very personal, and they are not afraid to share their life stories or show vulnerability. I was talking to Steve over dinner about mindfulness. He shared that one of the key ingredients to having mindfulness work in the classroom is you have to be truly authentic – you just can’t fake it.

Other nuggets of gold from today:

  • We know that growth mindsets are preferable to fixed mindsets. But how do you foster a growth mindset? One strategy is to focus on process-oriented praise. It takes more time, and you actually have to observe student processes, but the investment means that the feedback you give will be much more powerful.
  • Oldie, but a goodie: When you hear yourself or a student say they cannot do something, but sure to add the qualifier “yet”. As in “I can’t juggle…yet.” The brain is capable of extraordinary learning, and we ourselves do not know the ceiling of our potential.
  • We spent time focussing on building positive emotions. One of mine to focus on was joy. I most often feel joy when I am with my wife and kids. Luckily I am with them often (just not now). But when I am with them, too often I let insignificant things block us from playing, laughing, ticking, pranking and sharing our joy.

Finally, our homework was to write three entries in our Gratitude journal. Mine are private, so I might just post this and do it now.

Looking forward to tomorrow.


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Striving for Happiness is Futile. Try Curiosity

It’s going to sound like heresy but when we make our objective of life to be happy it’s problematic… I think it’s the wrong objective in life and this is something that’s become very clear to me as someone who’s taught classes and been studying wellbeing for 15 years.

I’ve been listening to an All in the Mind podcast (MP3 and transcript), in which Lynne Malcolm interviews Todd Kashdan. He’s the Professor of Psychology at George Mason University in Virginia and author of Curious: Discover the missing ingredient to a fulfilling life. His thesis is that rather than pursuing happiness, we should embrace curiosity as a guiding principle. In the interview he discusses how being a curious explorer of the world allows you to be present in the moment, and enjoy the wonder of life. A key theme is embracing uncertainty: we cannot immerse ourselves in curiosity if we feel we cannot handle a sense of not knowing.

…we think that curiosity is all about just something new and mysterious walking into our field of vision.  But there’s another part of curiosity that people miss: it’s besides whether we think there’s something new or uncertain or mysterious. We need to believe that we can handle that novelty and that uncertainty, and if we don’t feel that we can handle it we’re not going to feel curious; we’re going to feel confused or we’re going to feel threatened.  And often the reason people don’t feel this sense of wonder is because they don’t feel like they can handle or tolerate any of the tension that comes with the unknown.not handle a sense of not knowing.

Kashdan explores the connections with positive psychology, neuroplasticity and growth mindsets. In particular, he has strong views about fostering curiosity, and how we should interact with children. He is essentially talking about our own children, but it can be easily extrapolated to our students.

…there are some studies of people in New Zealand following children at adolescence for four or five years and showing that even when you account for how intelligent children are, the more that they seek out stimulation the more that they’re curious explorers the more intelligent they become over time, the better they do at school, the more satisfied they are with school, the better relationships they have with teachers.


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“Journeys to Flourishing” Positive Education @ Seymour College

I had one of the best and most inspirational days of professional development today, exploring the world of Positive Education with expert speakers and like-minded educators. There were so many highlights that it would be impossible to summarise them all here.

Instead, I have provided below a summary of some of the key points from the opening Keynote address by Assoc Prof Lea Waters, who looked why it is so important to understand Positive Education, and try to incorporate it into our practice.

“The Why of Positive Education”

Assoc Prof Lea Waters, University of Melbourne

Looking at why Positive Psychology matters

The key driving factor for “why?” is the statistics which show mental illness and depression in young people. The severity and youth of sufferers are also increasing. Of great concern also is the likelihood of underreporting and the number of subclinical cases.

These issues were brought into focus by a poem which Waters showed, called The Lost Generation. Watch it now.

Waters described the poem as “a lovely palindrome to reflect the field of positive psychology”. I think it is genius, and it certainly produced an emotional reaction.

Research, PP and Education

Waters presents Peterson’s (2008) of definition of PP

Positive Psychology is a relatively new branch of psychology that conducts scientific inquiry into the factors that help individuals, communities and organisations thrive by building on their strengths and virtues.

She then looked at research in the field, including her own, highlighting that schools have a unique reach to support young people.

One of the main windows into understanding PP is Professor Corey Keyes’ Two factor theory. On the left are the more traditional strategies of removing negative states – the usual focus of psychology. On the right, the more rarely used strategies for promoting positive states.

Removing negative states

Promoting positive states

Take away obstacles

Bringing in enablers

Waters’ research shows that in 1992 only 1% of articles in psychology journals focussed on promoting positive states. In 20 years that has risen to over 4%. Still, more that 95% of research published focuses on removing negative states.

PP, as a field, is interested in bringing both of the factors together. “Why do we wait until something goes wrong?” Seligman talks about PP as a psychological immunisation. The aim is to turn psychology into a profession of prevention, rather than reaction.

Benefits

Promoting positive states has clear clinical benefits. It was also made clear that absence of illness is not the same as wellness. This means that it is beneficial for all students. Not just those who are ill or at risk.

Another key point is to be aware of what PP is not. Positive psychology is about resilience thinking, not positive thinking.

Literacy, numeracy and wellbeing should be our aims aim primary school. Wellbeing, like the other two, is teachable and learnable. It not only supports the others, but also so many aspects of education and child development.

The academic benefits of PP programs were also reviewed by Waters (link). Students enrolled in social and emotional learning programs ranked 11% points higher on achievement test (controlled for many variables)

Programs are useful, but infusing wellbeing into your practice is the key.

Conclusions

It seemed clear to me that this is an area well worth exploring. It has far reaching implications, can make real differences to student wellbeing and academic outcomes, and is evidence-based. What’s more, it feels right and is easy to start. Personally, I have identified language and practice changes which I can make on Monday.