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


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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Discovering Positive Education, Part Zero

I am back in Geelong. It’s been a while.

I grew up in Adelaide, but lived in Melbourne for a five years, working as a neuroscience researcher. During that time we used to visit Geelong regularly. We moved back to Adelaide when I became a teacher, but now I’m back across the border.

I’m here for the Discovering Positive Education training course at Geelong Grammar School. Positive Education is big right now, huge. And rightly so. It is built on the foundation of Positive Psychology, which dared to ask: what if we used what we know about psychology to improve everyone’s lives, instead of only working to remove mental illness?

Positive Education has many elements, but rather than try to describe it now, I think I will hold off until I have completed my first day of training. Did I also mention the yoga and pilates classes? No? Well you’ll probably hear about that too…

For now, I’ll just mention my gratitude. It’s one of my so-called signature character strengths. I am very grateful to be here, and for the support of  my school. I am very grateful for my profession, and the opportunities it provides me for helping young people. Most of all, as I prepare for this week away from them, I am grateful for the love and support of my family.

A good way to start your Positive Education journey is to complete your own character strengths survey here.


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APST “Illustrating Practice” Workshop 3

Review and Resources

The Workshop began by review some of the successful outcomes from the previous workshop. In particular, the break-down of the Focus Areas using fishbone diagrams was highlight. The diagrams from the session were scanned, and are available through the SkyDrive.

This provided a lead-in to the other files and resources available on the SkyDrive, including a guide to e-portfolios on Google Sites, and a template for annotating evidence.

Pair and Share

The first activity was a pair-and-share, looking at:

  1. How we went with our Lesson Observation (link to tool)
  2. What Annotated Evidence we had brought

It was a useful chance to talk to others about the benefits of lesson observations. My partner and I agreed that it would be useful for schools to have policies and maybe even defined programs to support systematic lesson observation.


To follow on from the Lesson Observation, we watched DECD Webisode (featuring Evan Polymeneas). Then, we discussed how evidence in the Webisode matched Focus Areas in Standards 3, 4, and 5.

Next, we looked at the benefits and outcomes of our own observations. What Standard did you focus on?

In my observation, we did not explicitly define a standard on which to focus. However, Standard 3 (Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning) became the focus of the lesson.

During our table discussions, we raised the following points:

  1. Some Standards can be assessed by observation (eg 1-5) other cannot (eg 6-7). Within those Standards, some Focus Areas are also easier to observe, and is very unlikely that any observation can address all Focus Areas within a Standard.
  2. It is of value to observe lessons outside of your teaching area(s). Nonetheless, one member of our table (a Maths and Science teacher) had observed an Art lesson and found that they were almost speaking different languages. They needed to do a briefing before the lesson, in order to unpack the learning intentions, so that the observations were more meaningful.
  3. In some small (country) schools, there simply are not opportunities to have a program of lesson observations.

Building your Annotated Evidence

The final part of the workshop looked at how to put together your evidence. Once again, the SkyDrive is populated with resources.

The main formats for evidence sets would be:

  1. A traditional (paper) portfolio. I would not favour this, but I did see some about, and can really see how they could make it simple to collect evidence.
  2. A file or folder with electronic evidence. This is what I have started doing. I have a powerpoint file, with each slide having an evidence artefact and annotations. However, I am beginning to see the limitations of this, and am moving to…
  3. An e-portfolio. This allow easy hyperlinking and sharing, as well as embedding of rich evidence types (audio, video). See a previous post on e-portfolios. The SkyDrive has a walk-through of making a Google Sites e-portfolio. I am currently leaning towards this platform (WordPress) as the host for my e-portfolio. I will generate posts for each artefact, which can be tagged with the relevant Focus Areas.


The Certification process looks like it will be long and arduous – and all of the final details are still not confirmed. However, it does look like a very worthwhile process. Already, I have learned so much about myself, and what it means to be a highly accomplished teacher. Reflecting on your own practice and planning your professional development is never wasted time.

Whether there will be “bonus payments” in South Australia appears unlikely at this stage. Nonetheless, being accredited as a Highly Accomplished or Lead Teacher will certainly have career implications. Job and person specifications are already starting to use the language of the Standards and Career Levels.

[Link to Workshop 1, Workshop 2]


APST “Illustrating Practice” Workshop 2

Today’s session focussed on “Annotating Evidence”, and was introduced by Belinda Radcliff from the Performance Standards and Certification Team at DECD.

As with last session, Belinda did a great acknowledgement of country, including reference to the Recognise movement, which is well worth checking out.

After a brief meet and greet, we viewed an animated summary of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. (link to the longer version) in order to reacquaint ourselves with the standards.

Language of the Standards

The bulk of the workshop focussed on unpacking the language of the standards. The “lexical patterns” are quite revealing of the differentiation amongst the career stages. The table below shows the frequency of certain phrases within the standards.


Quite clearly ‘supporting colleagues’ and ‘working with colleagues’ are a key parts of being a HA teacher, but are not explicitly mentioned at the proficient level.

We then worked in pairs to examine the increased syntactical complexity across the career stages within one focus area.


You can see simply from the length, but also the complexity, that the demands are increasing.

Personally, I found the exercises and discussion relating to deconstructing the Descriptors to be very useful. It allowed me to unpack their content, and gave me insight into the evidence which would be required to meet the standards which my partner and I had examined.

Using “Illustrations of Practice” Videos to Understand the Standards

In the final segment, we watched and discussed a series of four Illustrations of Practice from the AISTL website which looked at Focus Area 2.1 (Know the Content and How to Teach It) at Graduate, Proficient, HA and Lead level.

It was evident from the videos, working along with the Descriptors, how each of the teachers showed increasing competency for that focus area, and how the requirements for each career stage differ.

Annotating Evidence?

In the end, we ran out of time before getting into the details of annotating evidence. Quite convenient for most of us, who needed a little more time on our homework anyway – developing an evidence set to annotate.

We should be covering that in the last and final session in two weeks. Watch this space.

[Link to Workshop 1]


APST “Illustrating Practice” Workshop 1


Today I completed the first of three workshops focused on developing a collection of evidence, for certification against the new Australian Professional Standards for Teaching (produced by AITSL). Each two-hour workshop is designed to cover the following:
  1. What is Evidence?
  2. Annotating your Evidence
  3. Quality Professional Statements
As an introduction, we were told that the purpose of the introduction of the Standards is to support nationalisation of the teaching professional: from graduate courses through to leaderships roles. It is a means by which we can ensure that practices across all parts of the country are consistent, and provides a language and structure for reflection, learning and professional development.
It was noted that the process of certification is, in itself, a major opportunity for professional development. By working through the process, using deep personal reflection, working with colleagues and becoming aware of your strengths you should come out the other end a better teacher.
The Australian Professional Standards for Teacher (APST) form part of a larger framework (explanatory animation here).

What are the Standards?

The Standards are broken down by the following hierarchy:
3 Domains, divided amongst
7 Standards, each of which is further divided into
Multiple Focus Areas
Each Focus Area is then aligned with Career Stage Descriptors, which outlines the standard required to achieve that Focus Area at a particular career stage (Graduate, Proficient, Highly Accomplished, Lead). These four levels can be characterised by the following verbs: Adopt, Adapt, Collaborate, Initiate.
Why collect evidence?
  • Professional developement
  • Enhanced collaboration
  • Assists career progressive
  • Improved student outcomes!
Of course, the evidence is then used for certification. More information on the certification process here.
Pre-assessment -> Assessment Round 1 -> Assessment Round 2 -> Certification decision making.
A useful entry to the process is to use the Self Assessment Tool. Not only is it a good guide for the process, but provides you with areas where further work or PD may be required. Working on these goals early in the process should allow you to gather skills and evidence before the formal assessment process.

Evidence Packages

Evidence for certification is compiled into packages, containing the following evidence types:

  1. Annoted Evidence
  2. Classroom Observations
  3. Teacher Reflection on Direct Evidence (eg HAT 3 written pages)
  4. Referee Statements (3-5, including principal or line manager)
  5. (For lead) Description/outcomes from a student achievement program

Annotating Evidence

To fully annotate your evidence, it is recommended to follow the “CARES Model”: Context, Action, Result, Evaluation, Standards

Evidence “Sets”

The aim is to create rich evidence. Where sets of evidence relating to the same practice or learning can build to add further detail.

For example: A PD course certificate, followed up with a blog post (like this!), augmented by colleague comments (please comment!), with meeting follow-up minutes, etc, etc.


Use Self Assessment Tool

Use Lesson Observation Tool


[Link to Workshop 2]