What began as a ground-up initiative on the part of the Student Development team at Bukit View Secondary School has evolved into a whole school approach in formalizing the adoption of positive education, and the integration of the six domains of PERMAH (Seligman, 2020) into the academic and student development curriculum, as well as culture and ethos of the school. SPEN speaks with Principal Kevin Ang, and Vice Principal, Shirley Lee about the journey they have taken with their staff.
The school underwent a re-envisioning exercise in 2018. Through a series of conversations, Principal, Kevin Ang led his staff to ponder the special traits they wish to see in their graduates. Three values which sit well with the school’s mission of developing engaged learners, empathetic citizens and ethical advocates stood out: zest, grit and gratitude. This was not surprising as the staff had been exposed to Positive Education since 2015 and were deeply vested in character strength and the growth mindset. “Grit” carries with it a pro-active quality and connotations of passion and perseverance, traits which the BVSS staff are familiar with, having read Angela Duckworth’s seminal book of the same name. “Gratitude” reflects the school motto of “Share and Care” and encompasses the desire for students to give back to their community. “Zest” embodies a learner mindset and positivity needed for students to live a flourishing life.
The school’s journey and yearly focus on developing aspects of Positive Education through professional development (PD) for staff, and participation in research studies with the National Institute of Education (NIE) are captured below.
In 2019, inspired by the University of Chicago’s research on “Academic Mindsets” which was introduced to them by their cluster superintendent, the school started delving further into what really mattered for student success. Beyond IQ and behavioural level changes, the school decided to effect improvements at the mindset level. Through professional development sessions, teachers worked on strategies to develop four Learning Mindsets: Purpose, Accomplishment, Relationship and Engagement, and integrated them with their school values, expected student behaviour and school outcomes. They also incorporated the learning mindsets into Teaching and learning documents, including lesson planning and lesson observation templates. To support the learning strategies used in the classroom, teachers built in Positive Relationships and Positive Engagement within the classroom so that students feel they belong to a learning community, and that their ability and competence can grow with every effort. They weave Positive Purpose into lessons so that students know every piece of work has value for them. Teachers also scaffold their lessons, differentiate learning materials and set achievable targets for individuals so that students “can succeed” (Positive Accomplishment).
The effectiveness of the strategies hinge on the training that was conducted for teachers to help them understand and develop character strengths, set clear learning goals and avoid normative comparisons of students. Teachers were coached to provide actionable feedback to students, and help students understand the purpose of feedback and how to take feedback positively.
Bukit View Secondary’s approach can best be summed up in their LETS GO! framework of Learn, Embed, Teach and Share.
For schools that are keen on Positive Education, Kevin and Shirley advocate creating professional development (PD) opportunities for staff, such as in the area of student well-being in assessment. They recommend professional learning communities and reflective conversations among staff, including the sharing of good practices. Schools can foster positive health through self-care sharing, staff well-being activities, and having staff to be open and proactive in building their own well-being and leading healthy lifestyles. Schools could also work on a common language in relating to students and build a positive school culture. BVSS believes that for teachers to be able to enact Positive Education in their work, they must first take care of themselves. In every Staff Contact Time, school leaders personally lead a Positive Health Self-care segment.
What Bukit View Secondary has done is to work on a whole school approach and a long-term strategy by reviewing their support structures, policies and processes, communication modes and data reporting and infuse Positive Education elements intentionally into all aspects of school life. In particular, they have strengthened their Restorative Practice approach to student management and enhanced support for students through making every student a peer supporter. They have also introduced “Gear Up” programmes for High Needs Students (HNS) and those with special needs (SEN).
Kevin and Shirley advocate a clear articulation and alignment of school outcomes, namely School Vision, Mission and Values, Learning Mindsets as well as Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) goals. There should also be intentional and explicit teaching of well-being skills, a clear roadmap of Student Development Experiences (SDEs) which are aligned to the outcomes. For BVSS, they have begun to adopt themes to anchor and structure learning to ensure a whole school approach.
Here is an example of how Positive Education themes are integrated into the school curriculum by level and by terms, in tandem with the four Learning Mindsets and PERMAH.
A Positive Education school will naturally encourage collaboration across groups and engagement with stakeholders and the community. The school does this in a few ways. Students are provided with many opportunities to work with their peers, speak up and take action, and assume leadership in projects as well as school and class activities. Among the staff, there is a conscious effort to build a culture of trust, participate in dialogues and interdepartmental collaborations to establish and enact positive relationships and ownership. The school also tries its best to create opportunities to communicate, share and partner with its stakeholders such as parents and the alumni. They also forge sustainable partnerships, such as with community groups, voluntary welfare organisations and others in the education fraternity to enhance student learning experiences. The school will be sharing two of their Positive Education initiatives, Time Capsule and Bingo Challenge in the upcoming Teachers Conference.
The school’s efforts to develop students with grit, gratitude and zest are best captured in a Tamil Murasu news article on student councillor and vice-captain of BVSS’ Floorball team, Durgesware who scored 6 distinctions in the recent GCE “O” level examinations. Durgesware spoke of how the school taught her to deal with adversity and how teachers and counsellors helped her overcome anxiety over a long period of time. She told of how her confidence grew in her co-curricular activity, where she was given the opportunity to grow her passion and skills, and lead others towards team goals. She developed her sense of purpose and served others in the community through school initiatives like “Baked with Gratitude”. Because of all that she has experienced, Durgesware plans to pay it forward by pursuing Social Work in Nanyang Polytechnic and in future, help others triumph over their circumstances and realise their potential. To those struggling, Durgesware has this to say: "If anyone encounters problems, do not hesitate to seek help. Remember your goals and work with perseverance!"
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