This is a reflection piece and best read after you have viewed the Da Qiao (DQ) Story video as well as browsed through “Weaving Joy” – a DQ publication to capture the tapestry and threads of joy before its merger in December 2018.
The chapter at Da Qiao Primary (DQ) has closed but I believe it is the start of new possibilities arising from the multiplier effect. I believe every DQ teacher who is a practitioner of Positive Education (Pos Ed) will generate new followers and create a unique momentum in their respective new work places. The majority of DQ teachers have moved on to Jing San Primary School (the merged school), led by Ms Rezia, appointed Vice-Principal in December 2018 and a key PosEd driver in DQ’s journey.
At the HEART of Positive Education in DQ is the well-being construct of Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationship, Meaning and Accomplishment (PERMA), developed by Prof Martin Seligman. As a school leader, I find PERMA a very practical frame for process design.
How can I evoke positive emotion in the way I communicate and structure my meetings & dialogue with staff, cultivate gratitude as a way of life and build hope and optimism through our school processes and practices? Conscientious focus on collective moments of positivity will reinforce the feelings of appreciation and motivate one to Do Good to bless others.
Engagement in all we do will lead to a happy life especially if we deploy our strengths and energy to overcome a common challenge. What will motivate my staff to go with the “flow” as described by Csikszentmihalyi?
Relationship is a key tenet of well-being and it brings joy, meaning and purpose to the forefront of why we do what we do. Our inherent desire to connect with others encourages us to perform acts of kindness, leveraging our strengths to enrich the community around us. As a school leader, how can I build organisational capital and citizenship by deepening relationship? It is also important to provide clarity of my intent and focus on well-being to engage the hearts and minds of my staff.
People pursue achievement, competence and mastery for the satisfaction they derive. How can I instil the “Can-Do” spirit and embed practices so that staff and students will develop their talents by embracing the growth mindset and experience flourishing and accomplishment?
I remember challenging my Team A (EXCO) to consider if their practices, processes and programmes are PERMAlicious when they reviewed and improved on their respective work plans each year.
What worked in DQ were the frequent sense making, integration of processes, customisation of learning and co-construction of ideas as a school community. The Coherent Framework (Michael Fullan & Joanne Quinn, 2016) highlighted four components in leading effective change – focusing direction, cultivating collaborative cultures, deepening learning and securing accountability.
These four components were very much intertwined and at play in DQ. With the belief that well-being skills would lead to achievement skills, the school made flourishing the specialisation of DQ. With the alignment of shared values, collaboration among the various departments and programme owners became second nature to the staff. What propelled the school forward was the mindset of learning, growing and sharing with the fraternity.
The breakthrough in deepening our learning and securing teachers’ accountability happened when the school synergised to execute two sharing sessions at the national level. DQ organised the inaugural Symposium for Positive Education (SymPosEd 2017) with the theme Wellbeing @ the Heart of Education. SymPosEd 2017 was a celebration of good stories – how likeminded practitioners came together to share their knowledge and experiences on the significance of Teaching, Embedding and Living wellbeing practices in the school community. The keynote speaker was Dr Chin Tan-Chyuan, Director, Wellbeing Profiler at the Centre for Positive Psychology, University of Melbourne. Besides the concurrent sessions, participants also had opportunities to visit footprint booths to learn more about PosEd practices. 300 participants attended the symposium in our humble school premises.
Spurred on by the overwhelming response and the frequent requests to host sharing sessions for schools, DQ decided to organise a Learning Festival on Positive Education as a finale to our journey. The festival adopted a world café format with three learning stations and ended with the networking of Pracademics (Practitioners who were keen to put research into practice). It was another success story with 250 participants.
Over the years, the school has sent at least four teams abroad to present at international conferences and learn from experts. A third of our staff presented at local conferences and shared with schools.
PosEd made so much sense in the DQ ecosystem that the coherence generated a momentum of its own.
DQ paved the way for the science of well-being to be placed at the forefront and centre in education. The school was uplifted in both academic and non-academic domains and that was evident as one walked through the gates of Da Qiao Primary School. It was clear in the shared language of its school community and it was distinct in the achievements of the students at its last PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) sitting. The model of well-being at DQ was one that was carefully curated to take into account the needs and the fundamentals that the school was built upon. The DQ PosEd model could not be replicated in another school environment but could definitely be a story of what can be achieved if PosEd is customised based on what each school stands for. It is important to sense the ground, seek to understand the culture of the organisation and leverage current beliefs and practices that promote well-being.
Through re-envisoning, DQ had developed a shared mindset through the school vision of “A Flourishing School with Happy and Confident Learners”. This shared purpose united the school community towards a common goal, where many PosEd practitioners lived out their beliefs as a way of life.
During the two years before its merger, the fruits of our labour became very evident. Many teachers were excited about the flourishing of our students – joy of learning and leveraging strengths to help others, mindfulness and self-regulation, confidence, and adopting a growth mindset to take on challenges, and resilience to overcome constraints. The students were living out PosEd taught and embedded in our learning processes and programmes. The DQ tapestry of weaving joy created ‘masterpieces’ out of DQ students who believed in themselves and lived out gratitude and mindfulness. Many of them strived to Do Good, Feel Good and teachers were so proud of them.
Understandably, the school community received news of the merger with deep sadness and regret. As a Pos Ed community, DQ adopted the benefit mindset and paved the way for the merger with positivity.
I would like to think that the DQ story would continue its flow in new contexts. Every DQ staff can weave a new tapestry, by practising well-being strategies and leveraging the strengths of their new school. As a leader, it is important to create a common language aligned to the culture of the school, and that resonates with the people. It is possible to integrate PosEd and the tenets of well-being implicitly without using the lingo of PosEd. What matters is the belief system and philosophy that drive our practices. Personally, I will continue to subscribe to the PERMA formula in my leadership journey and go with the flow, not against it, to ride the next wave of change.
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