Nurturing Thriving Staff and Flourishing Students:
A School Journey of Discovering Positive Education
Westwood Primary School
Westwood Primary aspires to deliver exceptional education in the 21st century to raise a generation of children with deep anchors of character, to flourish and thrive, with their hands to the nation, hearts to the community, and eyes for the future. Beyond excellence, we seek to design and provide lessons for life, so as to prepare the next generation of children to be future-ready, anchor-steady. This is premised on designing and delivering a holistic education, to prepare our pupils to thrive in a fast-changing and highly-connected world. This calls for us to place important emphasis on imparting both skills and competencies and to teach wellbeing, and for our pupils to gain greater insights of the self as an agent for change and knowledge creation. This paper outlines the envisioning journey we have embarked on to explore how Positive Education can guide us in developing school-wide teacher belief and learning-teaching practices, designing our curriculum as well as shaping our school culture and overall strategic directions. Key areas of focus within Westwood’s THRIVE Model for Positive Education include nurturing and sustaining positive relationships, promoting and prolonging positive emotion, fostering mindfulness and building resilience, enabling and encouraging the state of flow, cultivating a growth mindset, promoting a deeper understanding of one’s meaning and purpose, and increasing awareness of character strengths in self and others.
Keywords: Positive Education, Flourishing, Enabling Institution
Positive psychology research in the field of education is relatively new. Faced with increasing external demands on what to teach, how to teach, and how to work with diverse stakeholders, educational settings such as schools may typically emphasise on fixing perceived deficits, and as a result do not look sufficiently at strengths or how to prioritise change efforts. On the other hand, the study of positive emotions, positive traits and positive institutions accentuates human flourishing (Seligman, 2010), rather than human measuring up. More significantly, positive professional cultures foster productivity, collegiality, support for hard work and high expectations for staff and student success and wellbeing.
The What and Why of Positive Education
Positive Education, simply put, is the incorporation of the science of positive psychology into the life and work of schools (Seligman, Ernst, Gilham, Reivich & Linkins, 2009). It is aimed first at benefitting teachers personally, and then benefits them again by making it easier to get students to engage with and persist in the work they need to master learning. Positive Education inevitably works to create a school culture that supports the caring, trusting relationships that distinguish excellent schools from their mediocre peers.
The Ministry of Education announced the implementation of a new framework for schools to enhance the development of 21st century competencies (21CC) in our students. This will underpin the holistic education that our schools provide to better prepare our students to thrive in a fast-changing and highly-connected world. This framework spells out that in order to better position our students to take advantage of opportunities in a globalised world, our students need to possess life-ready competencies like creativity, innovation, cross-cultural understanding and resilience. This calls for schools to place greater emphasis on imparting both “traditional skills” and to teach “well-being” and for students to gain greater insights of the “self” as an agent for change and knowledge creation. Moving forward, schools that embark on the journey of positive education would do well to develop the future-ready child we want for the 21st century.
Our Discovery Journey: An Appreciative Inquiry
Using an Appreciative Inquiry approach (Cooperrider & Avital, 2003), we engaged a schoolwide strategic conversation and envisioning journey following the iterative stages of “Discovery”, “Dream”, “Design” and “Destiny”. Preliminary sessions were held with selected parents and pioneering staff in the previous year to solicit their aspirations for the new school. A staff conversation around Positive Education was held on 18th March 2013; a planning meeting between Strategic Planning Exco and our Superintendent was held on 24th April 2013. A whole-school engagement session involving staff and stakeholders, includoing after school care staff, was held on 6 Jun 2013 to define our Teacher Beliefs, School Culture and discussed our Student Outcomes and Teaching-Learning framework for Westwood Primary. Selected staff attended “Positive Schools Conference” in Perth in May 2013 and “Discovering Positive Education” programme by Geelong Grammar School in Jun. A consultation session was also held in July to share these envisioning documents with our School Advisory Committee (SAC) for further input. In 2014, an SAC-Exco Retreat was held in November and we articulated our Vision 2020, to become a Positive Institute of Distinction. We continued to equip our staff through overeseas conference, and another four faculty members attended “Positive Schools Conference” in Melbourne.
Who We Are: Our Character Strengths
In order for “self” to be an agent of change, we focus on harnessing character strengths, as ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving that enable high functioning and performance (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). These are the fundamental values-based instincts we want all members of the Westwood community to internalise and demonstrate in all we do on a daily basis. This is our cultural DNA which defines us as a Westwood family, with:
A Heart of Gratitude
Gratitude is a powerful ingredient of health and well-being for individuals and society. An important virtue for thriving, gratitude provides one with a sense of meaning and connection to entities that are greater than the self. We demonstrate gratitude when we are constantly aware of and thankful for all the good things that happen to us and when we express thanks to those responsible.
A Resilient Mindset
Resilience enables one to succeed despite encountering significant challenges and adversity. The promotion of resilience thinking is therefore an important, if not central, aspect of schooling and a key enabler of school success. We all can learn to be more resilient by turning challenge into opportunity, and being adaptable and flexible to change and growth
A Passion for Community
Community-spiritedness is to show a deep interest in caring for the place and people we share our living with. By participating in a social cause or reaching out to the underserved, we strengthen the relationships that form the shared compact, to fulfill our responsibility to one another and for the wider community.
A Future-Ready Confidence
Confidence and courage that come from the preparedness for the future enables us to always innovate, evolve and grow ourselves and the community so we can always be responsive to changing demands. Having a future-oriented outlook is key to ensure we always stay ahead while remaining humble and grounded to continuously improve, learn and grow as a people and community.
These character strengths have also been embodied in our school mascots, viz. Grateful Giraffes for Heart of Gratitude, Resilient Rhinos for Resilient Mindset, Care Cats for Passion for Community, and Future-ready Foxes for Future-Ready Confidence. These are the four Houses which all of our staff and pupils belong to.
Our Character Strengths Mascots
Why We Exist: Our Purpose Statement
With the above in mind, central to our school mission is “to provide positive education to grow a thriving and flourishing community”. Specifically, positive education guides our school in the following:
– Maximizing positive impact of instructional leadership by defining effective learning-teaching principles and responsive curriculum, instruction and assessment;
– Promoting a positive school climate, culture and community engagement; and
– Personalizing pupil support for learning and development.
What Do We Want To Become: Our Vision Statement
Given the above, our aspiration is therefore for Westwood Primary “To become a positive institution that inspires the community to lead meaningful and engaged lives”. Becoming a Positive Institution is the quest for Westwood Primary not only to deliver positive education, but also to live out positivity as a school to inspire our community, both within and without, to find meaning, purpose and engagement in all we undertake.
How Do We Get There: THRIVE Framework for Positive Education
Based on Seligman’s (2010) Model of Flourishing, enshrined within the positive institution is our focus on promoting:
- Positive Emotion (P) – to broaden-and-build our emotional capacity
- Positive Engagement (E) – to be in the ‘flow’ when learning and doing
- Positive Relationship (R) – to be both a team player and to lead others
- Positive Meaning (M) – to be purposeful in our end-goals
- Positive Accomplishment (A) – to make a positive impact to our lives and our community
To this end, we have developed our THRIVE© Framework for Positive Education:
Our Statements of Intent
At the same time, as part of articulating the journey with tangible positive education strategies in the classroom, our teachers set out nine statements of intent to define how each of our focal areas of academics, character and values, as well as well-being aims to deliver, as described below.
1. We want every child to be responsible for his/her own learning. Our goal is to enable every child to be involved actively in intellectual and academic pursuits, and come to an understanding of himself/herself, the community and the world.
2. We focus on developing a growth-mindset in each child, with the belief that he/she is capable of academic success. Children understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence.
3. We help our children find the connections across different experiences and subjects, so that they can find purpose and meaning in every task they undertake, and can make connections between what they learn in the classroom and what they experience in life.
Character and Values
1. We believe that for children to reach their full potential, they must first master themselves, and learn to manager their own thoughts and emotions. After they become leaders of self, they can then build on their strengths to lead others.
2. We teach our children that every gesture, whether big or small, can make a difference. To lead a meaningful and purposeful life, they learn to appreciate the contributions of others and to find ways to help others.
3. We provide opportunities for children to develop their character strengths, to enable them to appreciate their unique abilities and capacities to flourish and perform at their best.
1. We put in place school-wise processes to engender a culture of well-being within the school community.
2. We inspire our children to pursue happiness by engaging in meaningful endeavours. Stories from inspirational people who exemplify meaning in life are used to stimulate them to think about their own purpose and what makes them happy.
3. We inspire our parents and partners to live, teach ad embed well-being in our lives, as well as to act as authentic role models for our children.
Key Positive Education Strategies in Practice
We are currently designing and developing school-wide approaches to realise this framework for whole school practices. Some of the strategies we have put in place over the last 4 years are as follows:
Developing Mindfulness by Adopting Stop-Think-Do
During Form teacher-guidance periods, our teachers use common icons like the traffic light to teach explicit reflective thinking. For example, a traffic-light to -represent: Stop Think Do model- for teachers to guide pupils in reflecting on their actions and thoughts in class. Pupils use this model for self-management of their emotions and conflict management with peers, as well as develop mindfulness.
– Stop – Pupils think about their feelings. (I feel angry because I …)
– Think – Pupils think about what they could do and list possible ways they could solve the problem, including thinking about the consequences behind their next action. (I could do the following … to solve this problem)
– Do – Pupils consider the best solution and do it.
Using the above model, pupils tend to be less reactive, become aware of how to clarify problems and understand how to make better decisions. This model is also widely used by teachers in behavioural management of pupils, especially in resolving conflicts and anger management.
Promoting Positive Emotions with Board of Positivity
The Board of Positivity was introduced in 2015 for parents to pen down words of well-wishes and encouragement for their child/ward to evoke emotions of positivity for the pupils. During parent teacher pupil conferences, parents will pen down a positive note of encouragement or well-wishes for their child/ward. Teachers will share with the pupils the notes of encouragement and well-wishes from the parents with the pupils to enhance self-motivation. In 2016, the board of positivity has evolved to the Wall of Positivity whereby peers pen down notes of encouragement, well-wishes and moments of positivity for their peers. Moving forward, besides getting parents to pen down words of encouragement or well-wishes for their child/ward, parents are encouraged to reflect a moment of positivity with their child/ward and pen down this moment on the Wall of Positivity. Following review in term 1 this year, we will further enhance this provision by getting parents to pen down WWW on the board/wall of positivity instead of words of encouragement only.
Sharing Positive Moments with ‘What Went Well’
Regular “What Went Well” (WWW) moments in the classroom, at the end of the week for regular reflection opportunities to “pan for gold” in their lives. A segment of the Pupil Handbook is designed for pupils to reflect and write about a “What Went Well “moment in the week. In the process, teachers use guiding questions to lead pupils to think of their positive moments, get them to pen down these memories of positivity and share their WWW moments with their peers. Teachers also walk the top and share their personal WWW moments with pupils during this weekly routine.
By constantly getting pupils and staff to reflect upon WWW moments regularly, the process lead staff and pupils to think about positive memories which in turn leads to emotions of positivity, establish a better teacher student relationship and a positive learning environment.
Use of Process Praise to Change Pupils’ Mindset for Learning
At the same time, we have also worked on an action research project focusing on how to change pupils’ mindsets towards learning through use of process praise. To build on the culture of positivity and using specific strategy to change the fixed mindset of pupils, a group of teachers embarked on an action research project on process praise. Teachers institute specific praise for effort, rather than just achievement in tasks and relationships. The strategy is applied by teachers in giving feedback explicitly in praising for the effort and processes of achieving the particular task and assignment instead of the child and task completed. Besides applying process praise verbally in teachable moments, teachers also apply the use of process praise in daily written assignments and offering specific feedback to lead pupils to apply specific and useful strategies for self-improvement of their learning.
Maximising Impact of Positive Behaviour with ‘Catch-Me-Do-Good’
The Catch-Me-Do-Good programme aims to create more opportunities for teachers to offer words of affirmation to the pupils and for peer encouragement of effort and behaviour. Staff will capture moments of pupils doing good deeds and share these positive moments during pre-assembly programme, on the school’s termly newsletter and facebook. Staff and prefects will also present the “Positive Westwood” stickers to affirm pupils who were caught doing good deeds. These acts of kindness will also be shared by teachers during teachable moments in the classroom to recognise and affirm pupils who are positive role models of school’s character strengths.
Expressing Thankfulness by Presenting Gratitude Card
Gratitude cards, letters and journals are introduced in 2016 for pupils and staff to express their gratitude, appreciation and thankfulness to people around them, cultivate emotions of positivity and a strong climate of CARE in school and beyond. Pupils reflect and write messages of appreciation to their peers, teachers, family members and staff of the school termly. A web-link on “Thankful WWPS” is also created for pupils and staff to upload their appreciation cards and photos to share these positive moments and to encourage others beyond the school community to “pay it forward”.
Celebrating Positively Westwood! Together: Our Inaugural THRIVE Fiesta
In March this year, the weekly THRIVE Fiesta has been organised as an end-of-term initiative to bring Positive Education alive in the whole community of Westwood, involving pupil, staff and parents. Specifically, Mindfulness Practices were introduced to our pupils and staff. A series of experiential learning activities were planned to introduce to pupils the “meaning” and “application” of mindfulness during pre-assembly programmes, recess activities and a day was set aside for THRIVE Experience Day. During the THRIVE Experience Day, pupils went through a Mindfulness Programme of “Mindful eating”, Mindful breathing” and “Mindful actions” to understand how these mindfulness practices could be applied in their daily lives. Parent support group members also joined in to organise related activities to promote positive education to our pupils during recesses, including the art of focusing and working as teams.
Through experiential games such as “Giant Jenga”, “Giant Pick-Up sticks”, “Mindful Mess-Up”, pupils also learnt to apply their learning of mindfulness practices and strategies in the games. A staff workshop was also conducted on 15 March for staff to understand the mindfulness practices in the school and how these practices could be applied in the classroom in engaging the learning of pupils better.
Applying Mindfulness Routine for Positive Discipline
In September 2016, the mindfulness listening and breathing exercise was routinized during recess. Pupils were taught to practise mindful listening and breathing for the last 5 min of their recess as part of their daily routine. Through these mindful practises, pupils were able to re-focus their energy and minds for their next lesson.
Enhancing Classroom Practices through Positive Questioning
In November 2016, a Positive Questioning workshop were conducted for teachers to apply the use of Positive questioning in the classroom. In alignment to research in neuro-linguistic programming, the use of Positive questioning strategies, such as changing the types of questions asked and reframing the mindset of pupils positively to generate participation rate and engagement of pupils in the classroom.
Positive Education Workshop by Geelong Grammar School
On 24 and 25 September 2016 marks the next milestone of our journey in Positive Education as we partner with Geelong Grammar School in sharing best practices and developing staff capacity in Positive Education. The two day workshop conducted by Director of Positive Education, Mr Justin Robinson and Assistant Director of Positive Education, Mr David Bott were widely received by all key personnels and teaching staff.
On day 1, the management team gathered insights on mapping out the school’s strengths and roadmap of Positive Education journey of the school, applied the model of change in guiding the planning and delivery of Positive Education. Together with various education partners such as River Valley High School, Nanhua Primary School, Hwa Chong Institute, Guidance Branch and members of our School Advisory team, the sharing from Geelong Grammar School enabled us to gain a deeper understanding of how to lead and sustain Positive Education in the education fraternity.
On day 2, Mr Justin Robinson and Mr David Bott led the teaching staff through a range of strategies and resources for the implementation of Positive Education practices which the staff can apply in the classrooms. Besides mastering knowledge of the different strategies, staff also had the opportunities to apply some of the strategies through hands on practices in the workshop and reflected on new ideas they could use to enhance their teaching practices. In close partnership with our parents, we also invited members of our Parent support group to join us in discovering and enhancing Positive Education practices both in school and at home.
Way Forward: Towards Vision 2020
Overall, the THRIVE framework undergirds our focus for Westwoodians to flourish, i.e. to strive for both excellence, and for wellbeing, leveraging on character strengths of resilience, gratitude, community-spiritedness and future-ready confidence for the 21st century school. It serves to guide the translation of our ongoing research on positive education into effective policies and programmes that promote the competence and wellness of all. Furthermore, it provides a roadmap for subsequent phases of school envisioning and direction-setting, to effect deep and sustainable culture to bring about a new prosperity that combines positive outcomes in lives within the school context and the community at large. Our vision is for Westwood Primary to become a Positive School of Distinction by Year 2020.
Cooperrider, D.L., & Avital, M., (2003). Constructive discourse & human organisation. San Diego, CA: Elsevier.
Peterson, C., & Seligman. M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Washington: American Psychological Association & Oxford University Press.
Seligman, M. (2010). Flourish: a new understanding of happiness and wellbeing, and how to achieve them. New York: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
Seligman, M., Ernst, R.M., Gilham, J., Reivich, K., & Linkins, M. (2009). Positive education: positive psychology and classroom intervention. Oxford Review of Education, 35(3), 293-311.