Page 14 - Marlborough Living Nov/Dec 2019
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Developing Pupil Well-Being Through the Science of Positive Psychology
By Luke Bromwich, Headmaster St Margaret’s Preparatory School, Calne ...
This summer, I moved to Wiltshire
from Hong Kong to take up my new
post as Headmaster of St Margaret’s.
As I prepared for the start of term in September, I obviously took some time to consider some of the ideas and thinking
I would like to bring to the school. For
me, educational excellence and robust pastoral care go hand in hand. Pupil well-being is at the forefront of any quality school agenda. It is the framework which provides the emotional, spiritual and social support network to pupils in order to ensure that they flourish during their school years and beyond. Pupils today are exposed to a range of pressures both at school and at home- from exam stress to social media, friendship and relationship woes to potential family turmoil- schools need to actively help pupils acquire suitable techniques to manage these external stressors so they can thrive in their learning.
Recently there has been a growing interest in Education surrounding the science of Positive Psychology and how it can positively impact pupil well-being. Dr M Seligman, working out of the University of Pennsylvania, has pioneered this work. Ultimately, he wanted to
shift from traditional psychology, which prioritised what can go wrong with our mental health, to focussing on what can go right. He wanted to help people adopt a range of well-being practices, underpinned by the science of Positive Psychology so that they could lead a happier and healthier life.
Geelong Grammar School, located in Melbourne Australia, was early to see the benefits of Dr Seligman’s work and
how it could transform pupil experiences in school and allow them to flourish. They teamed up with Seligman and have since developed a range of well-being practices and a curriculum framework known as ‘Positive Education’.
Having recently lived and worked in South East Asia, where many leading International Schools have begun to adopt this new transformative framework, I have been lucky enough to learn about Positive Education and see its benefits first-hand. This time last year I attended Geelong Grammar’s Positive Education seminar in Singapore and was struck
by the ideas presented both in terms of how they can impact pupil experience
in schools, but also on a personal level, how they could improve my own life. Surely as educators, we need to practice what we preach- I firmly believe the theories surrounding Positive Education can enhance the lives of teachers, as well as pupils. Indeed, I have adopted some of the practices in my own life with varying degrees of success! Relocating country with a two-year-old has certainly put these new skills to test- resilience, gratitude and engagement have all cropped up for me. The resilience in taking on the sheer mammoth task of relocating our family from one corner of the world to another, gratitude for the possessions we have to build our new life, and engagement, well... anyone
who has built IKEA furniture will know a certain level of engagement (and resilience!) is required.
When we consider resilience in the school setting, pupils are often asked to take calculated risks in their learning. Resilience
is their ability to grow and thrive in this state of challenge and ultimately leads to self-development. In the world of Positive Education, resilience is closely linked to optimism. If an individual believes and has faith that things will turn out for the best, as long as they are suitably equipped to solve a range of problems, often they will have greater resilience when faced with challenge.
Educationalists have long known that when we expose pupils to suitable challenge, deep learning takes place.
By developing the individual’s resilience, we can purposefully expose them to greater challenge ultimately resulting in deeper learning. How, therefore, do we develop resilience in children and young adults? By reverting to the idea that optimism is linked to resilience, we can begin to unpick the ways that our pupils think and feel. Do they think in a helpful way? Is their thinking problem focussed, accepting and forward thinking, or does it tend to look to blame, refuse or avoid dealing with the situation and ultimately the consequences? One way to change the way we think is to focus on coaching as a model to turn our thinking around. Through careful reflection about their work or choices, we are increasing
pupil resilience and self-reflection and encouraging them to think about learning from a helpful, positive perspective.
Gratitude is also an aspect of positive Education which is intrinsically linked to our mindset and thoughts. By actively encouraging a child to reflect on what they are grateful for, we can switch the way that they think. Gratitude links nicely to the idea of being mindful and taking
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