Positive Education combines traditional education with lessons on character, resiliency and happiness. Simply put, it’s schooling for the mind as well as the heart. We sat down with ANDRE CASSON, Head of School at Australian International School, to talk about what Positive Education has done for the school since AIS introduced it five years ago.
Why did AIS incorporate Positive Education into the curriculum?
It isn’t just a part of our curriculum, it’s our philosophy for pastoral care. To that end, it permeates all that we do. A student may learn resilience as part of a sporting team. A teacher may develop a growth mindset by introducing a new and innovative lesson to their students. A parent may develop gratitude through an interaction with a staff member who has “gone the extra yard” for their child. For Positive Education to be authentic, it must be a part of what we do. Of course, we need to provide our staff with the skills to achieve this through training and support and, at times, distinct lessons may occur. But for Positive Education to live and breathe it must be part of our way of life.
We commenced this journey in 2013, when I was Head of Secondary School. I worked on introducing this program at my previous school, so I knew how it could make the lives of AIS students better. To that end, when I arrived at AIS, I saw it as my duty to permeate this philosophy as part of our culture.
Schools have long focused on academic pursuits. Why is this not enough anymore?
Schools are about learning – we are striving to provide our students with those dispositions that will allow them to be successful in their lives, not just academic achievement. I believe that effective schools should never be just about academic pursuits. They certainly have a place but academic excellence is just one facet of a child’s education. At AIS, we focus on the whole student – academic, physical, creative, altruistic and relational. In a world that’s seeing an increase in AI and machine learning, it is these uniquely human skills that prepare our charges for success in an unknown future. As a school, we don’t lose focus on the academic imperative, but it’s just one facet of an AIS education.
Who is Martin Seligman, and what are the six classes of virtues he developed?
Martin Seligman is considered the “father” of positive psychology and, by extension, Positive Education. His Six Classes of Virtues refer to broad classifications of 24 character strengths that we all possess. These are:
- Knowledge and Wisdom
How specifically does AIS teach these virtues?
Students and staff at AIS will utilise the VIA Character Strengths Survey to determine which of these dispositions are their “go to”. We then use these areas of strength to inform how we might tackle an issue that is part of our lives at school. This follows the work of Professor Lea Waters in her book The Strength Switch. Professor Waters discusses that if we “double down” on an area of strength rather than focusing on an area of development, we develop greater efficacy and resilience with which to tackle our areas of deficit. We do not ignore that which we must improve, but we do approach this first from a strong position.
An example of how we might use this technique at AIS is in our Year 6 Goal Setting Program. Students undertake the VIA Survey and then when they develop a plan to achieve their academic and personal goals for the year, they work with their class teacher on how they might use their character strengths to achieve this aim. For instance, a student with curiosity as their strength may set a goal for the year to use “curiosity to explore learning in Science more deeply”.
What is your goal for Positive Education at AIS?
That everyone in our community will have the opportunity to be the best version of themselves. To achieve this goal, we must work at developing a caring community that nurtures and loves each member of our family. Positive Education provides an effective framework to support this goal.
I recall a recent Voice of Student Survey in which one of our Year 10 students was asked to describe AIS. He said that we had “a culture of kindness where everyone could be who they wanted to be.” That statement made me very proud. When we can build on our students’ strengths, we have the opportunity to achieve greatness for their future.
Historically, instilling virtues was thought to be the duty of parents and others; for some, this is still true. What feedback have you received from parents?
They say that it takes a village to raise a child. It might take a city to educate them. The teaching of virtues and character certainly is the domain of parents, religious leaders and people of significance in children’s lives. School must have a vital place in this development – our students spend more waking hours with us than they do their parents. To create well-rounded young people of substance, the school must take an active role in this domain. To extend the religious metaphor – only when student, home and school are all working toward the same goal will the most be gained through the education prism. This is my Holy Trinity for success at school.
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