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Not for ourselves alone

Mount Barker High School

Beginning our positive journey



Martin Seligman visits Mt Barker High

I first became aware of positive psychology in January this year. Mount Barker High School was invited by the Education Department, (we call it the Department for Education and Child Development – or DECD) to become its lead school in the residency of Dr Martin Seligman, a world-leading ‘positive psychologist’. We were set to become a big part of this ground-breaking residency; even if we weren’t exactly sure what we were getting ourselves into!

In February, we went along to Martin’s first public talk in Adelaide, where he spoke about using positive psychology to create the conditions for every individual to flourish.

This means creating the conditions for students, staff and parents to develop more “PERMA” – Martin’s dashboard to measure a person’s wellbeing. This stands for:

Positive emotion
Positive Relationships

Ten months down the track, the school has well and truly taken on the challenge. We’re endeavouring to learn more about positive psychology, and how to use it across our entire school and the community.

We’ve discovered this is a big task. The Adelaide Hills community we’re engaging is home to around 30,000 people and growing, across an area spanning 25 kilometres. While our school has approximately 540 students, we also want to align our work with what is being done in the nine surrounding primary schools to make sure that there is a consistent approach across the region.

We’ve broken our task down into three smaller, but still very challenging questions that we’re working on:

1.      How can the wellbeing of students, staff and the wider school community be measured in ways that are robust, comparable to changes over time and able to stand up to public scrutiny?

2.      How can we use positive psychology to improve the wellbeing of the whole school community, and can it improve student learning outcomes?

3.      How can positive psychology be used by the broader Education Department, together with our school and nearby community services, to ensure a consistent approach to improve the wellbeing of young people across the state?

What we’ve found already is that this work is neither quick nor easy. Every step taken towards answering our questions seems to open up more questions. But isn’t this always the case on a learning journey? Doesn’t this always happen when we become curious about things that are worthwhile? Isn’t this what makes learning so exciting?

We’ve learned to become mindful of our experiences and to notice and learn from the events that happen along the way. This blog is one way that we’re doing this. It will include stories and reflections from our learning journey.