Positive Education is a hot topic right now, and Australia leads the world in integrating wellbeing into schools and education. In April Knox Grammar hosted the First Australian Positive Education Conference, where researchers such as Dr Lindsay Oades of Sydney Business School, University of Wollongong, shared global and local perspectives on wellbeing in education, and the landmark 3-year research project tracking Knox’s positive education initiative. This month and next the Positive Schools 2013 Mental Health and Wellbeing Conference will be showcasing more ideas and solutions in this flourishing and important area.

We were proud to be part of the Flourishing Kids & Communities Symposium on 3 May. The Symposium was an initiative of Wellbeing Australia, of which Sue Roffey, Sue Langley and Ali Palmer are Directors, and the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY). This event was designed to kickstart the new Student Wellbeing Action Network (SWAN) by connecting organisations focused on student wellbeing and identifying practical ways they can work together to improve wellbeing in education and the community.

Collaborative dialogue

It was the first time representatives from the key organisations working in this space had met together to explore their collective vision and generate action. Over 70 people attended from a range of organisations, schools, governent departments, including students.

Appreciative Inquiry

In line with positive psychology, an Appreciative Inquiry approach was used to get the best outcomes. Moving from envisioning to action planning over the course of the day, delegates focused on discovering the positive core of flourishing schools and communities, dreaming of how whole school approaches could help them flourish, designing elements and generating ideas to deliver whole school approaches across Australia.

The Circle Solutions framework for healthy group interaction developed by Dr Sue Roffey ensured respect, safety, inclusion, agency and equal opportunities for participation for everyone.

Dan Haesler, a teacher and speaker on mental health and wellbeing of young people who participated in the Symposium, highlighted an important role of the initiative: giving students a voice in decisions that affect them and their wellbeing.

In an article on his Generation Next blog, Dan shared perspectives of Year 11 students at his table. The language adults use often doesn’t connect with kids. To them, talking about your ‘wellbeing’ indicated you were struggling with something. “It’s okay if you’re not great at something, just try your best and focus on your strengths” was a positive message they related to.

In the lead up to the Symposium, students and others were asked to reflect on and contribute personal experiences they have been involved with that has helped a child, teacher, class or community within a school to flourish. These stories were then shared and used to start building the positive core of how wellbeing can be brought to life in schools.

Factors in flourishing

Some of the flourishing success factors that emerged were the importance of feeling listened to and having someone in your life who thinks you are “worth it”. That personal connection between students and teachers was considered pivotal. Delegates felt that celebrating everyone’s abilities was also key to fostering a sense of belonging and helping kids build a positive social identity and find their niche in life.

The need for an inclusive whole school approach was also seen as critical in providing leadership, collaboration and a framework and resources to support and sustain wellbeing at all levels.

Positive actions

The Symposium generated actions and executables under key priority areas of:

  • Teacher wellbeing, capability building, awareness and advocacy.
  • Reaching common definitions of wellbeing everyone can relate to.
  • Finding more avenues to engage students and give them a voice.
  • Building a positive culture within schools using whole schools approaches.
  • Researching and measuring what is working, starting with school practices audits and baseline wellbeing measures.
  • Connecting and building SWAN and identifying common approaches and frameworks organisations can use to draw on expertise across the network.
  • Embedding student wellbeing into the curriculum and pedagogy and creating tips and resources schools can easily use.

Many of the actions coming out of the Symposium are already underway, buoyed by the collective vision, energy and relationships that were sparked. SWAN is working on ways to link members and interested parties who want to be involved and contribute to helping kids and communities flourish.

Contact Wellbeing Australia if you would like to be connected with the network and join the SWAN mailing list to receive updates.

If you would like to know more about increasing wellbeing in your school, read about the Growing Great Schools initiative, a collaboration with organisations, practitioners and researchers in student wellbeing, or contact us to discuss opportunities.