What are the costs of an expedient schooling system?


Having been in the education industry for near on 30 years, I have seen the gradual change in workload and expectations for teachers and administrators. 

With the advancement of technology, our work is more efficient and faster. Things happen immediately and it’s fantastic! Students no longer have to spend hours writing notes from the board, their work can appear in Google Classroom on their handheld device and they can quickly type up their answers, with spellcheck to help them. Teachers now have a curriculum that includes Drug education, Sex education, Values education, Driver education, eSafety education, Health education, and a number of other topics to help students through the maze of social expectations. Teachers have a plethora of resources that make their work quicker, bigger, better, faster.

However, I believe that the cost of these changes, is significant. School community members (teachers, students, parents, administrators) now have the capacity to undertake their tasks in lightning speed. This is great but there is little time to breathe, to refill the dopamine in our system to keep us going and take care of our wellbeing. We no longer have small opportunities in our day to stop and smell the roses. When was the last time you walked to the post office to send a telegram, stopping on the way to pat a dog or chat to a stranger? When did you last have time to mindlessly draw your lesson diagrams on the chalk board? Losing the telegram and chalkboards have been fabulous losses, however the opportunity to recharge your brain or to enhance relationships or emotions, has also been lost.

I believe there is a massive need for schools to counter this age of frantic workloads.  I believe that it is vital to acknowledge the importance of putting positive approaches in the forefront of school planning and operating. I’m talking about positive communication – how do we communicate verbally, in marketing material, in policy documents, in emails and other information to parents and the community? Is it positive? Does it take into account the impact the communication has on the audience? Do we focus on the strengths of our personnel, rather than constantly focussing on the challenges? How do we deal with emotional intelligence across school sites and is our leadership focussed on systems and processes in a positive way? 

Dr Lea Waters (a psychologist, researcher, speaker and author and is one of the world's leading experts on Positive Education)said in her article “A Review of School-Based Positive Psychology Interventions” “……..research evidence is now mounting to show that student wellbeing is positively related to academic performance. For example, a meta-analysis by Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, and Schellinger (2011) of 213 studies involving 270,034 students from kindergarten through high school showed that, on average, school students enrolled in a social and emotional learning program ranked 11 percentage points higher on achievement tests than school students who did not participate in such programs.” So positive approaches in education are not just about making students happy, it’s about making everyone happy and this leads to higher academic achievement. That’s what matters.

Sue Roffey (a psychologist, academic, author, activist and speaker & Director of Growing Great Schools Worldwide)provides a fantastic model of Social and Emotional Learning that supports the need to focus on staff and student wellbeing and includes self-awareness, promoting the positive, conflict and confrontation, restoration, emotional skills and leadership.Her Circle Solutions model focuses on Respect, Agency, Positivity, Inclusion, Democracy and Safety to encourage healthy relationships and a pedagogy for teaching social and emotional learning, placing positive emotions, optimism and resilience, as high on the priority for learning.

There are many different models that are designed to address the need for positivity in education. I am by no means suggesting that our schools are based on negative systems. I am suggesting that we would do well to consider being proactive in embedding positivity in all we do.  I would ask you, in your school how would you answer these questions? Across the school community, how is your positive behaviour, your positive emotions, your positive strengths, your positive relationships and your positive leadership? 

It is SO important to address wellbeing in the school setting. From the Principal through to the students, we need to take care of our human resources otherwise we will have a broken system. I see the positive psychology movement becoming more and more important (& fortunately, more prevalent) in the education sector and with this, comes happy and successful staff, leading to happy and successful students. The research is very clear that positive psychology programs significantly improve student wellbeing which leads to academic performance.

Ravenswood Girls School in Sydney are at the forefront of positive education in the country and their statistics show the value and importance of their program on their students’ academic achievements. Have a look at their work via this link https://www.ravenswood.nsw.edu.au/why/positive-education/positive-education  Geelong Grammar in Victoria started the positive education movement in Australia. Check out their Model here.  https://www.ggs.vic.edu.au/School/Positive-Education/What-is-Positive-Education-/Our-Positive-Education-Model  There are many schools with wellbeing programs and positive education programs in their schools and at varying degrees. Even a small approach to positive education has significant impacts on the students’ academic and social achievements. The challenge is where and how you fit it into a system already packed with curriculum and other programs? As those in schools know, the faster we can do things, the more we are expected to do.

 If you would like more information about how you can use positive education in your setting, from small steps to large, please contact me for a conversation about the possibilities.

Jo Opie