A personal perspective
As my time as Director of the Institute of Positive Education (IPE) draws to a close, and as I sit down to write my last formal communication to our ever-growing database of our Friends of the Institute, I feel grateful, content, proud and sad (and that’s just in these five minutes that I’ve taken to write and re-write these opening few lines). Within this letter, I share eight highlights from my special eight years in the Institute.
Eight highlights for eight amazing years in the IPE
1. Working with a wonderful team
In so many ways working in the IPE has felt like working amongst close family and friends. Whilst the size of the IPE has fluctuated over the years, each of the 33 team members that have worked for the Institute have shown commitment and dedication to our mission of placing wellbeing at the heart of education. Each team member has contributed meaningfully to the pioneering work of Positive Education and have left their personal mark on the Institute. I have been inspired and uplifted by my colleagues and thank them from the bottom of my heart for their support and friendship.
2. Connecting with deeply caring teachers
Sharing the philosophy of Positive Education and the growing evidence base of Wellbeing Science with fellow passionate educators has truly been a joy. I have enjoyed discovering and exploring Positive Education alongside thousands of participants in our workshops and courses. It has been a privilege to listen to personal stories, understand different contexts and to share insights and a-ha moments with school leaders, teachers, and parents. I can still picture the smiling and supportive faces of so many participants over the years and each course, each workshop, each interaction has had a meaningful impact on my ongoing journey.
3. Learning from leading academics and researchers in the field
The very first Pos Ed lesson I taught at GGS was back in 2008. It was on the topic of Positive Emotions and we explored Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build Theory. My class of Year 10 students and I experimented with different facial reactions to positive and negative stimuli, from food and drinks to smells and images. As a Head of House, and a Maths and Phys. Ed. teacher I was having a great time, but I was certainly feeling a bit of an imposter trying to explain scientific theories and research, particularly, when I had Dr. Fredrickson sitting in the back of my classroom!
Over the years I cannot believe how many learned experts I have had the pleasure of connecting with personally, gaining a deeper understanding of their work. The field of Positive Education continues to grow due to outstanding researchers and passionate academics. I am grateful to call many of these people friends and I thank them for their ongoing contribution.
4. The pleasure of pioneering Positive Education at Geelong Grammar School
While we’ve made mistakes (many of you may have heard our presentation on ‘Ten Years of Positive Education – Our 10 Biggest Mistakes’), we’ve also had the excitement of developing, experimenting and innovating with our teachers, students and parents to design activities, workshops, retreats and courses designed to assist individuals and communities to flourish. To have a colleague pop into your office and mention the positive difference we have made to their marriage or family, to have a past student write to you sharing the impact Pos Ed has had on their life, or to have a parent send an email explaining the growth they have seen in their child are moments that our team have cherished. I admire the leadership of Geelong Grammar School, and in particular mention: Stephen Meek, Charlie Scudamore, John Hendry, Debbie Clingeleffer-Woodford, Mathew White and Paddy Handbury for their courage and passion to introduce and pioneer a whole-school approach to wellbeing based on the science of Positive Psychology. My respect and admiration extends to Rebecca Cody and the School’s current leadership team for their ongoing commitment to the wellbeing of our school community.
5. The privilege of working closely with schools across different countries, cultures and contexts
From our experience of working with educators in schools across many different countries we have certainly observed the universality of illbeing, but this has been coupled with the ubiquitous appeal and benefits of Character Strengths and experiential activities across the six domains of wellbeing.
To work with small, medium and large local schools, to work with new start-up schools through to schools with centuries of heritage and traditions; to work within the circuit of International Schools, to work with Government, Catholic, Independent, Faith-based schools, to work across cultures and contexts has been a great privilege. It has been inspiring to work alongside so many incredible schools with dedicated teachers’ role-modelling and leading innovative wellbeing practices.
6. Supporting the establishment and/or growth of leading wellbeing communities
It is exciting to see the emergence and growth of networks and communities of practice dedicated to serving the field of Positive Education. My respect and deep admiration go to Helen Street and Neil Porter at Positive Schools, the entire team of experts at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Wellbeing Science, the pioneers at the Positive Education Schools Association (PESA), in particular Marita Hayes-Brown, Anne Johnstone and Simon Murray, and the dedicated board at the International Positive Education Network (IPEN) championed by Martin Seligman and Anthony Seldon. To host the 2018 PESA conference at GGS was a great highlight for our School and our Institute.
7. Facing and overcoming challenges
They say that experiencing negative emotions and facing challenge and adversity is a normal part of life, which is fortunate, considering the quality and quantity of challenges we have encountered and sought to address and overcome over the past eight years – and in particular the past two years of the Covid-19 pandemic. There is no doubt, I have personally grown through the adversities, and I have had ongoing opportunities to practise my skills of resilience, mindfulness, and self-compassion. I am grateful that Positive Education provides skills for dealing with difficult emotions and helps us to lean into and embrace challenging moments. Dr Maria Sirois’ powerful question of ‘Who am I in the presence of this?’ has been a helpful guide and anchor for me.
8. My own ongoing journey in the gaining of wisdom and knowing myself
It was Charlie Scudamore, who helped me to focus on enjoying the journey. Charlie’s mentorship and wisdom, coupled with the role-modelling of colleagues past and present, and the insightful books and articles I have read have all enabled me to grow. I am indebted to the wisdom of those who have come before and for all that I have received. I am also grateful that I can give to others and that as I’ve done, I feel that I have been constantly receiving. I thank everyone who has supported me and our team at the Institute.
The IPE in 2022 and beyond
As we shared with our Friends back in October, due to the pandemic and the current needs of our School, the IPE is moving its focus back to supporting our own GGS community. As such, the IPE is unable to engage in new projects to deliver consulting or on-site training for external schools. Despite this change of focus, the IPE remains committed to supporting schools worldwide to place wellbeing at the heart of education through four key services: our Positive Education Enhanced Curriculum (PEEC); Wellbeing Diaries; our Discovering Positive Education 2.0 courses; and the production and sale of wellbeing resources available via our online shop.
GGS remain steadfastly committed to the pillar of Positive Education. In 2022, the theme for the Positive Education pillar will be ‘Prioritising Proactive Practices’. The team in the IPE will be leading important wellbeing projects which fall under five key wellbeing focuses for 2022:
- Wellbeing Support: Helping our community to help our community
- Wellbeing Transitions: Assisting and optimising change
- Wellbeing Beyond Year 12: Intentionally extending our care
- Wellbeing for all Staff: Supporting our staff, practically, to be well
- Wellbeing Collaborations: Connecting and collaborating within and beyond GGS
What a privilege and a pleasure it has been to guide and champion the ongoing implementation of Positive Education at GGS over many years. I would personally like to thank students, colleagues, parents and the incredible GGS community for their active support of our pioneering approach to the science of wellbeing.
51% flourishing by 2051
The question I continue to ask myself is, ‘How can we make wellbeing easier for our schools, for our teachers and for our students and parents?’ As I transition to a new chapter, the challenge for me is to be of service by endeavouring to answer this question. It has been a joy pioneering Positive Education at GGS and connecting with like-minded people around the world to place wellbeing at the heart of education. I remain deeply committed to this work and you are most welcome to connect with me via LinkedIn. I hope that together we can make a meaningful contribution to Martin Seligman’s hopeful goal of 51% of our world flourishing by 2051.
Justin Robinson is the inaugural Director of the Institute of Positive Education. As a passionate leader in the field of student and staff wellbeing, Justin has been invited to write for a number of publications and speak at conferences both in Australia and around the world.