A happiness revolution is sweeping through Victorian schools.
At Heathmont College in Melbourne’s east, students calculate “happy fractions”, fill out
online surveys to determine their “superpowers” and have daily discussions about all the positive things they’ve experienced.
It’s part of a “positive education” movement which aims to teach students and teachers how to be resilient and flourish. It hopes focusing on people’s strengths protects them from depression.
The state government wants to expand the philosophy to more schools, and recently injected $6.39 million into a positive education initiative involving 27 state schools in Melbourne’s east.
Some of this money will be used to build a new wellbeing centre and gym at Heathmont College. This will house an annex of Geelong Grammar’s Institute of Positive Education which will train teachers in the area.
Education Minister James Merlino said positive education helped students before they reached crisis.
“It’s about strengthening their resilience, focusing on their personal strengths, giving young people a sense of optimism and a sense of hope and enthusiasm for their own future,” he said.
When it comes to parents’ concerns, wellbeing ranks highly.
Mr Merlino said one in seven Victorian students struggle with mental health issues.
He also completed the online survey, taken by students in the cluster of positive education schools, to understand his strengths. They were honesty, perseverance, bravery, love and appreciation of beauty and excellence.
His least-developed strength? Humility. “You can make your own conclusions,” Mr Merlino laughed.
The term “positive education” was coined in 2008, when US psychologist Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, spent six months living at Geelong Grammar.
The philosophy has since spread to schools around the world, with Geelong Grammar training more than 15,000 teachers through its Institute of Positive Education.
A recent survey of young people in the Moroondah area revealed that while many were grateful, they also felt anxious.
A unique partnership between Maroondah Principal Network, the City of Maroondah, the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Positive Psychology and Geelong Grammar’s Institute of Positive Education hopes to address this issue by embedding positive education in schools.
In a bid to help students lead psychologically healthy lives, teachers will focus on students’ strengths instead of their weaknesses. They hope talking about what is working well, helps the negatives dissipate.
And instead of focusing on what constitutes bullying, schools will try to teach students to be kind.
Edwina Ricci, Heathmont College’s Head of Positive Education, or aptly-named HOPE leader, said positive psychology taught people to “thrive instead of just to survive”.
“It is the science of flourishing,” she said. “If you think about your physical fitness, to get fit, you have to run around the block and go to the gym. To get mentally fit you have to undertake some changes to your thinking.”
Critics of positive education say it risks creating a culture of compulsory happiness and that it’s OK to be pessimistic.
But Justin Robinson, director of Geelong Grammar’s Institute of Positive Education dismisses this criticism.
“It is not about feeling happy all the time and about silver lining,” he said.
“It’s about caring for others. Flourishing is a byproduct. We are not trying to turn everything into a positive and always trying to smile.”