The Science of Gratitude

It’s a simple word that everyone uses many times throughout the day towards many different people; to the person who holds the door open, to the worker who packs our groceries or the person who lets you cut into the traffic on a busy road during peak hour. It gets used so often that sometimes the meaning of gratitude is lost and we aren’t really sure what we are truly grateful for. Gratitude is often spoken, but not to those people that need to hear it the most.
During the past term the year 8 Science classes have been focusing on chemical sciences. We looked into the chemicals, periodic table and chemical reactions. As the unit neared the end the teachers collectively decided that the classes would make bath bombs to be a fun way for them to take a chemical reaction home. As we began discussing the activity, the suggestion that bath bombs were usually given as presents became apparent, and, the idea of accompanying these with a letter of gratitude was born.
The lesson began with a Youtube clip about expressing gratitude and the effect that it can have on your own happiness. ‘The Science of Happiness’ is a brain child of Youtube channel SoulPancake and begins with a simple question ‘What makes you happy?’. When you ask people what makes them happy most people could make a list of things including having fun, family, friends, money or delicious food but SoulPancake asks us to consider that the greatest contributing factor to our overall happiness is how much gratitude we show. Students seem to use their please and thankyou’s but the idea of expressing their gratitude for a person that has had an impact on their life or someone they are thankful for was something that many had not thought of. Who was it in their life that they were most grateful for? For some students it was an easy task and a single person came to mind, for others they had too many people and found it hard to narrow it down to just one person, and for some, they really had to think about and find that person they were grateful for. One thing was certain, that all students had someone in their life that they were grateful for.
The activity was embraced by most students and even the teachers had a go at expressing their gratitude. It was a simple letter; it didn’t even need to be extensively researched or written, no one marked or assessed it. It was quite simply, a powerful intrinsic motivator for these students to take a step back and realize there is something to be grateful for. Students needed to express onto paper the reasons they were grateful for this person, perhaps the words they would never say to them in person. I found myself personally enthralled to see these students express their gratitude, because, when you stop and look around, this life is pretty amazing. It’s not happiness that brings us gratitude, its gratitude that brings us happiness. There are so many different ways that gratefulness can be expressed; what went well, Project 365, you can even introduce the hashtag #thankfulthursday. It’s about taking the time to write a simple thankyou for those people, or things that we are really grateful for in our life. Aldous Huxley once wrote “Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted” and the teacher inside me can’t help but leave a little homework for you to try at home so your assignment is as follows: Today, just notice the things or people you take for granted. Make a list and say “thankyou” for each of them.
By Lexia
Science Teacher

Positive Self Talk and Maths

At Mount Barker High School we asked each of our learning areas to embed positive education into their program in some way. This request challenged the Maths team at first but read below about how they responded and the strategies they put in place!

As a faculty we were given the challenge to incorporate an aspect of Positive Psychology into our teaching. David Garrett gave as the idea a while back that we didn’t need to do an assessment task or teach maths that can specifically show an aspect of Positive Psychology, what we could do was incorporate something in our dealings with students during Maths lessons. This made it much easier for us as we have all had students who come to our classes consistently saying things like ‘I am no good at Maths’, ‘I hate Maths’, ‘I just don’t get it at all’ or ‘I give up, it’s too hard’. So we decided that we could easily help our students with positive self-talk and teach them about perseverance (one of the character strengths). Many teachers within the faculty have incorporated different things (clips, saying, posters etc) and this is just about an activity that I was involved in.

Martin Gare, (a counsellor from CAMHS), came to a meeting and chatted to us about what he could offer the Maths Faculty on our quest to incorporate positive self-talk and perseverance into our teaching. It was then decided that Martin would come to my Yr 10 Maths class and we would conduct an activity to help the students understand self-talk and demonstrate the positive effects that self-talk can have.

During our single lesson I got the students to throw balls into a bucket. There were 10 balls and the bucket was about 3m away from where it was thrown. Students had 10 attempts to get the balls in the buckets and the results were recorded. The students had no idea why we did it.

The following day Martin came to class and we divided the group randomly into two groups. One group (the control group) were taken out of the room, put into another classroom and given maths work to continue with. The remaining students were spoken to by Martin about positive self-talk for about 40 mins. These students then had to practise a strategy whilst throwing the balls back in the buckets from the same distance. Results were again recorded. The control group then returned to class and were told to try again to throw the balls in the buckets.

Martin and I at this point were a little worried and we were not sure as to whether the results would indicate what we wanted them too….. but they did!!! Whilst both groups did see an improvement in their strike rate, the group which had been debriefed about positive self-talk saw a much greater improvement which was pleasing.

It is now envisaged that in 2014 we will be working with all our Yr 8 students about positive self-talk and further implement it into our Mathematics program.

By Kirsten
Maths, Science and Technology Coordinator

Positive Psychology Training at Geelong Grammar School, Week 9 Term 2

Andrea 1
by Andrea,
year 4/5 teacher Mount Barker Primary School

What an amazing week that was! I thought it was one of the best learning experiences I have ever had. Highlights for me were meeting the Well Being team at GGS and the other educators who attended, learning what my personal Character Strengths are and what that means, listening to inspiring stories of others, particularly the young student who spoke to us, and being given some ideas to begin using in my class room.
I have a year 4/5 class at Mount Barker Primary School and we have started talking about Character Strengths, which they are finding interesting. We’re learning what it means to ‘Pan for Gold’ in reflecting on things to express gratitude for and about ‘random acts of kindness’.
Andrea at work at Geelong Grammar School


by Ros
English Co-ordinator

I went to Geelong with high expectations which were definitely realised! Highlights of the conference included:
– a clear focus on positive attributes that foster flourishing, with strong links to the character strengths
– philosophy and practice embedded in all aspects of school life
– the obvious strength of a common language
– and all presented in a package particularly suitable for teachers
My conference notes are littered with ‘IDEA’…the annotation I use to leap off the pages when I get home to remind me of the things I want to try with students, such as:

IdeaTest mindset on website: – test myself and later, students. We are likely to abandon tasks when faced with setbacks if we have a fixed mindset. Have students research people who’ve succeeded after failures.
The necessity of a growth mindset resonated strongly with me. I like also, the notion of a slightly ‘expanded’ idea: that people can have fixed, growth and unrealistic mindsets. I’m currently developing a film study task where students will analyse the mindsets of characters and how these impact on their relationships, decisions and behaviour.

IdeaPositive talk… love that, but how to model it …walk the talk? Positive questions lead to positive action. Turn problem talk to possibility talk…ask a positive question. I am more mindful now of how I respond to student queries, or how I guide them towards understanding a task or concept. I’ve asked students to hand me a sticky note as each leaves the classroom, on which they’ve copied something positive I’ve said, in order to raise my own awareness of my language. It’s interesting that thus far they hear affirmations of their efforts and particular skills, but not so much the questions/prompts that suggest strategies for aspects of a task they may not yet understand. We’ve a way to go!!

IdeaYEEESSSSS! Gratitude letters – ‘Write a gratitude letter to someone who has been of particular help or influence during your project.(mentor, relative, author, expert, coach etc)’. I have returned from Geelong with a deeper understanding of the power of the character strength, gratitude, which is an essential element of PERMA – allowing us to connect with people in meaningful ways: building relationships, connecting with community and valuing others. I have now included a gratitude letter in the third task for a Year 10 subject we call the Personal Project, which is completed off-site with the help of family, community members and teacher mentors. The letter also fits snugly into the communication focus of the subject. I came home with many other ideas for fostering gratitude… but don’t want to divulge too much to the next group going to Geelong!

A particularly pleasing outcome was the meeting on the last evening of the conference, of some 25 people from our area: district office, primary and secondary schools, all with similar goals – to establish a network of interested people to develop a scope and sequence for fostering wellbeing in our schools, to share resources and to drive the dream forward.

Like I said … WOW!


Ros noting her ideas!
Ros noting her ideas!


by Amanda
Maths Teacher

The four days that we spent in Geelong were undoubtedly the most valuable professional development I have experienced. And for me some of the most valuable moments in those four days came out of the conversations that I had with the teachers we met. For example, on the second morning I went out for a run at 6am with some of the other teachers there, including a teacher from Geelong. He made the comment that from his experience of the implementation of Positive Psychology at Geelong Grammar, he felt that training groups of teachers together and also forging connections with our feeder primary schools was an extremely valuable step in our journey. In his opinion, the relationships that we were building, and the common language that we were forming would make a far greater difference to our school, our students and our community than any strategies or interventions made without that behind them. That was a real ‘light bulb moment’ for me. Although I was taken by the idea of positive psychology when I attended the first lecture by Professor Martin Seligman early last year, and have been keen to take up every opportunity to develop my understanding in the area since then, it has been with the catch cry ‘give me strategies to implement this in my classroom’. In looking for the ways this applies to my Maths and Science classes I have been entirely focused on strategies. My four days in Geelong changed this for me. To effectively implement this in our school we as teachers need to live it. Its most powerful use is in our daily interactions and conversations with our students, and with each other. Worksheets and classroom activities will only be effective with the force of our example and those hundreds of little conversations behind them, giving them conviction.
Since coming back from Geelong my focus has been on teaching my Maths classes the power of self-talk, and how a growth mindset can help them to value challenges. How many of us have said ‘I can’t do Maths’, or ‘I can’t spell’, or ‘I’m no good at sports’? Neuroscience tells us that you’re wrong. Your only limit is the one you set for yourself. Change your self-talk; ‘I can’t understand quadratics….YET’. And to everyone out there talking to the young people in your life, let’s stop spreading the smart/stupid myth. We praise people for being ‘really smart’ when they succeed, but what does that really mean? Commend them for the effort they put in, and encourage them to continue to challenge themselves, and then maybe we’ll get to see just how awesome they can be.
Amanda & Marianne
Amanda and a Colleague at the Geelong Grammar Training


From Jenni Cook, Assistant Principal

Starting Points flier Much has happened since the last blog entry. David Garrett, Deputy Principal and Blogger in Chief, has moved on to pastures closer to home, and I have donned the Positive Psychology mantle at Mount Barker High School.

On June 7th we took a bold step in our positive psychology journey and held a statewide conference called Starting Points.

The name reflected where we are – at the start of our journey into positive psychology. We wanted to share our learning so far and provide our staff and the broader community with the opportunity to learn from a range of well-respected presenters.

The conference was held at the school. Several students gave up their day off to welcome and direct visitors and our canteen did a brilliant job catering for the event.

We were amazed by the response to the conference. It was attended by over 230 teachers, youth service agency and health workers, and interested parties from our local community and as far afield as Whyalla and Mount Gambier. Clearly positive psychology is resonating with the community, not only of Mount Barker, but across the state!

The day was arranged under four strands, which we believe have been important to our journey–
1. Leadership
2. Measurement
3. Professional Practice
4. Partnerships

In future blogs I will discuss some of the learning from the day!


Further stones were cast in our own dam by a trip to Geelong Grammar School to undertake a four day residential training program in Positive Education. Ten staff from Mount Barker High School, five from Littlehampton Primary School, four from Mount Barker Primary School, two each from Macclesfield and Echunga Primary Schools and three from our Regional Office attended and were all inspired! The ripples created will continue to be felt for some time to come. It was a privilege to work with people who have been embedding positive education into their practice for several years and be able to ‘pick their brains’.
More staff from the region will be trained in September.

Once again the learning from the training will be the topic of future blogs!

Heysen cluster teachers and Hills Regional Office staff at Geelong Grammar School.

Heysen cluster teachers and Hills Regional Office staff at Geelong Grammar School.

Before I Die

Bloggees (Is that a word?) might remember reading an earlier contribution to the blog by Robyn, an English teacher in our school. She wrote about using art and poetry to help her students develop a greater sense of optimism. She’s back with another piece about work she did with her class as an end of year activity.

One of the things I like about teaching English is that you can take your students on a bit of a sideways leap and, provided it involves speaking, listening, reading or writing, no one asks any questions. The beauty of this is that once you have a class ‘on side’ they’ll accept all sorts of wacky ideas and go with the flow. Positive Psychology has helped me see the value in giving students opportunities to think about their place in the world and to make some conscious decisions about what they can do to make it a place they want to be. Sometimes, we’re so busy asking students to analyse Novel A’s stylistic features, author B’s language techniques and Character C’s internal motivation, that we forget to ask students about themselves. And I look at some of them with their desperate insecurities, pathetic bravado and paper-thin self-esteem, then multiply that tenfold, to factor in the crippling effect of social media… and reflect on how pleased I am not to be fourteen.

A brief item on the radio one morning prompted me to research an American artist named Candy Chung whose close friend had died, far too young and far too suddenly. Haunted by thoughts of all the great things in life her friend would miss out on, Chung dealt with her grief by deciding to challenge people about their priorities in life. Bizarrely, she chose to paint the entire wall of a derelict building in her neighbourhood, covering it in blackboard paint, stenciling on the words, ‘Before I die I want to…’ and leaving a container of chalk. Expecting it to be ignored or painted over, Chung was amazed two days later to find ‘her’ wall covered in people’s responses. Her idea has taken off and there are now many ‘Before I die’ walls around the world… even a ‘Before I die’ telegraph pole in Unley apparently. Not surprisingly, there is also ‘Before I die’ website.

Before I Die

It was just the kind of thing I like to do with students occasionally, and decided it might be an entertaining last-week-of-term activity with my Year 8s and 9s before school finished last year. However, I knew at least two students in these classes had been dealing with the sudden, shocking death of a close family member and so I initially hesitated, thinking that ‘Before I die’ might be too confronting. But sometimes you need to take a risk, and having taught these students all year, I felt I knew them pretty well and it was a risk worth taking. So we had a look at some of the ‘Before I die’ sites, had a bit of fun yelling out some of the strange things people had written, wrote down a few of our own, then shared the ones we were prepared to share.

One of the really interesting things was the diversity of wishes – some very silly, some deadly serious, and plenty somewhere in between. And some of the most unlikely students came up with the most imaginative ideas. In just forty minutes, we all learned a whole lot about each other that we hadn’t known before. More importantly, amidst the laughter and silliness, everyone realised that there were many, many things they wanted to do before they died, and we ended the lesson deciding that there’s no time like the present…

Before I die…
…I want to eat my own weight in potato chips. (Victoria)
…I want to learn more about my family’s history. (Nathan)
…I want to save a life. (Adele)
…I want to learn to be a blacksmith. (Rianne)
…I want to perform in a world famous ballet. (Catherine)
…I want to walk gracefully in heels. (Jamie)
…I want to register as an organ donor. (Leah)
…I want to skinny dip with dolphins. (Lachie)
…I want to see me how everyone else sees me. (Alex)
…I want to live life, laugh lots and love forever. (Louise)
…I want to wrestle a crocodile, then eat it. (Billy)
…I want to feel pretty. (Courtney)
…I want to meet Kofi Annan. (Matt)
…I want to kiss a random person in a Lolly Shop, whilst wearing a pirate costume. (Bri)
…I want to write a best-selling novel. (André Gerard)
…I want to meet someone with the exact same name as me. (Chloe)
…I want to audition for ‘The X-Factor’. (Ashley)
…I want to live an extraordinary life. (Rachel)

And finally, Joseph (who is going to be very busy indeed!) …I want to fight a lion, swim in honey, meet the Jamaican relay team, ski naked, moto-cross wearing a tu-tu, find a cure for cancer and live in a cave with penguins.

Robyn, English teacher