Steps to Flourishing

by Jenni Cook
Assistant Principal
Positive Education

mbhs0397Over the past year we have been working hard to evaluate and improve our Positive Education program. Whilst doing this we have also been grappling with how to provide training for new teachers and the community.
Our first step to address this was to introduce evening community workshops. These workshops are designed to provide a basic introduction to what Positive Education is, the research behind it and some simple skills that can be used at home.
Our second step was to plan a one day staff induction, which we ran for staff new to the Heysen Partnership in January this year. Forty teachers and support staff from across the Partnership schools attended and provided us with encouraging feedback.
Our final, big leap, was into the field of teacher training. Winning a DECD Specialist School grant as a Positive Education Teacher Training School, and funding through Schools Plus, we set about writing a four day teacher training program which we piloted two weeks ago. The feedback was extremely positive so at the end of November we will be holding our first Four Day Teacher Training “Steps to Flourishing“. Following Martin Seligman’s advice to Learn it, Live it, Teach it! the first three days are about learning it, focusing on what Positive Education is about, the research behind it and how to put it into practice. The fourth day is all about practical ways the research can be enacted in a school setting.

We are really excited about this opportunity to share Positive Education with others and watch the ripples grow!


Positive Education 2015

by Jenni Cook
Assistant Principal
Positive Education

This year marks a new and ambitious stage in our Positive Education Journey!
During the second half of last year a dedicated group of teachers worked hard to develop a Positive Education program of one 50 minute lesson a week for every year level in the school.
The year 8 team had release time in 2013 to develop their program and trialled it in 2014. Work for years 9 – 10 began in July, when the Geelong Grammar team were at the school delivering their Positive Education training. Staff who had completed the training in 2013 workshopped to create the beginnings of a whole school Positive Education Program.
A small team continued to develop the program during the remainder of 2014, with the work being picked up and completed by the 2015 year level teams!
We are beginning the program with an introductory/revisionary lesson for the whole school about the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of Positive Education at Mount Barker High School.
Using a broad range of research based activities, reflections and resources we have tracked the progression of lessons from years 8 – 12 to ensure that each year level flows on from the previous one and builds on what has been covered before! Naturally this is very much a work in progress and will continue to be developed, monitored, evaluated and re-developed.
It has been really exciting to see the energy and enthusiasm staff members gave, and continue to give this program. I was blown away by the way the new year level teams picked up what had been done in 2014 and organised themselves to continue with the work for 2015! What a great team of people to work with!
I look forward to sharing the program with our students and getting them involved in further improvements!

PERMA for Staff

by Jenni Cook
Assistant Principal
Positive Education

Once a term teachers from the Heysen Partnership schools meet to share how they are embedding positive education into their practice. This sharing allows us to learn from each other, to have an overview of what is happening throughout the partnership, and to keep the momentum going.

The theme for this term’s meeting was PERMA for staff, as we cannot teach Positive Education if we do not look after ourselves and practice it in our own lives. Martin Seligman said “Learn it, Live it, Teach it, Embed it”. Positive Education is not about activities in classrooms, it is about how we do things and how we build relationships. Before we teach it we need to embrace it and model it.

Lots of ideas were shared. Strangely food seemed to feature in many of them! Shared morning teas, birthday cakes, shared lunches…
Amongst other things were ‘What, went well’ (also known as ‘panning for gold’, ‘counting your blessings’, ‘hunting the good stuff’…) at the start of each meeting, and on boards around the school, giving gratitude – through cards, certificates, acknowledgement at meetings, and sharing social events.
Walking together, practicing mindfulness, participating in a Chi Kung class at 8am and having a ‘bell of success’ in the staff room were other practices.

Through the many ideas came a sense of care, support and appreciation of each other. It was a great meeting and we all went away with lots of ideas.

Last week was Book Week – what has that to do with PERMA for staff? On Friday at Mount Barker High School we saw a great example of staff doing something together that not only built their PERMA but also that of the students.

Our students were having a casual day to raise money for charity so the staff decided to finish Book Week by coming dressed as their favourite literary character – but we didn’t tell the students!

Virtually every staff member was dressed up – our front office was manned by fairies, our library run by a witch, Hermione Granger had charge of the special unit, which was strangely staffed by a fairy, a tiger and a camel! English was taught by one of MacBeth’s witches and Stanley from Holes. Maths was taught by a dragon and a pirate and science by James Bond, the Cat in the Hat and the Mad Hatter!

One of the great things about the day was seeing the students’ faces as they noticed first one teacher and then another and then another… They were soon busy trying to see what the next teacher was dressed like and guess who we were!

My favourite reaction was my year 9 Art class. I was in a meeting and so they started the lesson with another teacher – dressed as Bruno from the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, in striped pyjamas and white hat. I then arrived dressed as Paddington Bear, complete with bear suit, blue duffle coat, red hat, Wellington boots and carrying a brown suitcase. They did not blink, they did not ask a question, they did not even take a second glance. They went on with their work as if this was normal practice. I think they were so stunned they decided it was safest to act as if nothing was different!

At recess time we had a student take photos of the whole staff on the stairs and of course many students also took photos.


On Friday night our SRC held a quiz night to raise money for the 40 Hour Famine. Whilst preparing for it they discussed the day and some of the comments they made were reported back to the staff by the teacher who runs the SRC.

“They were extremely appreciative of the effort that the teachers made in dressing up for book week. To quote them; ‘I was never more proud of my school than at that moment’, ‘That’s what I love about the teachers at this school. Their commitment is great- the way that they all got dressed up’. Those were the two comments that stuck in my mind, but they spent a lot of time talking about it. Students in my classes all day were talking about it as well, as I’m sure they were in everyone’s, but I wanted to share those comments with everyone to make sure that you all know how much the students appreciated your efforts.”

It was a great day and had the result of raising the positive emotion, engagement and relationships for all involved – both staff and students!

Check out more photos on our facebook page!

Neuroscience and Education

Jenni Cook
Assistant Principal

On the first day back at school this term staff enjoyed a presentation from Neuroscientist, Professor Billy O’Connor, a passionate researcher into neuroscience and education.

Billy is the head of Teaching and Research in Physiology at the University of Limerick Graduate Entry Medical School, and was on sabbatical at Flinders University. We were fortunate enough to have him visit us on his last day in Australia.

Billy talked about recent research into the neuroplasticity of the brain and how it is possible to rewire the pathways of the brain through ‘exercise’, much as we exercise any muscle to build its strength.

Research shows that during adolescence the brain is rewiring itself as children become adults. During this process there can be feelings of loss and grief, uncertainty and confusion and excessive emotions. As we all know, adolescents can sometimes be temperamental!

The last part of the brain to develop is the frontal lobe, the section that is to do with higher order thinking skills, responsible decision making and organisation. This can take into the twenties to be fully developed! Something we need to remember when we expect adolescents to be organised and act responsibly.

During the presentation Billy gave us a range of strategies for Optimal Learning. He talked about the importance to learning of taking time to be Mindful, and the power of mindfulness to cope with stress. By giving our brains a chance to rest and focus on the moment we strengthen the frontal lobe and help it to develop. This is important for adolescents, but also for adults and children.

In an experiment in 2012 fifty college students were asked to practice relaxation each day for two months prior to a Maths exam. Twenty-five were asked to practice mindfulness for 12 minutes each day, the other twenty-five were asked to relax each day and chose things like listening to music or going for a walk. Immediately after the exam they had their cortisol levels checked to test their stress levels. Those who had practiced mindfulness had lower cortisol levels and felt more positive about their performance in the exam. Scans also showed that those who had practiced mindfulness had developed a thicker band of neurons in the frontal lobe of the brain!

At the end of his talk Billy gave us some simple exercises to develop mindfulness.

Billy has a fascinating website, on which he publishes the latest research into the brain. Please check out some of his topics!

Geelong Grammar School Training comes to Mount Barker High!

IMG_1353 Course Leaders and Participants

Staff at Mount Barker High School and the surrounding primary schools began their July holidays with a four day course – Discovering Positive Education, run by Geelong Grammar School’s Institute of Positive Education. They were joined by interested staff from both public and private metropolitan schools.

The course covered topics about Positive Accomplishment and understanding Fixed and Growth Mindsets, Positive Emotions, Character Strengths, building Optimism and Resiliency, Positive Engagement, and Positive Relationships.

In welcoming participants Warren Symonds, Principal of Mount Barker High School, said that it would be one of if not the best professional development experiences of their careers. On the last day of the training many of the participants affirmed this claim.

Charlie Scudamore, Deputy Principal of Geelong Grammar School, began the conference by saying that it was the first time the team had ‘played away from home’, he finished it by saying that he had been wrong – they were at home. The feeling of being at home was very much part of the conference as people shared learning, ideas and meals together.

The course took place over the last day of term and first few days of holidays when teachers are usually running on reserve, making the sustained energy and enthusiasm of participants quite amazing – our science teachers were busy planning new Positive Education modules for their curriculum in their spare time on the last day.

As a result of this training approximately 150 teachers and support staff across the district have undertaken Positive Education training. This means that over 3000 students in our district will benefit from working with school staff trained in delivering Positive Education!
IMG_7123 Learning about the Neuroplasticity of the Brain

by Jenni Cook
Assistant Principal
Positive Education

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