Introducing Positive Education. Dr Paula Robinson

my familyIntroducing Positive Education

Dr Paula Robinson


A groundbreaking study by the University of Western Australia encompassing over

6000 families has suggested mental illness is on the increase in our youth. Whilst

schools do their part in trying to diagnose and assist in treatment of mental disorders

in children, they are often under resourced and lack targeted training and development

opportunities. It would seem that based on the above study and indeed the latest

statistics from the World Health Organisation, we are currently losing the battle

against mental illness, particularly in our adolescents. Treatment alone is not enough;

there is a clear and urgent need to attack mental illness not only from a reactive lens

but also a need to establish evidence based initiatives that work in conjunction with

treatment to provide proactive, preventative interventions to enhance positive mental

health and wellbeing. Research suggests that wellbeing is well worth improving for

it’s own sake as well as the goal of preventing a mental illness. For example, higher

levels of wellbeing in our teaching staff and students can provide positive and

measureable outcomes, for example, higher GPA, better academic engagement,

social/emotional skills and pro-social behaviours. Evidence-based wellbeing

interventions can also equip our educators and students with valuable life skills thus

providing a ‘buffering’ effect against some mental illnesses and resiliency when faced

with negative events. As a consequence, wellbeing is a crucial resource for everyday

life and a valuable asset within the school environment. Currently wellbeing initiatives in

schools are often referred to as Positive Education Programs and frequently fall under the

banner of ‘pastoral care’. The United Nations has set out recommendations for

developing Positive Education in their seminal paper on Education for Sustainable

Development. However, as Howard Gardner suggests in Five Minds for the Future,

the educational sector can be conservative and change is often slow, therefore,

designing, Iimplementing and sustaining any new initiatives is a challenge but in

particular, difficult for educational institutions as they are often time poor. Many

schools already have in place effective initiatives that would fall under the banner of a

‘wellbeing’ initiative but often they don’t have a strategic, measured approach that is

well designed, research based, cohesive and delivered via a multifaceted blended

learning approach.

The important point to note is that integrating regular and targeted evidence-based

wellbeing activities and practices into all aspects of school life doesn’t have to be difficult

These can be readily learned and developed by staff, parents, students and the wider

school community but must be applied thoughtfully, creatively and customized to suit

each school’s unique environment to ensure authenticity, meaning and engagement by

all stakeholders.

Where to start? It is commonly known around the world that Australia is leading the

way in best practice Positive Education Programs. There are a number of excellent

programs being implemented in Australia today; for example, Knox Grammar School

in Sydney is one rare example of a strategically designed, long-term program. Knox

have adopted a total fitness approach to wellbeing that include sub-components of

academic, social, physical and spiritual fitness underpinned by the concept and

framework of mental fitness developed at the University of Wollongong by myself

and colleagues, Associate Professors Lindsay Oades and Peter Caputi. The Knox

program utilises the language of ‘fitness’ to eleviate disinterest and stigma around

mental health and ‘psychobabble’. The program is based on current research and is

being scientifically evaluated longitudinally across multiple indices for staff, students

and parents. Pre and post intervention results spanning four years are encouraging but

emphasise the need for a long-term program as wellbeing takes time to develop.

Policymakers are also starting to meet the challenge. For example, the NSW

Department of Education and Communities has a Wellbeing Framework for NSW

public schools that states “all schools are required to have a planned approach to

wellbeing in place that incorporates the elements of the Wellbeing Framework”.

It is abundantly clear that wellbeing and the associated benefits cannot be ignored,

however, it is crucial that schools, educators, students and parents receive the support

and resources they need to meet the challenge. A little bit of knowledge can be

dangerous and there is always the temptation to adopt ‘self help’ initiatives with little

or no research support. Planning and implementing best practice requires prudence,

broad based knowledge and assistance from multiple stakeholders e.g., local Councils,

government, experts in the field, members of the local community and committed

school leaders and staff. Is it worth the effort? That’s for each of our schools to


Paula Robinson, PhD

Click below to see information and registration  details for the Knox Grammar WA one day course for a certificate in positive education, being held on Oct 30th 2015

Certificate WA – 30 October Flyer[1]




Gardner, H. (2006). Five minds for the future. Boston: Harvard Business School


Knox Grammar Total Fitness.


NSW Department of Education and Communities | The Wellbeing Framework for


Robinson, P. L., Oades, L. G., & Caputi, P. (2014). Conceptualising and measuring

mental fitness: A Delphi study. International Journal of Wellbeing, 5(1), 53-


Robinson, P.L., Oades, L.G., & Caputi, P. (2014). Conceptualising and measuring

mental fitness. Ph.D thesis. University of Wollongong, Australia.

UNESCO. (2005). Guidelines and recommendations for reorienting teacher

education to address sustainability. Education for sustainable development in

action. Technical paper No. 2.

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