CONTINUING THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY PROGRAMME AT SAMUEL MARSDEN COLLEGIATE SCHOOL

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1 HISST SCHOLARSHIP 2011 CONTINUING THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY PROGRAMME AT SAMUEL MARSDEN COLLEGIATE SCHOOL JENNY WILLIAMS PRINCIPAL SAMUEL MARSDEN COLLEGIATE SCHOOL

2 PROPOSAL I was interested in continuing the research started by Celia McCarthy, Director of Marsden Primary, in Her research supported the successful implementation, adaptation and natural evolution of a new positive psychology course at Marsden (called PPP - Positive, Purposeful People). Positive Psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on cultivating positive emotion, positive character traits and positive institutions. As one of the three co-writers and teachers of the programme I completed an on-line summer course from the University of Pennsylvania during 2010 to increase my knowledge base (as there is no training available in New Zealand.) My wish was to attend the International Positive Psychology Conference in Philadelphia in July 2011 to enable me to hear from and meet professionals in the field. CONFERENCE SUMMARY Over 1200 participants from more than 60 countries attended the Second World Congress of Positive Psychology in Philadelphia over four days in July There were 15 lecturers, 27 workshops and 26 symposia as well as pre and post workshops. The Congress enabled a combination of scientific research and practical application to be discussed. The conference opened with three of the gurus of Positive Psychology presenting regarding the current status of the science, and looking towards the future. 1. Wellbeing giving meaning and goal directedness, (Ed Diener) 2. Looking for new interventions and cooperation (Chris Peterson) 3. PERMA the new theory of wellbeing (Martin Seligman)

3 HIGHLIGHTS Barbara Fredrickson - Wrote the book Positivity and she spoke about how increasing positive emotions creates an upward spiral. This not only leads to future positive emotions but also leads to more open, creative, and flexible thinking processes, enhanced psychological strengths (like being more resilient, accepting, and more driven by purpose), better social connections, and even better physical health. She also spoke about her current research on love. Richard Davidson A neuroscientist who studies meditation and the effect on the brain. He has worked with the Dalai Lama and Tibetan monks to study the change happening in the brain during meditation. He has found that meditation actually changes the structure of the brain. His current research is linking compassion to meditation. His view is that compassion, kindness and mindfulness are best viewed as products of trainable skills mental training to enhance these skills changes the brain. Jane McGonigal Is a designer of alternate reality games. She talked about the positive aspects of online gaming, namely resilience development. People spend a lot of time failing on line but they keep going. She says that gaming unleashes our ability to be more successful, creative etc. She states that the opposite of play is not work it is depression. The positive impact of gaming will be lost if played for more than 20 hours per week. Jane developed a game called superbetter when getting better from a brain trauma. It was being trialed last year at the conference. (She has now launched the app superbetter.) See her also on TED Talks What s happening at other schools Australia several programmes developed to promote positive psychology and have been used by schools. eg: Kids Connexions, you can do it, mind matters Geelong Grammar - $16 million dollar centre, Martin Seligman lived in residence for 6 months now have an explicit programme taught to students in years 8-11, all staff trained and a director of the programme. Working closely with Monash University to assess what they are doing. St Peters in Adelaide are just starting the same concept in association with Martin Seligman.

4 England Celebrating Strengths is a methodology developed in collaboration with students and teachers in North Lincolnshire. A book has been published and programmes now run in primary schools USA several programmes running based around Seligman s work.. APPLICATION TO MARSDEN The overwhelming message I received from the conference is that the Marsden programme is robust and focusing on the right areas. It was obvious that programmes must be developed for individual schools, rather than just taking up someone else s, as they should be tailored specifically to the needs of the community. It was reassuring to realise that a large investment of money is not required to make a programme successful. Success does seem to be dependent on the acceptance and support of the senior management in an institution. At Marsden this happened accidentally as the two other staff involved with me in the course development are also members of the senior management team. I was able to source new resources and ideas eg: Personal wellbeing lessons, Even Happier etc. As the field is still an emerging one there are new resources being developed all the time. Links to websites and blogs have been helpful. The concept of using experts to supplement teaching was reinforced. This can be difficult in countries that are a little isolated but it is about looking for possibilities and piggybacking off other events. Recently we were able to work with British expert Jenny Fox Eades for a day as she was travelling to NZ for another meeting. (We started our positive psychology journey by using Queenstown resident and PhD student Denise Quinlan to present to the whole staff in 2009.) For long term survival of a programme, the whole staff needs to be supportive and involved. This is reinforced with the approach taken by Geelong Grammar and St Peters who provided resourcing to train all staff over several days. At Marsden, after the initial whole staff introduction, we present to staff occasionally throughout to the year so that they are aware of what is being covered in PPP classes. In hindsight I would increase the work with staff in

5 the initial phase to ensure that concepts and language become more a part of everyday speech. There can be a danger that people see the course as a touchy feely unimportant part of the timetable. NEXT STEPS 2012 sees the completion of the first three year cycle of the PPP course. This means that the first girls will be graduating who have studied the concepts for three years. Girls will be asked to complete a survey so that we can start collecting long term data regarding the efficacy of the course. PPP will continue to evolve for the senior students as we seek to make improvements. In addition we want to develop a mini course for teachers to integrate into year 7-9. Another priority is to identify links with what we already do in the primary school so that the language of positive psychology becomes common usage throughout the school preschool to year 13. Another area of focus is to continue to educate and include all staff in the programme. I am also passionate about sharing our work with other schools so that they too can help their students for the future. I believe it is essential that we equip students with as many experiences and tools as possible to allow them the greatest opportunity for success in the future. The positive psychology programme at Marsden is pivotal in meeting this goal. This scholarship has allowed the further development and improvement of the programme and I am very thankful to ISNZ for the opportunity.

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