Geelong Grammar School is Australia’s largest co-educational boarding school, It is over 150 years old, and full of tradition. I’d never heard of it until recently.
Its mission statement (as found on its website) is not a million miles away from any of the school mission statements you find here in England:
Geelong Grammar School offers an exceptional Australian education …
Through first class teaching and facilities, exceptional pastoral care and sound Christian values, we inspire our students to flourish, to embrace their learning opportunities and to lead positive, meaningful and engaged lives.
What is different about Geelong, it seems, is found in that word “flourish”. That’s how I stumbled on it, from Martin Seligman’s Flourish. Seligman describes how Dr Trent Barry (an interested teacher) and the head Stephen Meek invited him over to talk to wealthy alumni to persuade them to build a well-being centre. The talk went well, and Rupert Murdoch’s sister Helen Handbury, one of the alumni, is reported to have said “Not another gym; I want well-being for young people.” Next, the two teachers flew over to the US to ask Seligman what he would want for his ideal curriculum. And then they put it into practice.
First, there is the curriculum:
The implicit teaching of Positive Education takes place at each year level, at every campus and across all aspects of School life: academic subjects, pastoral life and the co-curriculum programme. Explicit teaching is delivered in Year 7 and Year 10 through specific Positive
Psychology programmes written by the world’s leading research psychologists and developed in collaboration with experienced classroom teachers.”
The aims of Positive Education are:
- To increase the experience of positive emotions in our students;
- To encourage students to engage their signature strengths for personal and community goals;
- To engage students to live meaningful lives to find purpose and make a difference to our communities at large.
The implicit programme comprises seven over-arching topics that are explored from ELC to Year 12:
The explicit Positive Psychology Programmes taught in Year 7 and Year 10, teach students the following skills – which have been developed through scientific study – to help them to tackle life’ s challenges:
- Thinking and Explanatory Styles
- Thinking Traps
- Detecting Icebergs (Underlying and Surface Beliefs)
- Challenging Beliefs
- Putting It Into Perspective
- Real-time Resilience
Second, there is theHandbury Centre of Wellbeing.
Boasting a premium indoor activity facilities (including indoor courts, a pool, gymnasium and dance studio) the Centre encourages our young people to engage in and enjoy physical activity. It provides students with the opportunity to take control and have a positive impact on their own wellbeing.
The Centre is a special place where students can socialise, exercise, train and seek out information or expert advice. Students and staff are drawn to its friendly environment. Whether it’s swimming laps, talking to a counsellor, lifting weights, socialising with peers in the cafe, finding time to meditate, or getting online to look up information, the Handbury Centre for Wellbeing puts a range of comprehensive resources and trained staff, within easy reach of every student.
Definitely “not another gym”. And definitely inspirational. Similar funds my not always be there (it cost $16 million), but as a model I think it is fantastic on a number of levels. The openness to learn from an outsider like Seligman is a wonderful message for the students on its own. Embedding it in the curriculum, training staff, putting one’s money where ones mouth is, and innovating to meet current needs rather than aiming for ossified 150 year old practices … put it this way. If I ever go to Australia, Geelong will be up there with the Sydney Opera House and Ayer’s Rock for me