In September 2016 Positive Education became a whole school feature at Manor School Sports College, Northamptonshire. In the previous year I had trialled teaching Positive Education to year 7 and 8 students only and it proved to be very successful. Based on the evidence based ‘EPOCH’ (engagement, perseverance, optimism, connectedness and happiness – Margret Kern) wellbeing test that students took, around 86% of students showed an increase in their wellbeing. We were awarded the Youth Sport Trust ‘Outstanding School PE’ award and the programme also helped us achieve Northamptonshire School of the County. In addition I got to speak about the work I did at the House of Lords as part of a PE2020 talk with Youth Sport Trust.
This year all students are benefiting from these wellbeing lessons and one term in things have gone really well. Wellbeing is clearly a very current topic. This week Theresa May spoke about more support being given for mental health and raised the issue of exam pressure on students. It clearly seems that the pressure cooker of exam stress is getting to many of our students. When I look on social media there is often talk from educators explaining how we need to do more in schools, in particular letting students talk about their feelings. What I rarely see though is educators talking about getting students to understand their brains, which to me is an obvious way of improving student wellbeing.
The human brain is complicated… that is an understatement! It has taken millions of years to get to its current form. Small changes here and there over a long period of time. Our brain is designed to allow us to survive in the wild and unfortunately it has not yet caught up with this modern world. It is an incredible machine, the most amazing on our planet, yet we don’t teach our students enough about it. I take a more evolutionary and neuroscientific approach to wellbeing and genuienly believe if we can teach students about the complexity of their brain then their wellbeing can be increased.
Therefore basic neuroscience forms the basis of my Positive Education programme and I have worked closely with Professor Steve Peters (Chimp Paradox) and his team at Chimp Management to develop this. However there is more to it than that and I come at wellbeing from a multiple of perspectives. What I wanted to do in this blog was just quickly outline how I go about delivering Wellbeing whole school. From it I hope that a few teachers will contact me and I we can share and collaborate ideas.
The programme looks like this (see picture below) and in total is taught by 13 teachers whole school in weekly 1-hour lessons:
EPOCH Test – All students will take wellbeing tests (EPOCH tests/ Margret Kern) in September, January, April and July, to allow them to track their own wellbeing and set themselves targets. We talk a lot about data in schools but we clearly need to focus more on wellbeing data. What is a students strengths, weaknesses and how can we improve those weaknesses.
Mindfulness – At the start of all lessons students take part in a 1-3 minute mindfulness session. Here the aim for students is on being able to realign their focus. Check out Mark Williams Mindfulness programme, track 8 from his CD is the one we mainly use. We also use diaphragmatic breathing with students. It allows students a moment of stillness. We get students to scrunch their feet during this when they loose focus. They then use this in their other lessons when they loose focus to realign it.
Neuro-Me – As mentioned for the second year running we have teamed up with Steve Peters and his team at Chimp Management and designed a 6-lesson neuroscience programme called ‘Neuro-Me’. It is based around work from his book but also work from my own research (read John Medinas ‘Brain Rules’!). Huge thanks to Sabrina Francis on helping me develop this programme, a real asset to Steve’s team! Students have really enjoyed talking about different human drives and how it motivates their behaviour. For example the ‘troop drive’ is very strong in many of our students and many open up to behaving in a certain way to fit into a certain group. In general I find human drives fascinating and urge all teachers to read about it in Steve’s book. Its also great as many teachers can now ask a student ‘how is your chimp today?’ in reference to silly behaviour – it seems to get student thinking about how they behave!
After the completion of the Neuro-Me programme students then work on specific wellbeing programmes but throughout this link the work to their brain (November – July):
Year 7 – The Characteristics and Virtues programme which is developed by the Jubilee Centre at the University of Birmingham. They have an array of resources and are at the forefront of teaching wellbeing. So far students have loved the work on ‘The Good Life’ in particular – if you were 80 years old and looking back on life what would constitute the ‘good life’ to you? Try answering that with your tutor group one morning, creates great discussion.
Year 8 – A Positive Psychology programme based mainly on the work of Martin Seligman and Ilona Boniwell. This work centres around the field of positive psychology. So far students have really enjoyed 24-Character strengths and the ABC cognitive psychology model. Negativity bias also really got them thinking. If you want a good read check out ‘Learned Optimism’ by Martin Seligman.
Year 9 – The ‘Olympic Mindset’ Programme; something I have developed based on using key sport psychology theories (e.g, NACH v NAF) and teaching them to students. This was inspired after watching the Olympics this year. After February half-term students the go back into the positive psychology work.
Year 10/11 – Follow an edited version of the year 7 programme (this will change over time).
This is all part of our core lessons, so normal lesson time. We also get to work with year 7 and 8 students at lunch time which we call ‘Seminar Sessions‘. In this students take part in our Manor Chats. These are basically mini TED talks in which students present to small groups on a topic of their choice then to the whole year group (great for developing confidence). Students also work with our Leadership Academy in the summer and take part in a range of sports.
My Personal Best (practical PE) – All the work we do in positive education is linked to our work in PE. Students in key stage 3 follow the ‘My Personal Best’ programme, developed by Youth Sport Trust. This is a series of values which students use as learning objectives at the start of each lesson. We may focus on the value of ‘resilience’ but through the smash in badminton. We then bring the students in at the end and discuss how we might use resilience in life.
This is my approach and I am lucky to have a great head teacher who really backs the work I do. When I first said I was going to teach students about their inner chimp I got a few funny comments and looks! Now positive education in particular chimp management is key to the success of the school.
If you want to collaborate then please get in touch. I am keen to hear from others who teach positive education around the world and hear their own approach on it.
Thanks for reading!
Graham Mallen @PEandME