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Positive education and resilience learning

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Personal and Social Education: Resilience learningIt’s 9.55am on a Wednesday morning in tutor group 11ABa, and the class looks on in silence as the group’s student wellbeing coach (a fellow member of the class) carefully and slowly inserts a skewer through both ends of an inflated balloon … without bursting it! Once completed, this ‘party trick’ amuses the group; the last balloon popped loudly as the same skewer was jabbed into it rather carelessly and without thought. A fun activity to kick-start tutor group, but all is not exactly what it might seem. The coach goes on to use the activity as an analogy to help the group discuss how different approaches to sensitive issues can have markedly different outcomes. It is a lead to this week’s personal and social education (PSE) focus on interpersonal relationships and the importance of emotional intelligence (EQ), considered by many to be more closely correlated to success and happiness than IQ.

The same scene is being repeated in other Grade 11 tutor groups and, though the discussions will certainly vary, the hope of this dedicated band of volunteer peer supporters, trained in the theory of positive psychology and the techniques of resilience learning by their Heads of Grade and tutors, is that their peers will take away from each week’s session some tools which will help them build resilience.

But how did this resilience programme start?

The High School PSE team have always endeavoured to engage students in learning about the value of positivity, life balance and the executive skills such as self-motivation, time management and determination (G.R.I.T.). Then in 2011/2012, wider reading around the ideas on authentic happiness championed by Martin Seligman (Flourish, 2011) helped us link many of these important ideas together through a positive psychology approach to developing resilience.

Resilience is the ability not only to respond to adversity but also to build mindsets and skills that allow all individuals to flourish and fulfil their true potential. It is based on building (character) strengths rather than simply correcting weaknesses and identifies five focus areas to build on to achieve this. These are known as PERMA;

  • Positive emotions
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishment

Seligman argues, convincingly, that spending time recognising and developing strengths in these areas will lead to enduring well being and self-actualisation.

In June 2013, with generous support from both the UWCSEA Foundation and the Dover Campus Parents’ Association, renowned international psychologist and resilience trainer Fred Toke spent three days on Dover Campus training a group of Heads of Grade and the College counsellors from both Middle and High School in the techniques of resilience training. This ‘train the trainer’ scheme has allowed us to begin to cascade this knowledge and skills to the wider PSE team and to embark this year on the development of a coherent Resilience Programme in High School, a programme largely built on the ideas of prominent authors, Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte.

And next week in tutor group? … the balloons make way for a role play on sticking together through adversity—a useful focus in preparation for Project Week!

Further reading

The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte PhD.

Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Martin E. P. Seligman

Gary Seston
Vice Principal Pastoral (Senior School)
Dover Campus

posted date: 
Monday, December 9, 2013 - 16:30