And so we were off, to the only second ever International Positive Education Network Conference, with fingers and toes crossed that we would arrive in Fort Worth, Texas, on time and with our luggage (to make a long story short, last trip to Texas for the conference we were severely delayed and they lost our luggage, hey ho). Well, we were delayed, and missed our connecting flight, were repeatedly put on separate new flights, until finally they got the picture and put us on the same flight, but then we arrived in Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, and our bags did not appear! Surely it could not be a perfect repeat of two years ago - but you know, we are positive education specialists, so of course, we had to be positive!! I suggested maybe our bags had come earlier - and what do you know, I was right.... only this meant that at midnight, on a Saturday night, we had to trudge to another terminal to pick up our bags. Crap happens right? But sometimes, when it happens we have moments of connection that lift the spirits and make you grateful for the delays, diversions, and grumpy tiredness (cause I do get grumpy when I'm tired). Finding our suitcases, the lady at the desk asked to see our luggage tickets, I handed them to her and said "it's those two purple ones." With a sudden grin on her face, the lady replied, "say what now?" I repeated, "the two purple ones are ours." The lady said again - grin widening - "say what now?" I started to laugh, she then asked me "can we have a conversation? I just want to hear your accent!" How could I deny her, even in my sleep deprived state; she was surprised that I wasn't English, that I am, in fact Australian and speaking with an Aussie accent. Ahhhhhh those Americans LOL. So after locating our suitcases and having our accents relished by the customer support lady, we made it to our hotel; we truly started our adventure into the #WPEA2018 conference.
Positive Education is really becoming a global movement. A movement that is open-minded, curious and with a shared aim to make education for all (meaning from baby to elderly). It isn't just about academic knowledge, but about self knowledge, social action, and wellbeing, irregardless of demographics, cultures, and socio-economics. To be around like-minded people who have come from as far afield as the Australia, Dubai, and India, the US, Canada, and Europe, the intensity of the learning, the networking, the building of new and existing relationships, is like being in a pressure cooker full of different, exotic, ingredients, with the final result to be a perfectly seasoned dish of happiness, contentment, and flourishing for all. It was exciting.
This conference was to be very different to the previous and first IPEN conference two years ago. We were to have one full proper day of typical conference doings (i.e., talks, workshops, and keynotes), and then three days of a process called appreciative inquiry. Appreciative Inquiry (or AI for short) is a process that looks at the strengths of an organisation and looks at how we can use those strengths to build and grow in a positive way. As a process to build on the strengths of an organisation, it is starting to emerge as a brilliant way to assess, goal set, and move forward in schools.... but more on that a little later.
Here are my themed thoughts on #WPEA2018 -
1. Time for major, purpose driven change in education: it was acknowledged time and time again that what employers need from future employees is not how to conjugate a verb or solve a physics problem (unless, of course, your job depends on you being able to do these things), but what is needed is critical thinking and creative problem solving skills, the ability to cultivate and maintain positive, productive relationships, the ability to be a leader and a team-player, people utilising their strengths to achieve their potential. That is not to say that academic learning should be disregarded, but it should be developed in tandem with life skills that enable all (regardless of interests and abilities) to flourish. On the flip side, we also have to acknowledge that educations main aim should not be about making a young person employable. That makes education very utilitarian, feeding into the "factory farm" feel education currently has. Education should be a life long pursuit born our of a curious and engaged mind (see more at #3).
2. School Culture is key: a new buzz word at the conference was "ecology." The ecology of a school is considered every part, looking at the bigger picture of what makes up a school, and acknowledging how their is an interconnectedness between all of the parts. If one part of the school ecology is not well then this has a negative impact on the other parts. If a school has teachers who are stressed then the students won't learn well and may not have good relationships with the teachers, AND the teachers won't have good relationships between each other. If students are suffering from anxiety and extreme pressure, as a group, relationships will fail, self esteem and self belief will disappear, and academic results will fall, impacting on the reputation of the school, and also how the teachers and school staff feel about themselves and as a group and there would, undoubtedly, be a negative impact at home. With a focus on changing school culture to embody wellbeing, character, and academics, we can impact the potential of all in the school community to thrive and flourish.
3. Education is lifelong: as I mentioned above, education should be a life long pursuit, and to encourage children to grow with a curious and enquiring mind, we need to change how we view the development of and dissemination of knowledge. There were many opinions at the conference, ranging from starting with positive education classes for potential parents, through to engaging learning with elderly people, perhaps through connections with younger people. Also the way that students learn was considered, with the main concept being, to move away from the feed information to and test information out approach, so project-based and student led learning. What #WPEA is show me was that there is a growing momentum for extreme change in education and that this momentum is not only NOT slowing down, but is in fact growing quickly across the globe.
4. AI can create magic: For three days of the conference we did the AI process, opening up the discussions to what we going well in positive education, how our individual strengths could contribute to what was going well and what could go well, and ultimately dreaming big - imagining the biggest, brightest future for education globally. I worked with the "Youth-led Initiative" group, which did include some young people. We let the young people lead the group and allowed them to dream their biggest dream for bringing Positive Education to young people all over the globe. We supported and encouraged, and watched the blossom, both in terms of their strengths and leadership skills. (My colleague, Frederika Roberts, is a qualified AI practitioner... you know, if you're interested in running the process in your school *wink *wink). Ultimately, the AI process inspired and motivated the 900+ group of global educators, and is now leading to actionable change on a global scale - how amazing is that.
Do you want to know more about #WPEA and IPEN? Check out the IPEN website here - International Positive Education Network. If you would like to know more about how my colleague and I can help you with bringing positive and character education into your school, or even to run the AI process in your school community, then check out our website here - Resilience Wellbeing Success.