Stephen Meek: Spreading Positivity Through Education

“Happiness, confidence, self-love, connections, hope, and health” These were the traits that audience members, who gathered in Kemper Auditorium last Thursday, considered to be most important for childhood development. Contrary to their expectations, however, the audience admitted how most school curriculums were centered around teaching students “survival.”

Half-way around the globe in the bushes of Victoria, South-Eastern Australia, Geelong Grammar School, an independent boarding and day school, has embraced the idea of “positive education,” which, according to the school’s website, is an education method that promotes growth and learning through positive reinforcement.

The current principal Stephen Meek, who has assumed role in 2004 after a career working in schools at England, shared his experience pioneering Positive Education last Thursday at Kemper Auditorium, highlighting how the curriculum’s focus on a person’s well-being allow students to flourish.

Meek said in an interview with The Phillipian, “Positive education and positive psychology… [is] all about trying to help students cope with the kind of stresses that they [meet]… It might be stress from exams, it might be the breakup of a family… whatever it is, all of us will face issues in our life.”

“[For instance,] before the year 12 exams, we offer them meditation exercises with staff so that [students] can actually go into exams with a calm frame of mind,” he continued.

At one point during the presentation Meek displayed a slide on which he misspelled the word “character.” He then pointed out that all the other words on the slide were spelt correctly and that the audience should instead have noted that. He choose to do this to highlight the power of recognizing people’s strengths as opposed to their weaknesses.

At Geelong Grammar School, positive education is a whole school approach. All the adults on campus, from teachers to other faculty to gardeners, are given training in positive education, even if they do not interact with students in their work on a daily basis.

Classes are also offered to alumni and local community members. During the pilot stage of the program, a number of teachers from the surrounding public schools were invited to take part in lessons.

Amy Patel, Medical Director, said “Having been introduced to this concept many years ago, It’s a very interesting model that I hope we might, explore and take certain aspects. It’s a very individualized type of a process but a lot of concepts resonate with us.”

“Actually hearing it from the person who was instrumental in bringing [positive education] to his own school was pretty impactful. And then exposing that to other people, I was excited to have so many colleagues be part of the conversation,” she continued.

Positive education has also been taught to younger people and children in various age-appropriate manners. Meek described a project undertaken by elementary schoolers called “Catch a Kindness.” Whenever a student saw a classmate doing something kind, they would write it down on a butterfly and put it into the class net, and then at the end of the week the teacher would sit down and read all the kind acts that had been done, providing recognition for good behavior.

These positive education lessons are not reserved for such young minds. Meek spoke on another school tradition, gratitude letters. Students were tasked with writing an authentic letter to express heartfelt thanks. Once they were done with this they would then go to the recipient and read it out loud to them. At the presentation, a video was played where a girl described receiving a letter from her brother, and how much of a shock it was to her. But that in the end it was meaningful, as he did not often communicate what she meant to him.

Another aspect of positive education was the implementation of one building that encompassed the medical, physiological, and sports facilities into one building, an idea that bears a strong resemblance to Andover’s own Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center.

Will Orben, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, said, “It was a great reminder of how important it is to focus on the things you’re doing well and to really focus on techniques you can use to emphasize people’s strengths.”

Overall, Meek expressed being happy at the outcome and would do the whole process again. At the conclusion of his presentation Meek said, “I think we’ve got students who enjoy what they do, not every day, but actually feel more connected and have the skills to take them further into the future, the institute is something we setup to enable us to spread it, as far as we can, and I think for us it’s a really joyful part of how we are a school, ensuring that what we have we can share in a wider way, so for us the whole thing has worked really well.”