PESA Conference: Building Positive Communities: Design, Implement, Embed

The Chairman of the PESA Board, Simon Murray, describes the aim of the PESA conference as “to inspire and invigorate participants about positive education and its potential to change lives, both within schools and beyond the school gate”.

PESA stands for Positive Education Schools Association and is a national organisation.

The theme for the 4th Annual PESA Conference was “Building Positive Communities: Design, Implement, Embed”, something our Upper Hunter delegates felt extremely passionate about as they set off for Sydney.

Over the two-day conference there were seven keynote speakers, internationally renowned academics, with a wealth of knowledge and experience in positive education and positive psychology. Participants could select four workshops from an amazing 59 specific workshops on offer.

As a first time participant at a PESA Conference, Primary Co-ordinator, Michelle Harris, of St James’ Primary School, Muswellbrook, said there was a “positive buzz” amongst the Upper Hunter delegates, who had been sponsored by the “Where There’s a Will” Foundation to attend the conference.

Delegates included Kim Wilson of St Mary’s Primary School, Scone; Michelle Harris of St James’ Primary School, Muswellbrook; Sally Hagley of St Joseph’s Primary School, Merriwa; Michelle Lovegrove of St Joseph’s Primary School, Denman and Kelly Pearson and Denise Enayati of St Joseph’s High School, Aberdeen.

“The Where There’s a Will team made all the Upper Hunter School representatives feel very welcome. There was a clear purpose as to why we were attending the conference. Simply put: ‘How can Upper Hunter Schools make positive education a focus and visible in our schools? How can our schools flourish through positive education and promoting well-being across the school community?” said Mrs Harris.

Mrs Harris said Professor Lea Waters’ talk, “Searching for Wellbeing in Schools: Linking Science with Practice”, led to many ‘light bulb moments’ for her. “She has developed the SEARCH framework to support the wellbeing of students and staff. It made a connection as we are always searching for wellbeing.

“She explained how she has used this framework to develop two evidence-based practical approaches for schools: a well-being curriculum, “Positive Detective” and a well-being teacher-practice training initiative, “Visible Learning”.”

Lea Waters explained how, working closely with John Hattie, she had witnessed the benefits of “Visible Learning”. This has inspired her to help educators apply Visible Well-being techniques. Her Visible Well-being techniques help staff and students to hear, see and feel well-being and realise that, “well-being is a life-long journey.”

Delegates said their main gains from the conference included:

  • Investigate further Visible Well-being techniques and the Positive Detective Program.

  • There are many well-being practices and programs but it is so important to have not only a student focus but a staff focus on building well-being across the school. The Da Qiao Primary School, Singapore, staff delivered “Staff Wellbeing: The Bedrock for Work-life Harmony and Catalyst for a Positive Community” workshop. Many simple ways of affirming staff, having fun at work and developing a growth mindset were shared. The importance of cultivating a culture of looking after each other and one which can be sustained by having a staff well-being committee was highlighted.

  • Promoting mindfulness across classes and taking time out in my busy day for my own mindfulness.

  • Charlie Scudamore from Geelong Grammar, reminded us all to “Be Pro-active and Not Re-active” when dealing with students. He stated children need to make mistakes so “never shame or humiliate students”. All staff must, “plant the seeds and continue sowing the seeds for wellbeing across the school.”

  • Brain Breaks: a pocket of simple activities for stimulating student engagement and enhancing teacher-student relationships to share with my class and staff.

  • Caroline Adams Miller, leading Positive Psychologist, explained “Authentic Grit” as the passionate pursuit of hard goals that awe and inspire us. How can we help students develop passions and teach the value of setting hard goals? She reminded us we can’t always protect our children from failure. Children need to be taught resilience and hope. It is definitely not about “Besting everyone, it’s about doing your best.” We learn and grow from making mistakes. She quoted self-made billionaire, Sarah Blakely, “If you are not failing you are not going outside your comfort zone.”

  • Lisa Baker from Ballarat Grammar demonstrated how using Character Strength Building Traits including Gratitude, Wisdom, Kindness, Team Work, Patience and Courage is a simple practice for promoting positive education from an early age.

The delegates all came away from the conference inspired and highly motivated to begin their journey towards embedding positive education in our schools and ultimately improving the well-being of all in our communities.

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Amanda Skehan Image
Amanda Skehan

Amanda Skehan was the Marketing Team Leader for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and a regular contributor to Aurora and