What does success look like? In the education system, it seems that success is simply numbers and percentages – A-E, Attendance, Behaviour – you get the idea. The problem is, this is such a narrow view of success! We all know that ‘success’ means so much MORE than these letters, numbers or percentages. I’m not denying the need for or validity of this type of data, but I do find myself increasingly chafing against the notion that student success is only reflected in these measures, and that any work we do as educators must show an improvement in this limited selection of quantitative data sets for it to be seen as worthwhile.
Humans are more than numbers. All of the research around ‘success’ proves that wellbeing and flourishing are the essential foundation for success. To me, the qualitative data we gather is equally vital and valid, which is why I become frustrated that so many seem to only be interested in measuring the quantitative data above. I understand that it may be easier to reduce our students to these letters and numbers, but that doesn’t make it right. I see my role as an educator as helping my students become the best, most successful, version of themselves – to know and understand who they are and how they can make a difference to themselves and others. Educators change lives – but you rarely hear of a successful person remembering that one teacher who helped them achieve a particular grade in a particular subject. You hear them reflect on that one teacher who connected with them and made them feel they belonged; who believed in them, and taught them how to believe in themselves; who helped them develop the character traits and skills to overcome challenges; and even simply the teacher that was kind to them and showed them love. I’ve asked parents what success looks like for their child, and they gave answers such as ‘they are kind; they try their best; they’re confident; they’re engaged; they are happy’ before they say ‘an A in English / Maths; being top of the class; 100% attendance’. While we all recognise that achievement is important, we can’t deny that well-being is equally so. The goal of an education system should be to produce well-rounded individuals who are prepared for an ever-changing world, by fostering development of the whole child and engaging students in meaningful learning. Can we truly determine this by limiting how we measure it to letters and numbers?
One of the foundations essential for success, is happiness – defined in positive psychology terms as: positive emotion, engagement and meaning. Positive Psychology research identifies both the subjective and psychological wellbeing theories and practices essential for human flourishing.
“The science of human strengths and human flourishing aims to understand what is good in us, in life and what works for us to make life worth living.” Sue Langley
Noble and McGrath (2007) have identified how Positive Psychology, when applied to schools, focuses on the intentional cultivation of staff and student wellbeing and resilience through four basic goals:
1. The generation of positive emotions (eg satisfaction, pride, belonging, and enjoyment)
2. The development of mastery and competence through a skills-based approach
3. Engagement with school by working with strengths
4. The development of a sense of meaning and purpose
This approach is essential for all students, but most especially those with additional barriers to learning. ‘Closing the Gap’ has long been a focus for our First Nations students in Australia, and I think we must recognise the role that positive psychology approaches can play in fostering this outcome. Rather than focusing on the deficits and seeking to ‘fix’ them, let’s instead use the principles of positive psychology to promote wellbeing and flourishing. For First Nations people around the world, land, language and culture are intertwined and support meaning-making, purpose, self-esteem and resilience. Facilitating and nurturing Indigenous flourishing requires recognition of Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing; strengths-based trauma-informed solutions; and the empowerment of cultural practices and knowledge of collective flourishing. (Dudgeon, Bray and Walker, 2023) We must establish a strong connection to school, cultivate a sense of belonging, create meaning and purpose and build on strengths to nurture positive wellbeing, which can then be built upon to foster achievement (and improvements in the quantitative data).
I’m sure we all agree that increasing resilience, positive emotion, engagement and meaning will only benefit our students and school communities, and are in fact the foundation of success. It is time that we value both achievement and wellbeing. We know in our hearts, and the research proves, that this is the work that must be undertaken.
"The sole acquisition of knowledge as the only outcome from education is no longer enough. We need a broader set of outcomes to enable our young people to leave school knowing who they are, how they fit into the world and how they can contribute their unique set of skills to humanity, the planet and prosperity." Joanne McEachen