Empowering young people to change the world!

Over the past few years I have increasingly explored the aspects of positive psychology in empowering young people in managing their way through the modern world. It was great to spend the day exploring Empowering Young People to change the world with @RWBAHolocaust. #EYP2CtW is a fascinating topic and it has taken me over a week to write this blog due to the additional ideas explored in the conference.


Peter Hall Jones @PeteHJ opened the day with the first Keynote of Leading Upwards. My take away top tips from his speech was that Hong Kong Universities test EQ for entry before IQ. Considering the amount of time we spend in schools working on IQ and passing exams there is an international viewpoint that EQ aspects of individuals also needs to be developed beyond the initials phases of education. The second take away tip was about how much money or time do we spend selling our vision upwards and to our teams? Do we only look at these on occasional teacher training days or when writing admission materials? Do we ensure that this is within the fibre of a school so that everyone is completely aware of our vision and values every moment of the day from staff to students to visitors? Do people need to ask about our vision and values? 

The second keynote speech was delivered by Dr Neil Hawkes and his wife Jane @NeilHawkes. This looked at values based education. Again a thought provoking speech. Top tips were that beliefs divide – values unite. We also look at the idea that students need to develop as self-leaders and whether schools are producing a large amount of conformity. Are there times when conformity needs to be challenged? Do we develop this aspect of learning in our students? My top take away from the speech was to start building an Ethical Intelligence. In addition to British Values, IQ, EQ there is indeed space to consider values to ensure that there will be an ethical future community in all aspects of employment on the planet.

Having worked with the United Nations in Poland on two occasions I had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz and Warsaw. This is indeed a lifelong memory and they came flooding back during the third keynote speech by Ruth-Anne Lenge@ralenga. Learning about Janusz Korczak’s pioneering educational approach was thought provoking. “Children are not people of tomorrow but people today” and how they can be empowered to make decisions. The work the Centre for Holocaust Education is doing to ensure future generations are aware of real stories from Holocaust lives is empowering and enriching student knowledge and values.

During the first breakout session entitled Innovators, laggards and pyramids. The risk of pupil independence with Paul Day @paulday30. We considered how we make learning stick. My take away from that session was creating memories works. I have set happiness homework in the past but would consider setting a holiday homework entitled memory homework where students had to go on a visit a historical site, have a picnic outside etc. Something to make a memory and learn. The other take away was that success breeds motivation.

I’m really pleased that Juliette Yardley from Laughology was presenting. @Laughology is an area I have been wanting to explore for some time. Since completing a Science of Happiness course this area of wellbeing seemed to fit well with the Positive Psychology programme I have been developing in school. The idea of Happy Centred Schools sounded delightful. Science and the psychology of laughter seems to be a perfect antidote to the stress and poor wellbeing we are seeing increase in young people. My first take away was that having fun embeds learning – therefore how do we build happy environments in our classrooms? Interactions with students as an adult need to be reasonable, logical, rational, not-threatening and non-threatening. Happy children, having fun in a classroom will learn and remember happy memories. If you think of the stress, anxiety and lack of smiles in some classrooms in secondary school can we really say those students will have happy memories of those classrooms? Will they be releasing the chemicals needed to help memories or hinder memories? Happiness is a feeling of well-being. Are we doing enough to promote this for staff and students? If not how could we improve on it? The reality will be no fun in the classroom, no learning. Staff and students need to have good relationships with people to ensure that the stress hormone is marginalised – it impairs their ability to learn. I can’t wait for our next teaching and learning briefing when I will be sharing the power pose from Amy Cuddy and the added Laughology element : ) I just need to work out which member of staff will play the role of cortisol! The final take away will be the good humour ingredients of facial expression, body language, voice, tone, pitch and the type of words used.

I was pleased to see a breakout session about School Improvement through staff wellbeing by John Rees @PSHESolutions. We have put staff and student wellbeing onto our development plan this year, however there is still a long way to go to reach the ideal situation. John talked about how students will only truly flourish and thrive if staff are cared for too in our educational establishments. As school leaders what is our moral purpose? Do we have that unconditional regard for staff? Can they see, hear and feel it on a daily basis? By improving the emotional and physical environment we can improve staff wellbeing. So take away tip number 1 is it worth stopping buying coffee for the staffroom to save a few pounds on tight budgets if you look at the cost of staff illness – maybe not. I was horrified to listen to statistics of teachers leaving, self-harming etc. The system may be stressful but I for one will be continuing to ensure that wellbeing stays on the development plan as it is too important to ignore.

My final breakout session was run by Andrew Foster @Tougherminds and @AFosterTeach. Indeed this was the reason I had booked to attend the conference. Again the theme of #EYP2CTW continued. We heard about how healthy, happy and high performing students often get stopped by their inability to self-control. A fascinating whistle stop tour through the 6 week programme for kids and parents sounded like a great way of dealing with some aspects of wellbeing. 

The day ended with the keynote by John Rees discussing how to enable young people to flourish as they are more than a number, more than a grade. As education continues to raise the bar higher and raise aspirations as well as outcomes, there is still a need to stand back and realise that these are human beings in our schools. Every individual of every age in educational establishments need to be able to flourish, from the youngest student to the teacher nearing retirement. Can we all say as teachers and leaders that this is the system and establishment that we are building? What will you go out and change?

I plan on embedding key learning from the conference into our about to be relaunched revamped PSHE curriculum, build on the positive psychologies programme further and ensure that CPD/development plans enable students and staff to flourish. That’s my plan.