This past Thursday, our community embarked on a new adventure through Ridley Remote Learning, or R2L. The initial response from students, teachers and parents was resoundingly positive. Every member of the community was excited to reconnect, share their experiences and emotions, and begin to bring some normalcy back into their lives through the addition of regular learning and new opportunities to connect. We know that Ridley is built on relationships; these will help us get through these challenging times.
But how best to thrive when we are surrounded by change? Please
consider these five inspirational statements about change—along with some
resources to help support you and the Ridley community.
Change is an opportunity to do something
How can you create the space in your home
for your child(ren) to create or do something to support or inspire others?
Nestled in the Eastern Himalayas on the ancient Silk Road between Tibet, India and Southeast Asia, Bhutan is a small country with a distinct national identity. Intrepidly focused on the well-being of its citizens, instead of measuring gross domestic product to gage national progress, they measure gross national happiness.
Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a philosophy that steers the government of Bhutan and was first coined by the fourth King of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, in 1972—a concept that implies that “sustainable development should take a holistic approach towards notions of progress and give equal importance to the aspects of well-being.” Since then, the idea of GNH has influenced Bhutan’s economic and social policy, and most recently has become engrained in the school system through positive education.
The leading authority in Positive Psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman, identified Bhutan as the most enabling environment to promote well-being as a whole nation. Because of this distinction, Seligman and his team approached Bhutan’s government to launch a pilot programme: Education for Gross National Happiness, which focuses on integrating positive psychology tactics into the school curriculum. Bhutan’s government was eager to participate and adopt positive education into its larger community.
Seligman and his team began their mission by identifying what the most relevant skills were for determining happiness within the Bhutanese culture and how these could be transformed into life skills.
The following ten life skills were identified:
From this, 18 secondary schools were randomly assigned to receive the new GNH curriculum. Prior to implementing the curriculum, baseline measurements (based on key indicators from the 10 life skills) determining the well-being in every student, teacher and staff member at each of these schools were completed. During the next 15 months, the GNH curriculum was taught with much seriousness, having one period solely dedicated to Life Skills and Positive Education.
After the programme’s completion, follow-up tests were completed that indicated a significant increase in participant well-being—an outcome Seligman and his team had predicted. What wasn’t expected, however, was that there was an increase in standardized test scores, better physical health and decreased absenteeism. As a whole, there was a higher satisfaction with the entire school experience from both students and faculty.
What this points to is that the curriculum established a ‘well-being ecosystem’—a community of people confidently interacting with one another through positive activities and communication. Since these results, Bhutan has rolled out the programme on a national level.
Gross National Happiness values and principles have become deeply embedded into the consciousness of the youth in Bhutan through this holistic approach to student development, led by principals and teachers as key change agents.
For more than five years, Ridley has been a leader in positive education and focused on creating a positive ecosystem for students and employees alike. In 2012, the school developed a unique strategic vision to ‘inspire flourishing lives’, which calls upon Dr. Martin Seligman’s PERMA model and the S.E.A.R.C.H. framework of Dr. Lea Waters’ Visible Wellbeing Programme. Our two full-time social emotional counsellors continually partner with internal change agents to ensure our community is adopting thoughtful strategies.
Three years following the launch of our Strategic Plan, Ridley is confidently enacting our mission to inspire flourishing lives in a novel and intentional way. Recently, our school launched an exciting two-year partnership with Professor Lea Waters (PhD), a leading researcher and global expert in the field of positive psychology – making Ridley the first Visible Wellbeing TM Foundational School in North America.
Developing well-rounded individuals has been a focus at Ridley for over a century, however, over the past five years we have deliberately and consciously applied the science behind positive education – the notion of improving students’ emotional, psychological and physical well-being in order to help them flourish in the classroom and in their lives.
In 2012 Ridley began to effect applied positive psychology methodologies, such as Martin Seligman’s PERMA-V model, which breaks down the core elements of psychological well-being and happiness. Since then, our faculty has been participating in professional development, becoming deeply familiar with key frameworks and integrating them into their classrooms, on the sports field, within the boarding houses and even in their own lives. Today, it would not be out of the ordinary for one to walk into the Grade 3 class to witness mindfulness breathing exercises taking place, or to hear students at the lunch table talking about their top character strengths.
With this school-wide exposure to positive psychology, the introduction of a dedicated Upper School Counselor and the PERMA-V model being adopted by faculty and Ridleians alike, it became clear that Ridley was quickly becoming a leader in positive education within North American schools. It was with this realization that we decided to embark upon a fundraising effort to bring a world-class expert in this field to Ridley. With the support of our generous community, Ridley successfully raised more than $100,000 towards a ‘Positive Education Fellowship’ during the 2016-17 Annual Fund campaign.
The search for the most suitable positive psychology expert, who would advance our school’s mission, led Ridley straight to Professor Lea Waters.
Although she playfully refers to herself as a “pracademic,” Professor Lea Waters is more formally a psychologist, researcher, author and facilitator who specializes in positive education, positive parenting, and positive organizations. She is the Founding Director of Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Melbourne – where she has also published over 90 scientific articles and book chapters in 21 years. Professor Waters is the President of the International Positive Psychology Association, has affiliate positions with Cambridge University and the University of Michigan and is the Ambassador for the Positive Education Schools Association.
Among her many contributions to the field, the multi-award winning research professor has designed and developed a framework known as Visible WellbeingTM (VWB), which is an approach that combines the science of well-being with the science of learning and teaching to make well-being visible in all classes and across co-curricula. Over the next two years, Professor Waters will bring her scientifically-grounded techniques in VWB to Ridley, which will enable teachers to use the learning process itself as a delivery mechanism to build student well-being. Unlike some rigid curriculum, VWB is a flexible approach which can be applied in a trans-disciplinary manner across all grades and amongst faculty and staff. With the VWB approach, academic learning and well-being are truly integrated and produce a positive feedback cycle.
Professor Waters’ drive to develop the VWB approach was in reaction to staggering global rates of teen depression, anxiety, eating disorders and suicide. According to the World Health Organization, 10 to 20 percent of children and adolescents experience mental disorders worldwide. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death amongst 15 to 19-year-olds. Ridley responds to this teenage need for support, explains Head of Upper School, Michele Bett, “At Ridley, we believe a child’s physical and emotional, psychological well-being will underpin everything they do – not just in school, but beyond school.”
To launch VWB at Ridley, Professor Waters recently spent two days facilitating faculty and staff workshops. During these dynamic sessions, she introduced concepts such as the SEARCH Framework, which helps identify character strengths, as well as delivery methods and measurement techniques for VWB. Professor Waters also shared why she was keen to partner with Ridley. “What made me feel that [Ridley] would do well by Visible Wellbeing is that I know that the intention of Ridley is truly and genuinely to make flourishing lives. It’s not just a statement on a document…The school has the right structure, it has the right people, it has the right ethos…From an organizational psychology perspective it ticks all the checklist of organizational readiness for change,” says Waters.
“I truly feel that the adoption of Professor Waters’ Visible Wellbeing approach and positive education expertise will provide the exact direction, resources and consistent language that our community requires to forge ahead as the trailblazer for positive education in Canada…and North America for that matter,” remarked Headmaster, Ed Kidd. Ridley looks forwards to enhancing the student experience through this ongoing VWB initiative and to sharing our outcomes with other schools around the world.
“This is a world-class school to take on this new innovation and to marry together the science of learning with the science of well-being to help everyone thrive at the school.” – Professor Lea Waters (PhD)
In recent years, researchers have identified predictors of success as well as keys to living a satisfying, happy life. At Ridley we are infusing the best of this research – centred on grit and flow – into a Ridley education to help instill in our students the lifelong habits they need for success in our global community. At Ridley being a student is about more than passing tests and meeting standards, it is about flourishing.
Flow is an optimal psychological state that people experience when engaged in an activity that is appropriately challenging to their skill level, often resulting in immersion and concentrated focus on a task. This can result in deep learning and high levels of personal and work satisfaction.
If you’ve ever heard someone describe a time when their performance excelled and they used the term being “in the zone”, what they are describing is an experience of flow. It occurs when your skill level and the challenge at hand are equal.
Flow can be experienced in any task, in any field of activity, including academics, athletics, and the arts. Teachers at Ridley try to understand flow in order to help their students optimize their learning. The experience of flow is universal and it has been reported to occur across different classes, genders, ages, cultures and it can be experienced in many types of activities, making it a perfect tool to incorporate into the multinational learning culture at Ridley.
Flow was first recognized by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a renowned psychologist and distinguished professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University. Inspired by Carl Jung, he has spent more than 25 years researching flow, a state of “intense emotional involvement” and timelessness that comes from immersive and challenging activities. Through his research he found that people were most creative, productive, and often, happiest when they are in this state of flow.
Flow is one of eight mental states that can happen during the learning process, which Csikszentmihalyi outlines in his flow theory. In addition to flow, these mental states include anxiety, apathy, arousal, boredom, control, relaxation, and worry.
Flow is the optimal state for learning, as it is where skill level and challenge level of a task are at their highest. This creates an opportunity for learning and intense focus, where learners can even feel that they lose track of time because they are so immersed in the task. Flow is a constant balancing act between anxiety, where the difficulty is too high for the person’s skill, and boredom, where the difficulty is too low.
“Inducing flow is about the balance between the level of skill and the size of the challenge at hand.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Flow is a dynamic rather than static state, since a properly constructed flow activity leads to increased skill, challenge, and complexity over time. Since skill doesn’t remain static, repeating the same activity would fall into boredom; the flow reward inspires one to face harder and harder challenges, as skill increases.
The experience of flow in everyday life is an important component of creativity and well-being. it is also intrinsically rewarding, the more you practice it, the more you seek to replicate these experiences, which help lead to a fully engaged and happy life.
“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something we make happen.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Flow is more likely to happen when students find the right balance between the skills they have and the challenge they face. Pursuing this path can enable them to flow, focus, finish, and as a by-product, flourish.
One of the advantages of a Ridley education is that the experience of being a student is about more than passing tests and meeting standards. In recent years, researchers have identified predictors of success as well as keys to living a satisfying, happy life and this is something our school consciously enacts.
At Ridley, we are infusing the best of this research – centred on grit and flow – into a Ridley education to help instill in our students the lifelong habits they need to flourish in our global community.
The concept of grit is one aspect of Positive Education that Ridley has incorporated into school culture. Grit is defined as the tendency of a person to sustain interest and effort in pursuing long-term goals. Grit allows people to pursue challenges over the course of years.
In her groundbreaking research, Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth, University of Pennsylvania Professor of Psychology and MacArthur Foundation Genius Fellow, determined that passion, perseverance, and stamina outweigh IQ as a predictor of success. In other words, grit is the key to lifelong success.
“Educational policy has not yet taken adequate note of the whole child. Kids are not just their IQ or standardized test scores. It matters whether or not they show up, how hard they work,” says Duckworth, in an interview with the Washington Post. Duckworth has advised the White House, the World Bank, NBA and NFL teams, and Fortune 500 CEOs.
Ridley encourages students to discover and pursue their passions and equips them with the capacity and determination to persevere through challenges, risk failure, and develop grit and resilience, while creating a supportive culture that allows students to face adversity in a positive and engaging environment. Accomplishment and engagement are essential elements of a flourishing life, and both can be fostered through conscious effort, grit is a fundamental element for achievement.
“The importance of the environment is two-fold. It’s not just that you need opportunity in order to benefit from grit. It’s also that the environments our children grow up in profoundly influence their grit and every other aspect of their character.” – Angela Duckworth
Duckworth’s research began by searching for an answer as to why some people succeed while others do not. Being ‘gritty’ means consciously deciding to push forward in the face of adversity, failure, and physical or emotional pain, without knowing when the adversity will be over.
“One way to think about grit is to consider what grit isn’t,” explains Duckworth. “Grit isn’t talent. Grit isn’t luck. Grit isn’t how intensely, for the moment, you want something.”
Self-control and grit are often confused, says Duckworth in her research, while they are related there are key differences. Grit allows people to pursue challenges over the course of years, while self-control, helps to maintain focus, in the face of distraction, in the pursuit of those goals.
The concept of grit has been around for some time. In 1889, the year Ridley was founded, Dr. Francis Galton reviewed the biographies of eminent individuals, throughout history and concluded that success resulted from intellect combined with “zeal” and the “capacity for hard labour”. The modern study of grit continues in examining single-minded perseverance over the very long-term.
“I believe grit will for many adolescents be more evident in activities pursued outside of the classroom–in the school play, on the football field, in the school orchestra, in community service, and so on.” – Angela Duckworth
At Ridley we are empowering our students to do more themselves, by increasing opportunities for Ridleians to play an active role in their school communities so that they can gain the necessary habits, skills, and practice to lay the foundation for flourishing lives.
Ridley strives to be at the forefront of educational development to ensure our students become successful members of the global community. Ridley will continue to review the latest research in education for new ideas to ensure we are a leader and innovator in molding the minds and lives of our students.
Ridley strives to be at the forefront of educational development, to ensure our students become successful members of the global community. For this reason, our school was an early adopter amongst independent schools, embracing positive education as a fundamental approach to learning.
Being on the leading edge of positive education means continuing to explore new ideas and research as it becomes available. This semester, the students of Lower School have been part of a pilot programme to evaluate the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation on students. The programme developed by Jacqueline Oscvirk, creator of The Mindful Family, involves students from Kindergarten to Grade 8 practicing mindfulness twice weekly.
Mindfulness meditation focuses the human brain on what is being sensed at each moment, instead of the past or future. It is a way to calm the mind and develop clarity, calmness, empathy, and positivity.
Within educational systems, mindfulness has shown an improvement in students’ attention and focus, emotional regulation, creativity, as well as problem solving skills. Studies have shown youth benefit from learning mindfulness, in terms of improved cognitive outcomes, social-emotional skills, and well-being. These benefits may lead to long-term improvements in life.
“Our intention is to equip all of our Lower School students with the tools to overcome everyday challenges.” – Hanna Kidd, Lower School Counsellor
There is substantial evidence that skills which increase resilience, positive emotion, engagement, and meaning can be taught to school children. In this way, without compromising either, Ridley teaches both the skills of well-being and the skills of achievement.
“It’s another tool for teachers to use,” says Hanna Kidd. The Grade 7 and 8 students will begin their mindfulness training in early April, with the goal of using mindfulness to help reduce stress and anxiety as they prepare for exams.
Ridley is incorporating the latest research in positive education from around the world. Discoveries such as grit—the ability to persevere through challenges—by Dr. Angela Duckworth, and flow—the ability to become immersed in a challenging task—by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, have already been added. Based on this science, Ridley equips students to deal with the daily demands of life and learning by creating an environment that:
• Generates positive emotions
• Practices mindfulness
• Builds on strengths not deficits
• Models grit and resilience
• Nurtures positive relationships
• Encourages goal setting and accomplishments
• Fuels our vitality
Ridley students are empowered to embrace their individuality, develop who they are, strive for who they will be, and define the lives they will lead. They develop the intellectual, physical, emotional, and social skills needed to succeed. They are inspired to acquire the knowledge, explore the truths, and nurture the values that will allow them to lead flourishing lives.