The International Positive Education Network, known to friends as IPEN, held its second annual festival in Ft. Worth Texas from June 25 to June 28. The conference was jointly sponsored by the David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry, so you won’t be surprised that the conference title was The World Positive Education Accelerator.I’m Not in Manhattan Any More
I arrived the day before the conference began and started strolling through the streets of Fort Worth, feeling a bit like an extra in a spaghetti western with all the actors in their trailers waiting for the cameras to roll. As I walked through the seemingly deserted town, I had to clasp my straw hat to keep the strong hot gusts from blowing it away. Early the next morning the Fort Worth Convention Center was bursting with more than 800 educators ready to contribute to IPEN’s mission to bring together many voices to promote Positive Education.
These Educators are Pumped for Change
Participants exemplified a new breed of educator, armed with experience in character strengths, meditation breaks, and gratitude interventions along with the usual lesson plans and anti-bullying strategies. They aim to transform contemporary education. More than 200 presenters led a huge variety of sessions, sharing best-practices and practical experiences. David Cooperrider then led an Appreciative Inquiry Summit on Imagining Positive Education.
A Global Movement is Building
IPEN encourages a paradigm shift from focusing solely on academic success to creating education that is steeped in positive emotions, engagement with the world, good relationships with others, a sense of meaning and moral purpose, and the accomplishment of valued goals. The goal of positive education is to equip young people with the knowledge and life skills to flourish and contribute to the flourishing of others.The opening program started with a keynote by Lea Waters author of The Strength Switch, a best-selling book in its fourth printing that has been translated into Japanese, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Hungarian. Lea is the Director of the Centre for Positive Psychology at the University of Melbourne. She wants to help parents around the world learn how to use the lens of strengths-based parenting (SBP) instead of spending so much energy freaking out, obsessing, and lecturing their children to accomplish more and to score higher on tests. She envisions a world with without Tiger Mothers, Drill Sergeant Dads, and Absentee Parents.
Like a ray of sunshine in her yellow dress, Lea’s morning keynote lit up the opening session as she shared the science, stories and strategies of strength-based parenting. Lea spoke about the need for parents, educators, and students to work together as the three legs of a sturdy stool in order to give a child a strong foundation to flourish and grow. Her scholarship is solid, and her style is approachable and easy to understand. I believe her experience both as a mother and a researcher make her a credible expert who can guide parents through the waters (pardon the pun) of modern parenting.
According to Lea once children and parents can see a child’s strengths, then they can start to build on them. Strengths are protective: they lower levels of depression, anxiety, and negative emotions. They also enhance life satisfaction, positive emotions and self-confidence. Strengths also amplify qualities particularly important for education:
- Growth mindset, leading to persistence and better academic grades
- Coping skills for stress, whether the stress comes from friendship issues that are so important to youngsters or from homework challenges
- Engagement and self-efficacy, leading to a can-do attitude
As the chairperson of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA), Lea ended her talk with a personal invitation to attend the IPPA World Congress on July 18-21 2019 in her hometown of Melbourne, Australia.
Deep Thoughts from the President of IPENI’m quite sure I will never forget my first experience of Sir Anthony Seldon, who delivered the opening keynote at the 2016 Inaugural IPEN Festival while standing on his head. He just published a new book, The Fourth Education Revolution, about the impact of artificial intelligence on education.
A master storyteller, Seldon led a more subdued, introspective session this year. It started with him stating that he lost his wife just a few months ago. Sir Anthony urged the audience to take action immediately because “the world is hurting, the world is bleeding, the world needs this… so here are ten things that you can do to make a difference.” Cue some classical music and the start of his keynote: Pleasure Ends But Happiness is Endless. He juxtaposed ten still-life photos of succulent fruits (strawberry, pineapple, blueberries, mango, cherries and the like) with “Seldon-isms” to motivate the participants to meditate on ways they will take action to be positive change-agents in their communities and in the world. Here’s a sample from his 10 points.Smell the silicon.: Artificial intelligence (AI) can be a revolutionary force for the 1.2 billion children around the world without access to schools or qualified teachers. However, he cautioned us to remember to use AI to emphasize what makes us human.
It’s Happiness Stupid! Sir Anthony made a stark distinction between pleasure and happiness:
- Pleasure is the pursuit, conquest and obsession with objects, consumption and oneself.
- Happiness is grounded on the spirit, the soul, love, the concept of “us” and what makes us deeply human.
Coming soon: Part 2 with reports on speeches by luminaries such as Angela Duckworth, Martin Seligman, and Dan Kessler, whose company’s app has reached 30 million people.
Seldon, A. & Abidoye, O. (2018). The Fourth Education Revolution: Will Artificial Intelligence Liberate or Infantilise Humanity. University of Buckingham Press.
Waters, L. (2017). The Strength Switch: How The New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen to Flourish. New York: Avery.
Pictures of Sir Anthony Seldon and Dr. Lea Waters courtesy of Soaringwords.org