by Ruth Pearce

The Festival of Positive Education will be the launching point for a new kind of education—you will walk away inspired, transformed, and armed with the tools you will need to change your education system forever. —Sir Anthony Seldon, IPEN President

The International Positive Education Network (IPEN) is an organization dedicated to bringing positive psychology to education at every level, in every place. At the inaugural IPEN Festival in July, topics ranged from grit to greatness, from individual growth to community success.

After two years of preparation, the end result was a lively event, hosted by LiveHappy, which brought together 900 people, from all over the world for three days. More than 30 countries were represented. Attendees were not just teachers, but also school nurses, administrators, life coaches, principals, counselors, social workers, parents, and youth leaders. Led by Anthony Seldon and IPEN Chairman Lord James O’Shaughnessy, the conference boasted 18 keynotes and headliners, including Angela Duckworth, Shawn Achor, and Martin Seligman; 80-plus workshops, panels, and discussions; and some 50 posters on display.

Positive education may have a long way to go, but it has already made huge inroads. The festival offered a way for like-minded people to come together and share ideas. An important message was that, although there is significant change needed as far as policy and curricula, we can all make a difference. Each of us can contribute to the experience and growth of others through the decisions we make about how we act and how we interact.

We could see the impact of the individual in our very own CiPP graduates. Fiona Trembath’s From Strength to Strength organization was there, ably represented by Nicole Stottlemyer, showing how children can learn about strengths through play. Molly Dahl presented on Youth Positive, her program for young people, Braco Pobric gave a workshop on habits and happiness, and Margarita Tarragona introduced the audience to the power of storytelling in her talk, “Building Positive Identities in School.” Other alumni were there to glean knowledge and tools to take back to their own schools and communities.

Sharing Strengths
On the last day, a group of five or six attendees gathered to watch CiPP alum Giselle Marzo Segura demonstrate her Strength Clusters toolbox, including the Strength Clusters mat. First, she invited each person to choose a strength that they had used in accomplishing something, and gave them a card representing that strength.

Peter, a member of the group, was asked to share why he had chosen creativity. He described how he had helped a team come up with a novel solution to a problem at work. The rest of us were asked to observe which strengths we heard as we listened to his story. One by one, we offered him a card. Cards for kindness, love, judgment, humanity, and social intelligence were thrust into his hand. After just a minute, he was clutching a pile of strengths cards.

Peter was holding his strengths in the palm of his hand. He shared with us that he felt acknowledged, recognized, and affirmed—by complete strangers.

Next, Giselle asked each person to take a place on the mat, standing on a strength that they use every day. Once we’d done so, Giselle pointed out that, although we had all chosen different strengths, we were standing close together. Despite our differences, our strengths unite us and allow us to complement each other.

Next, everyone chose a strength they admire and would like to have more of (a friend of mine calls this “strengths envy”). During this exercise, there were happy collisions, hugs, and laughter, as the members of the group joyfully shared strengths with one another.

In only a few minutes, a group of strangers had become a community, sharing a moment in time that was focused on the good. This is the power of strengths—and it is a key to the power of positive education.

Do you know your strengths? If not, take the free VIA Character Strengths Assessment.

Ruth Pearce, is Business Unit Director of Conferences and Special Events at Wholebeing Institute, where she is currently working on the 2017 Embodied Positive Psychology Summit. She also runs ALLE LLC (A Lever Long Enough), where she works on ways to integrate project management and positive psychology. With a focus on character strengths, ALLE’s mission is to build a world of engaged teams. Ruth is currently working on a book for project managers, The Project Manager Effect: From Organizing to Energizing. As part of the background for the book, she has been researching the role of the project manager as well as the attitudes that project managers have to team engagement.