By Susan T. Dinnocenti, Ph.D., USA IPEN Rep
originally posted at IPEN Network July Newsletter
It is a new school year at every level: elementary, middle, jr high, high school, and college – there are many young people who will sit idle and those who will be active in their learning while college seniors will be hoping to secure a job upon graduation in 9 short months.
Think about the many corporations who are desperately seeking a new generation of workers who are agile, think creatively, and respond to ambiguity with innovative thoughts and who can collaborate over a global social network to achieve change. What is needed to provide a platform for engagement and discovery for these young people? The answer may lie in a memory for many children of a few short weeks ago – Summer Camp. What if Schools were Designed Like Summer Camp?
Summer in the United States is a time when some children thrive and others do not. Those who thrive are busy with family or camp experiences which include creating videos, digging in the dirt and sand, building castles on the beach, and designing robots or Smartphone apps that may be tested by techies at Google, Microsoft, or Apple. Other children are learning how to build relationships at sleep-away camps, or devouring books that quench their palette of passions and possibilities, while others focus on their musical, athletic, and artistic abilities and dream/work at becoming the next World Champion, or well-known artist. All of this necessary exploration is filled with the five components of flourishing – namely PERMA – positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment, yet it is not attainable by all children.
With more than 51.7 million school aged (preK-12) children (including home-schooled) living in the United States (NCES, 2014), the goal of creating learning and exploration experiences to cultivate social emotional, creative, academic, and global understanding cannot happen for only a few during a two month summer break, rather these type of experiences must be embedded within the “school” environment for all young people to thrive.
Positive Education is not new nor is it an isolated add-on to a school curriculum, it is a way of designing and infusing learning experiences with the richness of scientific inquiry, the openness of understanding social emotional nuances of a global society, and with the depth of self-exploration to develop an intellect of well-being. Positive education’s influence may be the opportunity to bring “Summer Camp” like realities to each child in each classroom across North America.
Summer Camp as School
With the exception of income, most summer camps offer activities designed to coincide with or challenge the developmental and social emotional stages of the child. Many camps have self-select options for children based on personal interest or discovery, and engagement usually wins out as do relationships with like-minded peers. Many camp environments are co-ed, multi-age grouped, and mixed racially and culturally. The counselors may have an expertise in a particular activity, art, sport, or hobby and are normally given the reins to design meaningful instruction to solidify or elevate the knowledge of the activity for the camper. Accomplishments are everywhere, in the swimming pool, computer room, on stage, out in the fields, or in the mess hall and it is all good.
In order to “educate or draw out” children, schooling must represent this type of Summer Camp and since the U.S. Constitution guarantees a free and equal public education, income should not matter. But dedicated professionals who provide researched and evidenced based practices do matter.
Positive education has been happening for years in selected classrooms across the country, there are many models and methods which provide strategies to respect and ramp up a learner’s intellectual abilities, embrace individual social-emotional challenges, and uncover and strengthen character and performance strengths. However, it is not happening in enough classrooms and the policies and practices which have delayed its growth in the public schools must be changed with a vision that represents learning of the 21st Century.
Top 5 Wish List
Since the positive education network is an international collective of meeting children in their global learning space of the 21st Century, five areas where our friends across the world have been successful can guide the United States in their journey:
- Create a Positive Education Public School Cluster – focusing on well-being and not directed by common core standards or state assessments
- Design and develop innovative and entrepreneurial educators –create a new Educator as Innovator Career Path developed with Finland’s model and supported by neuroscience research as well as pedagogy, and child development – a 6 year apprentice program
- Transform and enlighten state departments and higher education state agencies with suggestions of movement-building
- Invite the many colleges/universities across the world with positive psychology programs to collaborate with experts of differentiation methods of instruction and build new pedagogy
- Continue to disseminate the many success stories other countries have realized by creating schools that meet children’s 21st Century realities to the US through all forms of media
Positive Education’s Presence
Summer like successes for children can last throughout all seasons in all schools when educators create policies and practices with the vision of “how-to grow” and foster the flourishing child. Positive Psychology’s evolution has added new blood to the many tried and true pedagogical methods that address the whole child and has helped to bolster the need to make those methods paramount. It is the synergy between well-being, whole child development steeped in progressive methods, and world-wide best practices which is the impetus for turning all schools into places where all children thrive.