Dr Helen Street’s “Contextual Wellbeing: Creating Positive Schools From the Inside Out.”

Summer Reading

Over summer we’ve enjoyed reading Dr Helen Street’s “Contextual Wellbeing: Creating Positive Schools From the Inside Out.” She considers the social side of wellbeing, which has not necessarily received the attention that it needs in order to truly allow our young people and communities to flourish.

Dr Street challenges educators with the observation that our schools, their practices, policies and environments are not always set up in ways that actually enable the development of the social cohesion needed for genuine individual flourishing.

Her review of research highlights the importance of programs that work to shape school context through the development of positive relationships across the whole school population. “Equity, cohesion and creativity… along with opportunities for learning through collaboration and play, underlie the development of positive relationships and an overall sense of belonging within the school community.” (p.110)

“Equity, cohesion and creativity… along with opportunities for learning through collaboration and play, underlie the development of positive relationships and an overall sense of belonging within the school community.”

We’re proud that Peer Support programs have been enabling schools with the processes and content to help develop cohesion and belonging for over 40 years.

Our programs involve the whole school population in primary schools, and over a few years of operation in a secondary school, every student will also have been involved. This is a key factor for the effectiveness of a wellbeing program, and has a powerful impact on the development of equity and cohesion. (p. 27)

Is your school ready for a positive start to 2019?  How cohesive is your school community?

You can buy Dr Helen Street’s ‘Contextual Wellbeing’ here.
(please note we are not affiliated with Dr Helen Street in any way)

3 Expert Tips for Implementing Peer Support

Get Organised in Term 1

As Term 1 gets started you will be actioning your implementation strategy to ensure that your students get the most out of The Peer Support sessions. These top tips will help set you and your students up for success.

Raise Awareness

Use the resources in The Peer Support Manual to ensure all the community, particularly new teachers and parents, understand the operations and benefits of the program. Our Wellbeing Education Consultants are also available to deliver student, staff and parent talks to support your school’s successful communication.

Train Leaders

Before starting the program for 2019, Secondary school Peer Leaders may benefit from the 90 minute refresher training – you can find this in the Secondary Manual. 

Primary Peer Leaders will be set up for success by working through their 2 day training program before beginning the program in Term 2 or 3. If you need assistance with this contact us today.

Briefing and Debriefing

Coordinating Teachers need to ensure that their team of supervising and class teachers have all the information they need to support their Peer Leaders. Some extra time taken in the early stages really helps the sessions run smoothly, so use the resources in your Manual to ensure this is done well, using the feedback forms to inform ongoing guidance for Peer Leaders.

Good luck with Peer Support at your school. Remember that our Wellbeing Education Consultants are available to support you.

Cairns State High School’s Peer Support Program

School Spotlight

Cairns State High School

Cairns State High School launched the Peer Support Program at the start of 2018. The Executive Principal, Chris Zilm, was aware of the impact of the program in other schools and was keen to embed it into the fabric of Cairns State High School.

peer leader students

The Peer Leaders were very enthusiastic about the roles they had taken on and felt that the skills of leadership and facilitation they had learnt and used during the process would also support them with other areas of their lives inside and outside of school. The school’s coordinators noted that this was the first time that some of the students involved had engaged in leadership, and the program’s structure enabled them to experience great success in their roles.

peer leader group of students with coordinators

Cairns State High will continue to implement Peer Support in 2019 after having critically evaluated their first year. Anecdotally, schools have a greater chance of success in keeping The Peer Support Program alive if more staff at the school are trained and involved. Cairns State High School have recently trained another two additional teachers to work alongside the coordinators.

The positive experiences of the students at Cairns State High School have been shared with neighbouring schools, and several of them will also be adopting The Peer Support Program in 2019.

The Importance of the Australian Student Wellbeing Framework

The Australian Student Wellbeing Framework (ASWF) was launched in October 2018 to update the National Schools Framework of 2011. Encompassing five main elements of Leadership, Inclusion, Student Voice, Partnerships and Support it has the purpose of complementing and guiding the whole school community to ensure safety is maintained, positive relationships are built and wellbeing is promoted.

The content and strategies of Peer Support resources offer practical ways for schools to activate the ASWF.

Support ASWF

One of the primary focuses of the Support element of the ASWF is promoting resilience, raising awareness and understanding of wellbeing and embedding positive behaviour as part of the fabric of the school. The evidence informed, whole school and peer led approach of The Peer Support Program supports this component. Teachers are engaged in professional learning to ensure consistent implementation of the program in line with whole school plans for wellbeing and positive behaviour.

inclusion ASWF

Inclusion is the second element of the ASWF highlighting the importance of building and maintaining positive and respectful relationships. This too is fostered by The Peer Support Program which increases connections across the school through vertical groupings. This allows students to form purposeful relationships as well as develop empathy and a sense of responsibility for students with whom they might not typically engage.

student voice ASWF

The Student Voice element of the ASWF aligns with The Peer Support Student Representative Council (SRC) workshop and supporting material, and assists SRC Coordinators to establish and maintain an effective SRC. The workshop outlines how to empower student representatives with the skills needed to act as leaders. Students are subsequently equipped and can be part of authentic engagement and decision making which will benefit themselves, their peers and the whole school community.

The strong evidence-informed foundation of The Peer Support Program provides an effective means for teachers and schools to develop areas which the new Australian Student Wellbeing Framework places at its core.

Smartphones Banned in NSW Primary Schools

Last year the NSW Education Minister commissioned an independent review into the non-educational use of mobile digital devices in NSW schools. Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, together with Associate Professor Amanda Third and cyber safety expert Susan McLean, consulted with a large range of stakeholders, including students, over several months. The findings of the Review were published in December last year.

One of the 8 recommendations of the Review was that the use of mobile devices during school hours should be restricted in NSW public primary schools. NSW public high schools can opt into this restriction or pursue the approach that best suits their circumstances and the needs of their diverse communities.

The Impact on Student Wellbeing

Reactions to this recommendation have understandably been varied. The Review itself notes the possible friction involved in respect to the balance between the essential development of self-regulation, and the need to protect young people, particularly those who for a range of reasons may be more vulnerable than others.
Some concerns about excessive screen time include the consequent reduction of face to face social connectedness, reduced inclination to be involved in community activities and the development of values which are skewed towards materialism. In particular, the role of smartphones in bullying and other forms of abuse are widely addressed in the Review.

Working closely with teachers, The Peer Support Program features both the structures and content to help counter the impact of such concerns, whether or not they are related to technology. These include the fundamental nature of the program, being focused as it is on fostering meaningful, positive and direct interaction between young people, and modules specifically targeting areas of learning such as maintaining healthy friendships and developing authentic personal and community values.

Since our inception in the 1970’s, The Peer Support Program and resources have been developed to facilitate communication, reflection and learning by young people on key issues which affect individual and community wellbeing. Our modules are designed to stimulate understanding and practice of behaviours such as upstanding, engaging positively in the community and generally developing a pro-social orientation. 

If you would like to know more about specific Peer Support modules which can help your school to address these significant areas, take a look at our website or contact one of our Wellbeing Consultants.

March 23 2018 Solarbuddy.org and the Solar Light Challenge

Recognising Earth Hour and all forms of positive social impact programs, Peer Support Australia would like you to check out our charity partner Solarbuddy.org, and the work they are doing in reducing energy poverty in marginalised communities throughout the world.

Solarbuddy.org was created by Simon Doble, with the focus of educating young Australians on how to build a more sustainable future, and make positive impact on those in energy poverty.

Check out their work in the Solar Light Challenge – Earth Hour Solar Light challenge

Marinda’s Rising Star Story

The Peer Support Program has enabled our school to establish a framework for identifying leadership opportunities for our students and improving their ability in managing small teams and designing and coordinating group tasks.

The Year 11 students who have been involved in the Program underwent an application program which involved them identifying their own goals for being involved in the Program, which needed to be endorsed by both their parents and a teacher.

The Peer Support leaders have assisted in the transition of Year 6 students into Year 7 through leading orientation day activities and implementing the Program every fortnight. Peer Leaders will also be working with the primary school students to teach the Year 6 students about our Anti-Bullying Program, as well as assisting with hosting parents during our Year 7 information sessions.

Our Year 7 students have integrated smoothly into the culture of Macquarie Fields HS due to the intensive support from our Peer Leaders. The Peer Support Program is an integral part of the transition process as well as enabling senior students to take on a range of leadership positions in our community.

In the future, Peer Leaders will be utilising their leadership skills to mentor junior students in a more intensive one-on-one program.

The Peer Support Program has also enabled our school to offer leadership opportunities to a wide range of senior students whilst creating a supportive environment for our junior students. The experience has been positive for both students and teachers alike.

Review: Happiness & Its Causes Conference – Implications for Education

Recently, the Peer Support Australia Education Team attended the 11th Happiness & Its Causes Conference to explore the science of happiness and learn about strategies that enhance wellbeing and optimise performance. There were over 60 speakers ranging from neuroscientists to humanitarians, with even the Dalai Lama making a video appearance. Some common themes were the importance of kindness and compassion, the human potential and capacity for transformation, and the need to rethink the ways in which we address mental health and move from a deficit to strengths-based approach.

The benefits of practising gratitude and mindfulness meditation were well documented by a number of speakers who presented their research findings and personal stories to demonstrate that simple strategies can, and do, work. Interestingly, many of those who have spent years researching happiness and the techniques that lead to a more rewarding life admitted that they too struggle at times to maintain these techniques in the long term. It appears that achieving and maintaining happiness for most of us is a work in progress that requires time, attention and dedication for long lasting results. Taking this into account, the need for these techniques to be introduced early on into the lives of our children and young people becomes apparent, as this can assist them to form lifelong habits that are embedded into everyday practice. Equipping the next generation with skills in emotion regulation and allowing them to practice these regularly appears to be key to assisting them to flourish, both in the school environment and the world at large – and hopefully grow to become better adjusted, more self-aware and happier adults.

The talks in the Happiness and Learning stream confirmed that there is an increasing number of schools that are using Positive Psychology Interventions (PPI’s) as a means of increasing the wellbeing of their students and enacting the strengths-based approach of the new curriculum. The Positive Psychology movement, initiated by Dr Martin Seligman almost two decades ago, is based on the notion that in order to address mental health we must focus on strengths and positive emotions as well as the effects of adversity and negative emotions1, and is increasingly being used as a framework for the development of wellbeing programs for children and young people in educational settings.

Why is feeling positive important for learning?
There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that positive mind states such as happiness, lead to better academic performance. This was the case in a recent study conducted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education and The Centre for Transformative Teaching and Learning, whose findings demonstrated a statistically significant correlation between happiness and students’ academic achievement2. Speakers echoed these findings, such as Dr Suzy Green who spoke about how positive mood states not only increase feelings of hope but also students’ capacity for goal attainment. Dr Kerry Howells emphasised the importance of gratitude for education and her research demonstrating appreciation as the most optimal state of mind for high cognition.

The application of Positive Psychology to educational contexts sees schools moving beyond the sole focus on academic achievement to include the development of social and emotional skills and practices that cultivate positive feelings, behaviours and emotions3 and is based on the understanding that these are not mutually exclusive, but rather, complementary. It is evident that there has been a paradigm shift in the ways in which we view education and that we are steering in the right direction, but there is still work to do in moving from theory to sustainable practice.

Dr Paula Robinson spoke about her work with schools to improve their wellbeing literacy. She made a clear point that in order to create successful and sustainable wellbeing programs, schools must use the research and existing models to design their own evidence-based, school specific model, take a whole of school approach, and have a clear long term plan well before they implement. The results of her collaboration with schools such as Knox Grammar reveal that partnerships between schools and experts in the field of positive psychology can yield impressive results, but that more needs to be done to assist all schools, regardless of their financial capacity, to develop these. Wellbeing addressed through a whole school framework rather than isolated programs, can shift culture and create measurable improvements.

Implications for teachers
A number of speakers suggested that if we as educators want to assist our students to achieve wellbeing we must begin by looking at our own levels of happiness and satisfaction and address these honestly. We often fail to recognise that how we feel has an impact on the way we teach. Teachers have a powerful influence over student achievement and are significant role models for our young people4. Despite this, Speaker Dr William DeJean makes a valid assertion that teachers are given far fewer opportunities to engage in meaningful personal and professional development and leadership training that can empower positive change than their corporate counterparts. He suggests that teachers must be given the time and opportunity to understand wellbeing for themselves first before they can enable meaningful change in the wellbeing of their students. Indeed this is an area that needs more attention and resources if we want to see real change.

For now, educators can start by focusing on the simple things they can do to improve their happiness and wellbeing on a daily basis using the strategies presented such as daily kindness and gratitude practice and taking time to reduce their stress levels through techniques like mindfulness, and trust that their example, no matter how small, is a powerful agent for change in their students.

The way forward…
Happiness need not be a seemingly elusive and subjective construct. The insights from this conference for me personally are that we can use scientific evidence to cultivate happiness but that this is an ongoing and individual process that takes conscious effort and dedication. The sooner we begin to teach these techniques to young people, the better able they will be to create habits that can lead to a happy life. Schools are getting much better at recognising their role in the development of the whole individual and how they can equip students for the future but must ensure they also recognise and support the role of teachers in this process. As a society, we are getting better at understanding that happiness is critical to success and developing ourselves to reach our highest potential. The results will hopefully benefit generations to come and lead the way for an unprecedented evolution in human consciousness. For now, we can start by something as simple as giving thanks regularly, being kind to ourselves and others, and taking time to be in the present moment on a daily basis. In the words of the Dalai Lama, ‘there’s hope for a better future for us all”.

-Candela Alvaez, Peer Support Australia Wellbeing Education Consultant

1 Seligman, Martin E. P.; Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, Vol 55(1), 5-14. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.5

Schiller, L. & Hinton, C. (2015). It’s true: happier students get higher grades. The Conversation July 30, 2015, Retrieved on 07/07/17 from http://theconversation.com/its-true-happier-students-get-higher-grades-41488?sa=pg1&sq=happier+students&sr=2

3 Waters, L. (2011). A review of school-based positive psychology interventions. The Australian Educational and Developmental Psychologist, 28(2), 75-90. (C) DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1375/aedp.28.2.75

4 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) 2005, Teachers Matter: Attracting, developing and retaining effective teachers, 6th ed, Paris, OECD Publishing cited in Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (ATSIL) – The crucial role of the teacher (2014) Retrieved on 07/07/17 from https://www.aitsl.edu.au/australian-professional-standards-for-teachers/standards/development/the-crucial-roles-of-the-teacher


Referenced Talks
Dr Suzy Green and Dr William DeJean – Happiness, Wellbeing and Learning: Not an either or proposition

Dr Kerry Howells – How your thanking awakens your thinking

Dr Paula Robinson and Matthew Cavallaro – Case Study: Total Fitness at Knox Grammar

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso – Universal Love and Compassion

 Further reading
Robinson, P. (2016) Practising Positive Education: A guide to improve wellbeing literacy in schools. Sydney: Positive Psychology Institute Pty Ltd.

Howells, K. (2013). Enhancing teacher relationships and effectiveness through the practice of gratitude. Teachers Matter, Vol. 23 pp. 58-59.

Townsville Parents and Educators Aim to Build Resilience

Over 160 parents filled the Rydges Southbank on Thursday the 20th of April to learn more about building resilience in their children and teens. Peer Support Australia brought Andrew Fuller, one of Australia’s leading experts on resilience, to Townsville to headline the conversation.

‘The positive response indicated that parents in the community are committed to building resilience in their children, teens and with their families’, explains Greg Cantwell, CEO of Peer Support Australia.

On the night, Mr Fuller used research on over 160 000 young people to paint a clear picture of the strengths and vulnerabilities of young people and confirmed that resilience is the active ingredient in creating great outcomes for children and teens.

‘Parents play a vital role in supporting their children and helping them develop skills and strategies that will make them capable of managing their lives positively’, says Greg Cantwell. ‘There was a real sense from those in attendance that they received practical answers and learned practical skills about how to create and build resilience in their children and families’.

Peer Support Australia also hosted a breakfast for school principals the following day. Andrew Fuller presented school leaders with evidence-based strategies on how to build resilience across the school.

‘Peer Support Australia is committed to working with school communities to empower them to improve the mental health of their students and enhance resilience’, states Mr Cantwell.

Mr Fuller discussed with principals how they can enable their students to approach challenges with greater confidence to enhance resilience across the whole school for behavioural change.

‘Peer Support Australia understands the vital role schools play in promoting resilience and the mental health and wellbeing of their students, says Mr Cantwell. ‘We enjoyed meeting with school leaders in the region who use the Peer Support Program to achieve these outcomes’.

Peer Support Australia is hosting an Implementation Workshop in Townsville on May 16th for school leaders and teachers, the first step in having the Peer Support Program at a school.

Schools looking to learn more about the Peer Support Program and the benefits of the Program are encouraged to contact us at Peer Support Australia through our website or phone 1300 579 to speak to a Wellbeing Education Consultant.

Resolving Conflict Between Friends

Conflict resolution is of particular interest to developmental researchers because it enables children to develop interpersonal and perspective-taking skills1, acquire principles of fairness and justice2, define personal autonomy3, and enhance emotional regulation4. Friendships in particular (as opposed to relationships with parents, siblings, or acquaintances, for example) are especially important relationships for conflict resolution development. Unlike family relationships, which have an assurance of long-term continuity, friendships are more susceptible to potential breakdown or permanent fracture.  Also, friends are invested in voluntary relationships, so their resolutions should reflect the desire to maintain rewarding interconnections, which is lacking between acquaintances5.

The hallmark of a good friendship is not necessarily a lack of conflict, but rather it is how friends work together to reconcile after an episode of disagreement or tension. Indeed, some researchers argue that conflict resolution skills are among the most critical determinants of friendship quality6,7. While there is no one ‘right’ way to resolve conflict, there are some strategies that have been identified by researchers as adaptive and more likely to contribute to mutually harmonious reconciliation.

One of the most widely used theories of conflict resolution is based on the ‘Dual Concern’ model8,9. According to this theory, the particular strategy that a person uses to resolve conflict depends on their level of concern for themselves, versus their level of concern for the other person/s10. Collaboration, which may involve cooperation, negotiation or compromise, occurs when there is high concern for both oneself and others, and is generally considered the most adaptive form of conflict resolution. A second strategy, accommodation, is where concern for others give precedence to concern for oneself, and may also be adaptive in certain situations. Collaboration and accommodation are classified as solution-orientated strategies11. Less adaptive forms of conflict resolution include controlling strategies (such as coercion and hostility), which reflect a high degree of concern for oneself with low concern for others, and non-confrontational strategies (withdrawal or avoidance), reflecting low concern for both oneself and others10.

As children get older, their ability to successfully resolve conflicts with friends increases. This is thought to reflect the growing prominence of issues and settings that present opportunities for perspective-taking and consideration of others. Young children tend to resolve conflicts with less adaptive strategies, such as coercion. However, as they mature into adolescents and become better versed at reconciling their friendship disagreements, they more frequently use adaptive strategies such as negotiation5. Indeed, adolescents’ friendships offer valuable opportunities for broader social development because of the behaviours and skills they learn when engaging in and resolving conflict episodes with their friends12.

Studies show that having good conflict resolution skills is associated with various positive outcomes. For adolescents, the resolution strategies they learn and practice in peer relationships are associated with increased friendship quality and long-term friendship maintenance13. Over the life course, conflict resolution skills have been linked to marital satisfaction14 and to workplace success15. There is also research to indicate that the ability to successfully resolve conflict is related to empathy. Being able to perceive and identify with another’s distress or frustration in a conflict situation can lead to a better understanding of the other person’s position. This may then act to inhibit maladaptive approaches to conflict and instead promote more effective strategies16. For example, one study found that adolescents who were higher in empathy were more likely to use compromising strategies and discuss issues with friends, and were also less likely to become angry when resolving conflicts with friends17.

In all friendships, conflict is an inevitable occurrence. However, conflict need not cause lasting damage, and can actually bring friends closer together when they are resolved harmoniously – by engaging in solution-orientated strategies and minimising the use of controlling or non-confrontational strategies.


  1. Jones, T. S. (2004). Conflict resolution education: The field, the findings, and the future. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 22(1-2), 233-267.
  2. Ross, H. S., (1996). Negotiating principles of entitlement in sibling property disputes. Developmental Psychology, 32, 90-101.
  3. Nucci, L. P., Killen, M., & Smetana, J. G. (1996). Autonomy and the personal: Negotiation and social reciprocity in adult-child social exchanges. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 73, 7-24.
  4. Fabes, R., & Eisenberg, N. (1992). Young children’s coping with interpersonal stress. Child Development, 63, 116-128.
  5. Laursen, B., Finkelstein, B. D., & Betts, N. T. (2001). A developmental meta-analysis of peer conflict resolution. Developmental Review, 21, 423-449.
  6. Crohan, S. E. (1992). Marital happiness and spousal consensus on beliefs about marital conflict: A longitudinal investigation. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 9, 89-102.
  7. Laursen, B., & Collins, W. A. (1994). Interpersonal conflict during adolescence. Psychological Bulletin, 115, 197-209.
  8. Pruitt, D. G. (1982). Negotiation Behavior. New York: Academic Press.
  9. Pruitt, D. G., & Carnevale, P. J. (1993). Negotiation in social conflict. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
  10. Thayer, S. M., Updegraff, K. A., & Delgado, M. Y. (2008). Conflict resolution in Mexican American adolescents’ friendships: Links with culture, gender and friendship quality. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37(7), 783-797.
  11. Laursen, B., Finklestein, B. D., & Townsend Betts, N. (2001). A developmental meta-analysis of peer conflict resolution. Developmental Review, 21, 423-449.
  12. Youniss, J., & Smoller, J. (1985). Adolescent relations with mothers, fathers, and friends. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  13. Hartup, W. W. (1993). Adolescents and their friends. In B. Laursen (Ed.), New directions for child development: Close friendships in adolescence (pp. 3-22). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  14. Gottman, J. M., & Krokoff, L. J. (1989). Marital interaction and satisfaction: A longitudinal view. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 47-52.
  15. Tjosvold, D. (1998). Cooperative and competitive goal approach to conflict: Accomplishments and challenges. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 47, 1363-1375.
  16. Chow, C. M., Ruhl, H., & Buhrmester, D. (2013). The mediating role of interpersonal competence between adolescents’ empathy and friendship quality: A dyadic approach. Journal of Adolescence, 36(1), 191-200.
  17. de Wied, M., Branje, S. J. T., & Meeus, W. H. J. (2007). Empathy and conflict resolution in friendship relations among adolescents. Aggressive Behavior, 33, 48-55.