EDUC20074 Positive Communities and Organisations

Positive Communities and Organisation was reviewed by Jessie Sun. She is in her final year of a Bachelor of Arts (Psychology).

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It is my pleasure to review EDUC20074 Positive Communities and Organisations, which has been my very favourite subject out of all 16 I have taken so far in my two years at UniMelb.

Context: What is Positive Organisational Scholarship and Positive Education?

Positive organisational scholarship (POS) captures the outcomes, processes, and attributes that enable organisations and their members to flourish. Rather than simply considering topics like burnout, conflict and absenteeism (as well as teamwork, profit and growth) and focusing on fixing performance deficits, POS examines strengths and possibilities to discover how we can get optimal wellbeing, performance and virtuousness in organisational settings.

Positive education is the idea that schools should teach the skills of wellbeing as well as traditional academic skills. In this way, it hopes to play a preventative role in mental health, improve learning as a natural effect of improved wellbeing, and promote the wellbeing of whole societies as more and more people encounter positive schooling.

When was the subject taken?

Semester 2, 2013. We were the guinea pigs for this remarkably successful new subject.

Who can take this subject?

It is a breadth subject run by the Graduate School of Education, and part of the Positive individuals, organisations and communities breadth track, so students from all New Generation undergraduate degrees are allowed to take it.

What topics were covered in the subject?

– Foundations of POS, organisational theory & research, wellbeing

– Positive Emotion: emotional contagion, energy

  • A real highlight for me was the Gratitude Visit that we were encouraged to do, which I wrote about here. It was an incredibly uplifting experience.

– Engagement: strengths, play & gameification, passion, work motivation, flow, mindfulness at work

  • We identified our own strengths and learned how to work with them, and how to spot strengths in others
  • Learned about some seriously positive (and seriously successful) workplaces, like Google and Zappos.

– Positive Education

  • Guest speakers: Phil Doll from The Peninsula School, Justin Robinson & Paige Williams from Geelong Grammar School, Matthew White from St Peter’s College, Adelaide [via podcast]
  • I absolutely loved learning about how real schools had implemented positive education.

– Positive Relationships: prosocial behaviour, high quality connections, random acts of kindness

– Meaning & Accomplishment: job crafting, grit

– Applying Positive Psychology & POS

  • Guest speaker: Paula Robinson from the Positive Psychology Institute

– Virtuous & Resilient Organisations: elevation, effects of virtuousness

– Appreciative Inquiry

  • Guest speaker: Michelle McQuaid
  • Appreciative Inquiry is a method for creating strengths-based change (in contrast to “problem-solving”) by asking affirmative questions that help people to discover existing strengths, dream of possibilities, design action steps, and deliver outcomes. This was another one of my favourite topics, one that has influenced the kinds of questions I now ask in my everyday life. Michelle McQuaid’s guest lecture (and her guest tutorial on gameification) was simply outstanding, delivered with contagious enthusiasm and a personal story that really brought the power of Appreciative Inquiry to life.

– Wellbeing in Societies, Nations and the World: measurement, drivers

– Authentic Leadership

What textbooks were required for the subject?

There was a prescribed textbook, Positive Organizational Scholarship: Foundations of a New Discipline. Chapters were prescribed from this textbook basically every week, so it is worth getting. If I recall correctly, it was around $60/70, but you can get the online version for about half that price.

What type of assessments were there?

There were two assignments, worth 30% and 60%, respectively (the final 10% was based on tutorial participation). Looking at the 2014 handbook though, it looks like this has changed to 35% and 65%.

Assignment 1 (1500 words) was an essay on Positive Education. We had to take the role of an organisational consultant to analyse the implementation of positive education in one of the schools that had spoken to us, and suggest some future improvements.

Assignment 2 (2500 words) was an essay on POS. We had to describe POS and explain its role, then choose a specific area of POS research, describe the research in that area, then interview someone (preferably someone who works in an industry that you’re interested in) about their profession or organisation, and again, act as a consultant to see how your area of POS could be applied to improve wellbeing and performance in their workplace.

I have to say that these are the two most practical assignments I’ve ever written. It was really cool to take on the role of “consultant” and make research-based recommendations that the schools and organisations could, in principle, actually use! And it was invaluable to have an excuse to interview an expert in a field that I am very interested in (positive psychology, in case you hadn’t guessed :P). Too often, people think they want to go into a certain career but actually have no idea what it involves. Even if you don’t take this subject, you can and should create your own opportunities to find out by reaching out to people working in that field.

Final thoughts

To me, this subject exemplified meaningful learning; learning far beyond facts and book knowledge to actually internalising this knowledge to form new mindsets that influence the way we see the world and the actions we take. In line with the vision of positive education, I strongly believe that this subject empowers students with the tools and mindsets for wellbeing and success.

Having said that, it is also worth saying that as with any subject, you only get out what you put in. There was very little pressure to do any of the readings except for the assignments, but doing the readings will certainly enhance your understanding and, importantly, critical thinking, which sometimes gets neglected when you just take information at face value (aka the Abstract). Similarly, you will be far more likely to reap the personal benefits of improved wellbeing, self-awareness and relationships if you complete the exercises that you’re encouraged to do (like the gratitude visit, or discovering your character strengths).

Finally, a shout-out to the fantastic learning community for this subject. There is probably some element of self-selection in the type of people who would choose a subject with “Positive” in the title, but my classmates were seriously some of the nicest, motivated, friendly people I have met at uni, and lectures and tutorials were always a very comfortable, fun and friendly space. Thanks, guys! (((HUGS)))

TL;DR: This subject is AWESOME. Just take it! #positive #fun #practical #meaningful #perfectbreadthsubject #lifechanging

P.S. If you have any questions at all about the subject from a student’s perspective, you are more than welcome to send me an email at j.sun@student.unimelb.edu.au.

P.P.S. You might notice that I haven’t mentioned the lecturer for this subject. That’s because she left UniMelb this year, sadface :(, so I thought it would be more relevant to this year’s prospective students to read about the content of the subject. But just for the record, Natalie Brain is the kindest lecturer I’ve had and she embodied positive psychology and taught and inspired me so much just through her presence and the way she cared for every single student.

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More about the reviewer:

Jessie Sun is in her final year of a Bachelor of Arts (Psychology). She hopes to become an academic, researching and promoting positive education and mindfulness in particular, and writes about these topics at http://mindfulpsych.blogspot.com. This semester, she will be on exchange at the University of Pennsylania, and will also be blogging about that experience at http://dailypennings.blogspot.com.

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