Better Than Ok: Helping Young People to Flourish at School and Beyond

Better Than Ok: Helping Young People to Flourish at School and Beyond

by Dr. Helen Street, Neil Porter

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This is a book of up-to-date strategies for helping children—from their earliest years into adulthood—and is all about helping kids do more than just survive; these are strategies to help kids flourish. These solution-focused and easy-to-read essays are by 27 of the world's top experts in positive education. Learn to help children develop a lifelong love of learning with this practical and positive guide. Contributors include Michael Carr-Gregg, Maggie Dent, Andrew Fuller, and Tim Sharp.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781922089809
Publisher: Fremantle Press
Publication date: 06/01/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Dr. Helen Street is an author, academic, and social psychologist whose work with Australian schools is internationally acclaimed. She is an honorary research fellow with the School of Graduate Education at the University of Western Australian, an adjunct research consultant for the health department of Western Australia, and cochair for the Positive Schools conferences. She is perhaps best known for her work as the psychologist for Network Ten's The Circle. Neil Porter is the founding member and cochair of the National Australian Positive Schools Initiative; a cofounder of the Positive Times, an online magazine for educators; and the director of Wise Solutions mental health assessment services for schools.

Read an Excerpt

Better than OK

Helping Young People to Flourish at School and Beyond

By Helen Street, Neil Porter

Fremantle Press

Copyright © 2014 Helen Street and Neil Porter
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-922089-80-9




Today is a challenging time no matter how you look at it and there is the rub. Time. You have several thousand hours to influence and inspire kids. How will you spend it?

According to the Australian Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), students receive an average of 7751 hours of instruction during their primary and lower secondary education, most of it compulsory. Around 51 per cent of those hours are spent learning reading, writing, literature and mathematics, taught primarily by teachers who are forty years of age or older in an average classroom size of 25 in a school system ill equipped to keep up with rapid technological advances.

In 1996, a research study by Joan Middendorf and Alan Kalish of Indiana University reported on students' attention spans in classrooms and lectures. It seems the average mind shuts down after between six and twenty minutes – irrespective of the teacher, how interesting the subject matter is, the time of day or the environment the teaching is taking place in.

When we were growing up the teacher was the 'gatekeeper' to all knowledge and information. Today, search engines are progressively taking up that role. Anybody can learn calculus or how to build a tree house or design an app on the internet. We need to be more assertive, more creative, and we need to think differently because the traditional approach is not working in a world where students have smartphones and tablets, interact via social media and texting, and find answers by googling.

Technological advances are transforming the needs of the labour market and impacting on low-skilled workers who are increasingly finding their traditional jobs being automated. A tertiary education increases the likelihood of being employed, and the higher the educational achievement, the larger the pay packet. In New Zealand, a year after graduation, students who had majored in health and engineering received salaries that were on average 58 and 45 per cent more respectively than those who graduated in the creative arts (OECD, 2013). The question is, how to influence students to stay longer in school in a world where they don't see that what they're learning is relevant to what they'll be doing when they start working, some of them in jobs that don't even yet exist.

Since 2006, I have toured colleges and universities where I discuss creative writing and the evolution of finding one's own creative groove. I have sat alongside students who have studied my book and spoken with teachers about why some techniques work and others do not when engaging students, particularly those from the lower socioeconomic groups.

I am not a teacher. I didn't pursue higher education, not because I didn't want to go to university but because after spending long bouts in hospital, I didn't qualify. In the early 1980s, schooling in hospitals was almost non-existent for long-term patients of school age. But something happened that helped ignite a love of reading and learning – I heard the stories of elderly patients who shared my room. I was captivated by their tales of travels and adventures, of hopeful dreams in faraway lands and the disappointment of colourful mistakes. It didn't matter that I was the only brown kid in a predominantly European ward or that I was the youngest at fourteen years old. It was my education, a series of daily events that were really discussions and conversations. It could be one to one or a group of four or five. Occasionally up to ten patients would cram a hallway to discuss everything from politics and world wars to gardening and farming techniques; the best way to cook a roast dinner, navigating the Atlantic by the stars or arguing the voice patterns of pre-1960 singers of Cole Porter songs.

It was only later I realised how important these moments were and how they had armed me with an understanding my peers knew nothing about. I didn't have a highflying sixth form certificate and I didn't possess a University Entrance Certificate, but I knew I had valuable knowledge. I asked different questions, my interests were wider than what was discussed at school. I had a different type of knowledge after spending almost two years in and out of hospital.

A teacher once asked me to define 'knowledge' when I was trying to describe my lacklustre interest in Shakespeare. Words failed me because I didn't know how to structure a good response, and I was viewed as distinctly ignorant – the total opposite of knowledgeable. Inside I knew my elderly friends would have parodied the play, taken on the roles, and made me the lead character. They would have chastised me for not taking it seriously and helped me create a scene in the castles Shakespeare was so fond of. They would have roped in a passing orderly to play a guard and a nurse to play a cook, all the while explaining, questioning me, even beseeching me to respond as if I had been wronged by some crazy king. If I'd known what I know now, I would have said to the teacher that knowledge comes not just from reading a book but from instilling in me a desire to want to explore, to be open to learning. Because when I'm alone with my own thoughts, I'll still be questioning, still be excited about the subject and wanting to learn more.

I love both teachers and parents for what they do. Theirs is an often thankless task: to nurture and mould young minds and prepare them with a solid base from which to launch themselves into a future, equipped to achieve their dreams and expectations. It is a herculean duty and the responsibility to influence one mind let alone hundreds over the years is immense. Today is a challenging time no matter how you look at it and there is the rub. Time. You have several thousand hours to influence and inspire kids. How will you spend it? With great duty comes great opportunity.




In an era of national testing, school league tables and competition, there are the beginnings of a shift towards greater recognition of students' personal academic growth. Personal Best (PB) goals are an effective way in which to encourage young learners to aim higher.

In an era of national literacy and numeracy testing, school league tables, heightened performance pressure and classroom competition, there are the beginnings of a shift towards greater recognition of students' personal academic growth. Increasingly, educators and researchers are growing uncomfortable with the excessive focus on comparisons and competition in the classroom. They fear it locks too many students out of opportunities for success, places too much pressure on students at all levels of ability in the classroom, and increases anxiety and fear of failure. This has led to calls for a focus on students' personal academic growth alongside the more traditional comparative approaches, in the belief that it will give all young people greater access to success (in terms of personal improvement) and reduce anxiety and fear of failure.

Comparisons and competition are a reality of today's world, and in this chapter I will show how you can complement these with personal best (PB) and growth approaches.

PB goals are an effective way to encourage young learners to aim higher by competing with themselves more than competing with other students. PB goals are specific, challenging and completely self-referenced. In setting a PB goal, you encourage a student to state exactly what they are aiming for, and set a goal which moves them forward and that competes primarily with previous bests rather than with other students.

Process and outcome goals

PB goals may be either process or outcome goals. Both should be encouraged.

Process goals

• reading one more book for the present assignment than on the previous assignment

• preparing for a test at the weekend when previously no study had been done at weekends

• doing some homework that night when none had been done that week

• aiming to be less anxious in the upcoming test than in the previous test

• calling out in class fewer times today than yesterday

• staying in one's seat longer in the afternoon than in the morning

• asking a teacher for help when previously the teacher was avoided

• spending an extra hour doing homework than usual.

Outcome goals

• spelling more words in this week's spelling quiz than last week's quiz

• doing better on the term 2 science practical report than on the term 1 report

• scoring a higher GPA in semester 2 than semester 1

• getting a higher mark in the end of year exams than in the half yearly exams

• getting more sums correct in this week's mathematics test than last week's test.

There is good evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of PB goals. Our research program has found PB goals to be associated with positive educational aspirations, enjoyment of school, class participation and persistence. PB goals lead to literacy and numeracy achievement, test effort and homework completion; they are associated with deep learning, academic flow and positive teacher relationships. This effectiveness applies equally to students who are at academic risk, such as those with ADHD.

Ten steps to PB goal setting

1. Clearly understand what a PB goal is.

2. Observe sample PB goals to get a better idea of different types of goals.

3. Decide whether to pursue a process or an outcome goal.

4. Precisely state what the PB goal is.

5. Ensure the PB goal is at least matching a previous best and that it is realistic and attainable.

6. Specify a timeframe for reaching the PB goal.

7. List the steps involved in working towards the PB goal.

8. Monitor progress on these steps.

9. Reflect on whether the goal has been achieved, and if it was not attained, identify the reasons why.

10. Set the next PB goal.

The PB Index

The PB Index is an informal approach to scoring students in a way that indicates how well they are performing from one term to the next. You score the student on three areas based on how the student has travelled in this term compared to last term:

• This term's mark compared to last term's mark.

• This term's engagement and attitude compared to last term's.

• This term's skill and competence development compared to last term's.

A higher score reflects how much the student has exceeded their efforts from the previous term, and the three scores are summed to form a total PB Index for the term. The PB Index can be included in the student's report card alongside their comparative grade to give a more comprehensive reading. The comparative grade reveals how students performed compared to the class and the PB Index shows how much they achieved relative to their own potential.

Learning growth maps

Too often students have no concept of what progress they are making as they move through a given topic or unit of work. Learning growth maps are helpful in this regard. For example, prior to embarking on the fractions unit in mathematics, you might identify the different parts of the topic that students will progressively learn: proper fractions followed by improper fractions, then adding proper fractions, multiplying them, and so on. This is referred to as mapping learning growth. As a student learns each part, they check that off on their learning growth map, and so have a sense of their progress.

Growth feed-forward

Another approach to growth is through the feedback you provide students on their assignments and projects. Often feedback by teachers is summative; it mainly comments on the strengths and weaknesses of the work, along with various corrections. Such feedback does not typically address the student's potential for growth, with advice on what they can do to improve in future efforts. In contrast, growth 'feed-forward' is forward reaching, identifying errors in terms of what students can do to improve next time. This 'feed-forward' is very specific and launches a young person into more successful practice in a subsequent task.

The growth mindset

Underpinning these specific strategies are various mindsets students can have about themselves, their ability and potential. Holding an 'incremental view' (growth mindset), students believe that their competence and skill can be developed through effort and a positive attitude, and that they have the room and potential to grow academically. Holding an 'entity view,' students do not believe that competence and skill can be developed much, even if good effort and attitude are applied, and they see themselves as somewhat stuck at where they are. Your task is to promote a growth mindset and reduce entity views of ability and potential. What more can we ask of students than to aim to improve on their own previous efforts – and believe it is possible?




Our creativity is an essential element of our wellbeing. We need to learn to express ourselves in the artefacts of our world so that we can feel a part of that world. Creativity is not a luxury. Young people need to be creative to be well.

I have noticed that we often put the word 'creative' alongside the word 'genius' when describing an innovative or artistic achievement. Similarly we often talk about expressions of creativity as if they stem from exceptional talent or highly intelligent minds. In this way of thinking, creativity is seen as a luxury for the masses and an expression reserved for the few. It seems the rest of us need to settle for the passive appreciation of creativity rather than the active creation of the world around us. Yet creativity is not a talent born to a lucky few, it is an innate element of being human, a part of every one of us. Just as we all can learn literacy and numeracy, so too can we learn to nurture and express our creativity.

Our creativity is an essential element of our wellbeing. Not only do we all have the capacity to respond creatively (rather than simply reactively) to the world around us, we need to be creative to feel 'wholly' human. We need to learn to express ourselves in the artefacts of our world so that we can feel a part of that world. It is of little surprise to find that whenever I ask another adult to tell me the thing they would 'really like to do' if money and time and opportunity were no object, they nearly always answer with a creative pursuit. Lawyers have told me they would like to be artists; engineers express a love for singing and IT experts want to write 'that' book. This is not to say that each of these professionals could not find creativity in what they currently do, but rather that engaging with something wholeheartedly creative is a genuine desire for most people.

In a society that must deal with challenging and prevalent mental health issues in kids and teens, the pursuit of creativity may seem a luxury or out of touch with the 'real world.' Yet the active pursuit of creativity has been found to significantly improve wellbeing in young people. Moreover, it has been found to help them to be 'better than OK,' to flourish and feel more content, more satisfied with life as a whole. Creative expression is a valuable and vital form of expression, whether it be in verbal or written language, the language of science or math, or the language of art or music. It is time that we understood that creativity is essential, not the folly of the rich or an exclusive gift for the chosen few.

So how do we support creativity in young people in a modern world where they are so busy being instantly entertained with screen time and social media? And how do we help them to prioritise creativity when the demands of school assessments seem oblivious to it?


Excerpted from Better than OK by Helen Street, Neil Porter. Copyright © 2014 Helen Street and Neil Porter. Excerpted by permission of Fremantle Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction Positive Schools, Positive Talk by Helen Street,
Engaging With Life,
1. Keeping Time with the Gatekeepers by Andrew Fiu,
2. Personal Best Goals and Student Growth by Andrew J. Martin,
3. From Reaction to Creation by Helen Street,
Finding Motivation,
4. Josh's Story by Dan Haesler,
5. Finding My Own Way by Helen Street,
6. Student Motivation and Engagement: Strategies for Parents and Educators by Andrew J. Martin,
Building Lifelong Resilience,
7. Academic Buoyancy and Adaptability by Andrew J. Martin,
8. Resilience: Helping children and young people to 'bounce back' by Toni Noble,
9. Refugee Students: Building hope for the future by Dorothy Hoddinott,
Developing Positive Emotions and Behaviour,
10. Enhancing Youth – and World – Happiness: Steps for teaching our kids to live happier lives by George W. Burns,
11. Taking Happiness Seriously in Schools by Tim Sharp,
12. The Fabulous First Five Minutes by Julie Davey,
13. Well-Behaved versus Wellbeing by Steve Heron,
Embracing True Identities,
14. The Tale of a Ghost Who Couldn't Scare: Using kids' own stories to learn and problem-solve by George W. Burns,
15. Navigating Young People's Sexual Behaviours by Holly Brennan,
16. Helping Kids with Disability by Katherine Dix,
17. Spirituality in the Classroom by Richard Pengelley,
18. Growing Great Kids by Sue Roffey,
Practising Positive Relationships,
19. Positive Conversations by Andrew Fuller,
20. Shining a Light on a Bumpy Journey by Maggie Dent,
21. Learning to Live Together by Sue Roffey,
22. The Parent–Teacher Partnership by John Irvine,
Growing Up in Nurturing Environments,
23. Nature-Guided Therapy: Using nature to build happier and healthier kids by George W. Burns,
24. Beside the Blowhole by Natalie Houghton,
Living with Technology,
25. Growing Up in a Digital World by Jane Burns,
26. Cybersafety: Keeping children safe online by Jeremy Blackman and Sandra Craig,
27. The Pornographic Experiment on Young People by Melinda Tankard Reist,
Flourishing at School,
28. Positive Education: An intentional focus on wellbeing by Justin Robinson,
29. Putting the Child at the Centre: A whole-school approach by Principals Australia Institute on behalf of KidsMatter Primary,
30. An Evidence-Based Whole-School Strategy to Positive Education by Mathew White,
31. Surviving Year Twelve by Michael Carr-Gregg,
32. On Education by Jane Elliott,
About the Authors,

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