Coaching, Positive Psychology and Education: Reflections on ISCAPPED

I am writing this in the afterglow of a wonderful two days in Sydney at ISCAPPED – the International Symposium for Coaching and Positive Psychology in Education. It was a remarkable experience – passionate and committed educators gathered together with a stellar line-up of national and international leaders in these fields. Listening to the panel discussion between Professor Lea Waters, Dr Robert Biswas-Diener, Associate Professor Christian van Nieuwerburgh and Dr Mathew White was quite an experience. Right in front of me, up and close and personal, were people whose work I had absorbed and admired over many years. And…on top of that we were able to weave in the in-school practitioner experience of several hundred people doing great work already but driven to learn about how to do it even better. It was a privilege to be there really.

Consequently, I thought it might be helpful to reflect on some key messages that emerged for me over the two days:

The links between coaching, positive psychology and education are broad and deep

When I think about what is at the heart of coaching it is the principle of how a one to one conversation can be a mechanism for helping good people get better. When I think about what the heart of positive psychology it is the commitment to the scientific study of what leads to human flourishing. When I think about what is at the heart of school education is the commitment to the learning and wellbeing of all young people.

The ‘flourishing’ word is a common thread here. Each of these fields of study are essentially about success and wellbeing – the success and wellbeing of students (and staff) in our schools.

Given this, coaching and positive psychology find a natural home within education. That is why it is so helpful to explore the various ways in which coaching and positive psychology can feed and support each other for the ultimate benefit of all those who participate in the human development systems we call schools.

Coaching strategies and approaches are informed by Positive Psychology. (The application of the GCI GROWTH model draws heavily on Hope Theory (Lopez,2009) and Solution Focused theory (Shennan,2011). Coaching also provides an ideal context in which Positive Psychology interventions can be operationalised for the benefit of those participating in the coaching process. Indeed, one the concurrent sessions, led by GCI team member, Claudia Owad, argued that positive psychology is the ‘what’; coaching is the ‘how’.

Further, if conversation is indeed the ‘fundamental unit of change’ (Jackson & Waldman,2011, p.13) then coaching conversations across the entire school community can provide the mechanism by which positive psychology initiatives are conceived and implemented in sustainable ways.

Educators and academics in Australia are doing internationally significant work in these areas

Given Australia’s geographical isolation and the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ of which Robert Biswas-Diener spoke, Australian educators can sometimes feel disconnected from trends and developments in other parts of the world and can question the value of what their work.

It was particularly encouraging to be reminded by those with an international perspective that what is already happening in Australian education in relation to both positive psychology programs and coaching in education related initiatives is of international significance. Indeed, Professor Lea Waters shared her recent research that will likely be shaping the foundations of Positive Psychology programs in schools across the world for years to come.

Ongoing research is critical

While it is good to acknowledge what has already been achieved the continued, and hopefully, expanded impact of both positive psychology and coaching initiatives in schools will be progressed and sustained by ongoing research. How can we show that initiatives in these areas are having a real impact on student achievement and wellbeing? How do we measure that impact? These will be the ongoing questions to which we will need to keep giving attention and resources.

The term ‘pracademic’ received a bit of a workout over the ISCAPPED event and I think we need to embrace this concept so that those of us working in schools can, when appropriate and possible, bring a research perspective to what we are doing. We need to support and continue the great work that Professor Lea Waters and other academic researchers are doing and we need those in schools and classrooms to add to this. The research work that teachers Dr Deborah Netolicky and Alex Guedes are doing in their own school situations is so encouraging. More of this please.

A pracademic is someone who is both an academic and an active practitioner in their subject area.

A grassroots approach to change is emerging

It is encouraging to see how what is happening in schools in these areas is now influencing policy levels. Tony Mackay highlighted this point during the panel discussion and the NSW Dept. of Education Wellbeing Framework, of which Greg Prior spoke, provides some evidence of that. As the flow of research at all levels and of all kinds continues we will see a compelling case for positive psychology and coaching initiatives developing that will be impossible to ignore.

Thanks to all who attended this event. We look forward to welcoming even more to our next major event – 5th National Coaching in Education Conference at the MCG, Melbourne on May 29-30, 2017.


  • Rand, K. & Cheavens, J. (2009). Hope theory. In S.J. Lopez, Shane & C.R. Snyder (Eds.) Oxford handbook of positive psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Jackson, P. and Waldman, J. (2011) Positively Speaking: The Art of Constructive Conversations with a Solutions Focus. St Albans: Solutions Books.
  • Shennan, G. (2014). Solution focused practice: Effective communication to facilitate change. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

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