Friday, September 4 , 2015, 2:30 pm | A Few Clouds 76.0º




Marymount of Santa Barbara Puts ‘Positive’ Spin on Education

Students start early in honing leadership skills and providing social support to others

By Molly Seguel for Marymount of Santa Barbara |

The subject of positive intelligence has been getting a lot of attention of late. Recent studies indicate it as a critical component to success. Popular Stanford University lecturer Shirzad Chamine explains that “positive intelligence (PQ) measures the percentage of time your mind is serving you as opposed to sabotaging you. While your IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence) contribute to your maximum potential, it is your PQ that determines how much of that potential you actually achieve.”

At Marymount, the principle of social support is taught beginning in the Lower School.
At Marymount, the principle of social support is taught beginning in the Lower School. (Marymount of Santa Barbara photo)

When asked why he chose to be head of school at Marymount of Santa Barbara a little more than a year ago, Andrew Wooden was quick to point out the positive culture at the school, seeing the positive atmosphere at the school as unique and palpable on campus, visible in the students, the faculty and the parents.

“Research shows that when people work with a positive mindset, performance on nearly every level — productivity, creativity, engagement — improves,” Shawn Anchor wrote in a recent article on positive intelligence.

Anchor is founder of Good Think Inc. and the author of The Happiness Advantage. He was head teaching fellow in 2006 of “Positive Psychology,” the most popular course at Harvard University at the time, and holds a master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School.

“Anchor’s research is primarily focused on the business world and the affect that positive intelligence can have on business productivity,” said Wooden, who has a degree from Yale Divinity School, “but education is similar and after over 30 years in education, I have never seen a school as good at fostering PQ as Marymount is.”

“Recent research on neuroplasticity ... reveals that as you develop new habits, you rewire the brain,” Anchor wrote. It is notable that many of the activities that he recommends doing to “rewire” the brain and increase PQ are already a part of the culture at Marymount. Examples are traditions such as the one known as “special intentions” in the Lower School during which a student shares something going on in his or her life and asks for the support of fellow students. Past examples of things that students have shared are sick grandparents, lost pets, moves or changes in parents’ professional lives.

“In a study of 1,648 students at Harvard … we found that social support was the greatest predictor of happiness during periods of high stress,” Anchor wrote.

Expressing gratitude frequently is another predictor. A much-loved eighth-grade activity is when classmates anonymously write words of praise and recognition for fellow students and what they add to the community.

“I used to think that you were just smart. Now I realize how hard you work. I admire you for that,” “I know I can always turn to you and trust you” and “I like that you are not a gossip” are examples of things past students have written.

In the professional world, “social support providers … were not only 10 times more likely to be engaged at work than those who kept to themselves; they were 40 percent more likely to get a promotion,” Anchor wrote.

Marymount’s Leadership Program ensures that Marymount students become social support providers like Anchor describes.

“Opportunities to practice leadership and provide social support to others start in the Lower School and increase in Middle School. No one leaves Marymount without having had the opportunity to lead,” said Kate Burris, a leadership teacher in the Middle School. “This translates into our graduates showing a particular ability to continue to lead in high school.”

“Positive Intelligence is a natural byproduct of an environment like the one at Marymount and deserves attention in the same way emotional intelligence does,” said Hilary Doubleday, chair of the board at Marymount. “The potential of a person with a positive and growing outlook is extraordinary and should be the gift of an engaging education. There is a reason that the expression ‘attitude is everything’ is so often repeated. It’s because it’s true! Positive intelligence isn’t Pollyannaism or naiveté; it’s strength in the face of the challenges that life presents.”

— Molly Seguel is director of admissions for Marymount of Santa Barbara.




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