IPEN and the importance of education events

Elizabeth Wright

Elizabeth is a Paralympic medalist, Author, Speaker, and co-founder of schools programme Resilience Wellbeing Success. Passionate about developing self-belief in our young people, Elizabeth uses storytelling and interactivity to build a rapport with young people, engaging them with a sense of fun and humour. Her aim is to leave young people believing in their own potential and capabilities to achieve their goals - if she could do it, then anyone can.

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As Sir Anthony Seldon stood on the stage, he slipped his jacket down his arms, slid his shoes off and kicked them to the side, chatting away to the audience as though nothing was amiss… then, out of the blue, he flipped himself upside down, into a headstand, balancing solidly, still. “I think I’ll do the rest of the talk this way,” he said, humour in his tone. The great academic from Wellington College was doing a yoga move on the stage and the audience went nuts! Where was this great feat of physical and mental strength happening? At The IPEN (International Positive Education Network) Festival in Dallas, Texas.


This is where I was during the last school year, learning all the latest research into positive education and the impact that this style of education and teaching is having on, not just students, but also teachers and staff in schools all over the world. Sir Anthony Seldon, the president of IPEN, was one of a star-studded lineup of keynote speakers. Others included Professor Martin Seligman (or Marty as everyone called him), the irrepressible Shawn Achor, and grit expert"Sir Anthony Seldon, the president of IPEN, was one of a star-studded lineup of keynote speakers." Angela Duckworth. Was I excited to see these people speak and to possibly meet them? Of course I was! These people are the equivalent of rockstars to educators, as evidenced by my shaking hands and beating heart as I approached Sir Anthony Seldon to have my book signed - just slightly embarrassing.

This article, however, is not to reveal my fangirl moments at the conference, but to give you a brief review of the Festival, leave you with a key learning point that I picked up, and to address why events like these are crucially beneficial for schools here in the UK. So, here we go with a quick, general overview.

The aim of the IPEN Festival was to bring together the best of the best, who are doing fantastic research into the benefits of positive education (or character strengths, grit, resilience, optimism, happiness), for the benefit of all who educate and work with children. It was a great opportunity to also network and talk to other educators, to discover what is working in schools all over the world, from the tiniest of actions (saying one thing that you are grateful for before beginning class) to the biggest of actions (integrating full curriculum-driven lessons on happiness and wellbeing in all years of school, every week). However, the running theme through the conference seemed to be about change - more specifically, changing the culture in schools, really embedding the character strengths from the top down, the bottom up, and from side to side.

So what were the highlights of the Festival? First keynote was Angela Duckworth, who spoke about her research into Grit, Passion, and Perseverance, leading the audience on a journey through goals setting to ultimate success using the ‘stretch goal’ cycle... “talent counts, effort counts twice.”

Next up was Professor Martin Seligman - yes, the Martin Seligman, father of positive psychology. With Marty (see why I am using informal reference to him above), we were taken on a chronological journey through his development of positive psychology, ending in the adage “happy kids do better academically”.

Sir Anthony Seldon spoke next (I cannot for the life of me separate ‘Sir’ from ‘Anthony’), and as I am sure you realised above, his keynote was unusual, fun, a little out there, but so warm and real. Sir Anthony’s biggest take-away was that leadership is fundamental to cultural change in the school …. “help every single person find their own inner song.”

With his all American grin, and slightly nervous demeanour, Shawn Achor came next, talking about his ‘The Orange Frog’ Parable (seriously, read this), and also changing one’s mindset.

The BIG key learning point for me actually came from Shawn’s wife, Michelle Gielan, a former news reporter and author of book Broadcasting Happiness. She spoke about how we are conditioned to focus on the negative, even in our own stories. So imagine this …. “if we change our story, we change our power.” Let’s "Every day, send a two minute email praising or thanking someone in your life."bring some more positivity into our lives. My challenge to you is this - make like Michelle and change your social script. Every day over the course of a month, send a two minute email praising or thanking someone in your life. Can you do it? Imagine the positivity that will be filling your life after 31 days of saying something positive to others.

The IPEN Festival was my first really big education conference The constant buzz, from academic to teacher, and external provider to student (some high school students did attend the conference - even a girl guide leader came to see what she could do to help her guides!), was the collaborative connections that were being made between all of the attendees.

I believe that this idea of collaboration and sharing is the biggest benefit to education events of all sizes. It offers a chance for everyone to see and hear what is happening, and what is working in other schools. The connections and friendships that my colleague and I made will be for life. The expansion of our network, for work and for expanding knowledge, has grown exponentially.

These networks, connections, and knowledge can be tapped into for all - and in terms of growth for students and staff, this is where it gets exciting. So do you go to education conferences / festivals / events on a regular basis? To attend these will benefit not only yourself, but your entire school, SLT, and community. The strength of togetherness is what will enable schools to change their culture, to improve their academic results, and to ultimately lead to great wellbeing for their pupils.

So I will drop a hint here (and this is not a sponsored post - just to be clear!), the word on the grapevine is the next IPEN Festival will be in Dubai, 2018. In the meantime, expand your knowledge and network locally, find conferences and educational events here in the UK to attend, and open up to the power of collaboration and sharing. In doing so, watch yourself and your school grow.

What edu-events do you attend? Let us know below!

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