The Noble Role of Teachers:

Transforming Ourselves to Change the World


“The so-called ‘tail’ of education will continue to fail, to spend a dozen years or more in education only to feel uneducated (and to have test results to prove it), until we come to fully understand and appreciate that ambience, not imposed content and testing, is the key to academic diligence for all participants. It is this ambience that seems to be able to be delivered so comprehensively by values pedagogy…

— Terence Lovat, Kerry Dally, Neville Clement and Ron Toomey (2011)

Values Pedagogy and Student Achievement: Contemporary Research Evidence
“The child asks, “To what can we say ‘yes’?” What can every human being affirm?
We can all say “yes” to more positive emotion.
We can all say “yes” to more engagement.
We can all say “yes” to better relationships.
We can all say “yes” to more meaning in life.
We can all say “yes” to more positive accomplishment.
We can all say “yes” to more well-being.”
— Martin Seligman (2011)

Flourish: a Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being

Based upon the research evidence world-wide, and particularly that funded by the Australian government in over 300 schools during the first decade of the new millennium (see: At the Heart of What We do: Values Education at the Centre of Schooling – the final report of the Values Education Good Practice Schools Project – Stage 2 – August 2008. (Click here), Human Values Education believes that the wellbeing of teachers and students are inextricably linked.

Cherrybrook Technical high School students who are fortunate to have as their maths teacher the well-known Eddie woo, winner of the 2018 Australian Local Hero Award, say that he dances into the classroom so full of joy, and that this enthusiasm for living plays a major part in motivating and inspiring them to be creative, courageous and persevering in their academic pursuits. Eddie Woo’s authentic happiness and passion for teaching mathematics has also endeared him to hundreds of thousands of on-line students who assiduously follow the replays of his actual classroom lessons. And, according to Eddie Woo, the positive responses of his students inspires him further to ‘set the bar high’ for each and every one of them. You can watch his Australia Day address on the noble role of teachers and the delights of mathematics, on 23rd January, 2018, here.

Teachers attending our workshops on Human Values Education all say something like: “If I come to school feeling really good about myself and my role as a teacher, there is a high chance that my students will also have a rewarding and productive day. On the other hand, if I enter the classroom feeling jaded or insecure, the students will pick up on this and degenerate into disharmony, with all hoping that the next break will come soon.”

Not all of us will have the same level of obvious life satisfaction and exuberance about teaching as Eddie Woo. In fact, as he pointed out in his Australia Day address, the disillusionment and high level of stress associated with teaching in Australian schools causes up to 50 percent of new teachers to leave their profession within the first five years. To address this unsutainable high rate of attrition among teachers, clearly the education bureaucracy will need to reinvent itself. However this in unlikely to happen in the near future. Until then, it is imperative that teachers have access to tools of self-transformation that can alleviate their suffering and increase their levels of authentic happiness and wellbeing. This is essentially what the present chapter and the two to follow are about: enhancing teachers’ and, thereby, students’ wellbeing.

Exercise 1 – What is wellbeing?

The first step in developing tools for increasing ‘wellbeing’ is to foster an understanding of the term as it is being used in educational and psychological research.

Each one of us – teachers, parents, students and education reformers – are ever-searching for a lasting happiness or sense of wellbeing. However, the path to such a consistent level of life satisfaction is not always clearly laid out for us.

Particularly since the advent of what is generally called ‘positive psychology’, with Martin Seligman as its chief proponent, research studies in this important area have been accelerating, giving more clear signposts for us to follow. Further, extensive research into the effects of integrating character education into the school curriculum – particularly in Australia from 2003 onwards – has demonstrated a marked lift in both students’ and teachers’ wellbeing when there is more focus on whole-person development in the students.

The Exercise – Step 1

Referring to Handbook for Teachers in Human Values Education, pages 245 – 246, read and reflect upon the contents. This will give you an introduction to this important aspect of teaching.

The Exercise – Step 2

Read and reflect upon the following two research-based definitions of wellbeing:
“If we want to flourish and to have wellbeing, we must minimize our misery; but, in addition, we must have positive emotion, meaning, engagement, accomplishment, and positive relationships.”
— Martin Seligman (2011)

“Wellbeing is an overarching term that encapsulates an individual’s quality of life, happiness, satisfaction with life and experience of good mental and physical health. The most common components identified included: positive affect, resilience, perceived satisfaction with relationships and other dimensions of one’s life, and effective functioning and/or the maximising of one’s potential.”
— Toni Noble and Helen McGrath (2008)

The Positive Educational Practices framework: a tool for facilitating the work of educational psychologists in promoting pupil wellbeing.
In: Educational and Child Psychology, Vol.25(2)

The Exercise – Step 3

Search the internet, your own books or a local library for one more high-quality definition of wellbeing that resonates with you, and add it to the two listed above.

The Exercise – Step 4

Focussing for a few moments on each element in the above three definitions of wellbeing, reflect on the question: “To what extent do I have this in my life?” For example, in the first quote by Martin Seligman, in relation to positive meaning, you can ask yourself, “To what extent do I have a sense of positive meaning in my life?” Similarly, in the quote by Toni Noble and Helen McGrath, you could ask of the ‘resilience’ factor, “To what extent am I resilient in dealing with life’s challenges?”

The Exercise – Step 5

Selecting one of the elements of wellbeing that you have reflected upon, and seeing that it could be stronger, write an affirmation that you can use several times a day to bring that strength more into your life. For example, if your reflection indicated that your ‘perceived satisfaction with relationships’ could be improved, you might write an affirmation that said:

Every day, in every way, I am experiencing more and more satisfaction in all of my relationships.

Exercise 2 – My own understanding of wellbeing

“You do not acquire happiness.
Your nature is happiness.
Bliss is not newly acquired.
All that is done is to remove unhappiness.”
— Ramana Maharshi (1879 – 1950)

The aim of this exercise is to expand your familiarity with and understanding of what the term ‘wellbeing’ might imply by giving you the opportunity to reflect upon what it could mean for you personally.

Exercise 2 – Step 1

Give a rating of between 1 (very little) to 5 (very much) to the following, according to how much you regard that component as being important for you when you think of your own ‘wellbeing’ :

Circle one

Your relationships (social) 1 2 3 4 5
Your emotions (emotional) 1 2 3 4 5
Your body (physical) 1 2 3 4 5
Your thoughts (mental) 1 2 3 4 5
Your finances (financial) 1 2 3 4 5
Your environment (environmental) 1 2 3 4 5
Your spirit (spiritual) 1 2 3 4 5

Exercise 2 – Step 2

Write in your Journal a few words to explain why you gave a higher rating to certain aspects of wellbeing and a lower rating to others. Note in your Journal the date of your entry, for later reference and reflection.
“Subjective well-being is defined as a person’s cognitive and affective evaluations of his or her life. These evaluations include emotional reactions to events as well as cognitive judgements of satisfaction and fulfillment. Thus, subjective wellbeing is a broad concept that includes experiencing pleasant emotions, low levels of negative moods, and high life satisfaction.”
— Ed Deiner, Richard Lucas and Shigechiro Oishi (2002)

Subjective Well-Being: The Science of Happiness and Life Satisfaction
“Man has the springs of joy and peace in his heart, even as a child. Cultivate them, give them the fullest freedom to gush forth and fertilize all fields of activity – that is the real purpose of education.”
— Sathya Sai Baba (1926 – 2011)