Schools Designed Like Summer Camp

school Schools Designed Like Summer Camp

By Susan T. Dinnocenti, Ph.D. ACC, USA IPEN Rep

originally posted at IPEN Network July Newsletter

It is a new school year at every level: elementary, middle, jr high, high school, and college – there are many young people who will sit idle and those who will be active in their learning while college seniors will be hoping to secure a job upon graduation in 9 short months.

Think about the many corporations who are desperately seeking a new generation of workers who are agile, think creatively, and respond to ambiguity with innovative thoughts and who can collaborate over a global social network to achieve change.  What is needed to provide a platform for engagement and discovery for these young people? The answer may lie in a memory for many children of a few short weeks ago – Summer Camp.  What if Schools were Designed Like Summer Camp?

Summer in the United States is a time when some children thrive and others do not. Those who thrive are busy with family or camp experiences which include creating videos, digging in the dirt and sand, building castles on the beach, and designing robots or Smartphone apps that may be tested by techies at Google, Microsoft, or Apple. Other children are learning how to build relationships at sleep-away camps, or devouring books that quench their palette of passions and possibilities, while others focus on their musical, athletic, and artistic abilities and dream/work at becoming the next World Champion, or well-known artist. All of this necessary exploration is filled with the five components of flourishing – namely PERMA – positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment, yet it is not attainable by all children.

With more than 51.7 million school aged (preK-12) children (including home-schooled) living in the United States (NCES, 2014), the goal of creating learning and exploration experiences to cultivate social emotional, creative, academic, and global understanding cannot happen for only a few during a two month summer break, rather these type of experiences must be embedded within the “school” environment for all young people to thrive.

Positive Education is not new nor is it an isolated add-on to a school curriculum, it is a way of designing and infusing learning experiences with the richness of scientific inquiry, the openness of understanding social emotional nuances of a global society, and with the depth of self-exploration to develop an intellect of well-being. Positive education’s influence may be the opportunity to bring “Summer Camp” like realities to each child in each classroom across North America.

Summer Camp as School

With the exception of income, most summer camps offer activities designed to coincide with or challenge the developmental and social emotional stages of the child. Many camps have self-select options for children based on personal interest or discovery, and engagement usually wins out as do relationships with like-minded peers. Many camp environments are co-ed, multi-age grouped, and mixed racially and culturally. The counselors may have an expertise in a particular activity, art, sport, or hobby and are normally given the reins to design meaningful instruction to solidify or elevate the knowledge of the activity for the camper. Accomplishments are everywhere, in the swimming pool, computer room, on stage, out in the fields, or in the mess hall and it is all good.

In order to “educate or draw out” children, schooling must represent this type of Summer Camp and since the U.S. Constitution guarantees a free and equal public education, income should not matter. But dedicated professionals who provide researched and evidenced based practices do matter.

Positive education has been happening for years in selected classrooms across the country, there are many models and methods which provide strategies to respect and ramp up a learner’s intellectual abilities, embrace individual social-emotional challenges, and uncover and strengthen character and performance strengths. However, it is not happening in enough classrooms and the policies and practices which have delayed its growth in the public schools must be changed with a vision that represents learning of the 21st Century.

Top 5 Wish List

Since the positive education network is an international collective of meeting children in their global learning space of the 21st Century, five areas where our friends across the world have been successful can guide the United States in their journey:

  1. Create a Positive Education Public School Cluster – focusing on well-being and not directed by common core standards or state assessments
  2. Design and develop innovative and entrepreneurial educators –create a new Educator as Innovator Career Path developed with Finland’s model and supported by neuroscience research as well as pedagogy, and child development – a 6 year apprentice program
  3. Transform and enlighten state departments and higher education state agencies with suggestions of movement-building
  4. Invite the many colleges/universities across the world with positive psychology programs to collaborate with experts of differentiation methods of instruction and build new pedagogy
  5. Continue to disseminate the many success stories other countries have realized by creating schools that meet children’s 21st Century realities to the US through all forms of media

Positive Education’s Presence

Summer like successes for children can last throughout all seasons in all schools when educators create policies and practices with the vision of “how-to grow” and foster the flourishing child. Positive Psychology’s evolution has added new blood to the many tried and true pedagogical methods that address the whole child and has helped to bolster the need to make those methods paramount. It is the synergy between well-being, whole child development steeped in progressive methods, and world-wide best practices which is the impetus for turning all schools into places where all children thrive.

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Contribution Ready

contributeContribution Ready trumps College and Career Readiness

Politicians, educators, and corporate executives constantly chatter and argue about having our next generation of young people college or career ready. Why not talk and act on how to make our children Contribution Ready?

Billions of dollars from federal, state, and private foundations are granted to academic institutions, community programs, and schools to duplicate and extend their antiquated practices to get the same negative results all in the spirit of national progress.  Meanwhile, our nation’s school age youth continue to become disenfranchised in a public school system which uses dumbed-down academics and state assessments as two vehicles to compare them on a national level of Commonness.

Sadly, all this money to measure and ensure sameness results in depression rates for adolescents increasing as they age, while the percentage of high school students who seriously contemplated suicide was reported to be 15.8 percent in 2011.(CDC, 2011)

Our young people today (ages 12-20) are engaged in social media and commerce, they create apps that help society streamline communication, they market new games with global partners, and they create apps that help chemists utilize stored equations and graphing capabilities to work at a higher level, and companies streamline the power of popular apps such as Facebook and Twitter.

Other young people who are inundated with social issues with every glance at a tweet, text, or Facebook (FB) post are creating apps to help deal with social emotional issues such as “Safe & Sound” an app to help teens deal with stress and anxiety. A 12 yr old from India created an app – “School Bus Locator,” that can locate a child’s school bus in the case of a late arrival and can be used by both smartphones and ordinary phones, and still other young people who have seen a gap in social, personal, or cultural environments decided to fill a void and are on their way to becoming millionaires and billionaires.

The key to engaging and not enraging our Generation i is to certainly help them learn their basic skills and guide them in levels of discovery as they grow. However, the setting and purpose has to change – no longer can children be mass grouped by chronological age where they sit in a room and recite the alphabet, weather conditions, and a 3 line poem in unison – many of these children have been pressing key pads and following stories on touch pads and laptops since they were 6 months old. The key to bringing the gifts of our children to life is respecting the zeitgeist of which they were born into, acknowledging that some children have tools that other’s don’t have and finding ways for all children to have access to the technology tools of their century.

Contribution ready dictates that old ways crumble, education be embraced for the literal meaning of its root “to draw out” from the child and creating a positive world classroom where our children share their strengths, unleash their potential, and flourish.

Money thrown at any educational program will not create change until change occurs in the mindsets of the decision makers, who for some reason, continue to hold our children back. There are approximately 74 million children in our country who were not here 20 years ago and who have to suffer with a college and career curriculum that has been mildly adapted since the 1800’s. This generation is living in a time where opportunities and app-ortunities are readily met with ingenuity and compassion to create a better world – it is time to create learning spaces that are Contribution Ready and aligned with the spirit of our children.

Stay tuned the “How” and “What if” of Contribution Ready posts are on their way.

I Invite you to share your views on contribution readiness.

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Positive Education Matters

vector tree branchPositive Education Matters because?

Welcome to  a post on Positive Education in the USA – as a representative to the IPEN global network which is focusing on bringing positive education to all children in the world by changing policies, practices, and preparation, I invite you to post what you believe children need to flourish in life and what can be provided within a school environment to make it happen.  While you are at it – please go to IPEN and read and sign, if you choose, the Flourishing Manifesto.

Post once, twice, or as many times as you want – spread the word and let your opinions be heard and shared with this global community.

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)


Your Message

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Positive Education

seedlingsPositive Education is Taking Root Across the Globe and In Your Neighborhood – Get Ready!

The International Positive Education Network (ipen) is a global network for positive psychology researchers & practitioners, parents, educators, and many representatives from the arts & sciences, government, and business who are passionately engaged to support, collaborate, and communicate to create change in educational practice and government policy.

IPEN can be the link to finally affect change in classrooms all over the world with its goal of providing strategies and training for educators to guide children into utilizing their strengths to flourish in both a learning and well-being lifestyle.

Educating the whole child is a phrase often used by schools and policy makers as the goal of education, yet professional practice contradicts that goal with Common Core requirements, State Testing Assessments, and age graded standards. An antiquated educational system in the USA is continually patched every four-eight years with the latest political learning measure to ensure that struggling learners are remediated with flavor of the month strategies so they can be compared to an average learner. Many of the highly touted Charter and Reform programs focus solely on getting students grades up through drill and skill, many long hours of memorization, and strict discipline within the school. It is almost as if the motto could be “learn or we will hurt you, instead of learn or you will hurt yourself.” Yes, some children grow up in tough situations and need a concentrated effort to move them forward, however, at the end of the day, the stress levels, mind games, and constant spotlight that these children are under does not serve them well in understanding their character strengths and how to find meaning and purpose.

No policy or programs in our educational system ensure that the strengths and abilities of young children are exercised or utilized in their realm of knowing and learning about the world, and the tragedy is that we are not building a culture of global contributors rather we are building a culture of disenfranchised test-takers.

There are some wonderful innovative learning spaces which have been created by entrepreneurial visionaries who believe in potential and utilizing young people’s creative minds, insights, and talents. Other schools across the globe focus on utilizing strengths and positive psychology, and still other schools flourish by becoming customized in the arts, sciences, or communication through social media and they draw in a vivid assortment of talent and emotional intelligent children who will create our future.

IPEN’s mission is to educate parents, educators, and policy makers on the importance and the connection of positivity and academics. Learning is far beyond the minimal standardsipen positive education network set in the k-12 setting; it is global, complex, and very personal. For a child to make sense of his/her world and share his/her unique gifts and talents with the world requires intentional opportunities of meaning and engagement. The only test for that, is to simply make it happen.

Feel free to read ipen’s blog and hear more from around the world.

Visit the IPEN site to read and sign the manifesto that is being shared across the world.

Stay tuned as we continue to update and hopefully inundate you with Positive Stuff for Education!

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Positive Leaders

Positive Leaders are R.A.T.S.!

Normally when one thinks of RATS it doesn’t paint a picture of positivity, inspiration, or even a desire to be around the environment of where they live.  Yet, there are some organizations who are consistently led by RATS in their C-Suite and Senior Management and their companies are successful by taking Small Actions which equate to a Big Impact.

After my second go through of the book HOW TO BE A POSITIVE LEADER – Small Actions, Big Impact – edited by Jane E. Dutton & Gretchen M. Spreitzer , yes a second go through since one time through only motivates you to go back and dig deeper into High-Quality Connections, Job Crafting, Activating Virtuousness, Employees as Resources, not Resisters, Mindful Negotiations, Crisis Opportunities I looked back at my notes on the key take-aways and what small actions Leaders can make with their stakeholders at all levels and I came to the conclusion that Positive Leaders are definitely R.A.T.S in many ways.




Resourceful Adaptable Trusting Supportive
Responsive Agile Team Oriented Social Media Savvy
Relationship Oriented Actively Engaged Transformational Seeks Feedback
Respectful Accessible Taps into the Good Sense of Purpose

Positive Leaders have all of these attributes and more (beginning with other letters of course) and the key components to any successful and thriving organization is to cultivate these types of leaders, share their traits and talents across the enterprise, and implement strategies to respectfully engage and enable others.

Better is always possible and in order to achieve sustainable excellence R.A.T.S. will always model virtues that encourage compassion, hope, meaning, and ethical behavior resulting in the desired outcomes of profitability, productivity, engagement, employee ownership, and a culture which embraces a sense of calling and well-being.

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International Happiness Day

International Happiness Day is Here!

Believe it or not there is an International International Happiness DayHappiness Day and it is and always will be celebrated on March 20.  The General Assembly of the United Nations approved the international day on June 28th of 2012 to encourage all people to celebrate their human rights, know the pleasure of peace, and for all people to focus on actions that create and support a sustainable development within their land.

So what do you think Happiness Looks Like for your world neighbor? and What do our neighbors think it looks like for us in the United States?  Have you ever taken the time to ask your family and friends about happiness?  Is it based on monetary wealth, safety of home, healthy food and drink to live by?  Or do the answers come from within ourselves rather than from the outside shopping malls and fast-food chains?

According to positive psychology research by Dr. Martin Seligman (Flourish, 2011), those who do flourish in their lives have been successful in focusing on 5 elements to live life well.  These five elements commonly referred to as PERMA consist of:

  1. Positive Emotion – being active in things that bring feelings of satisfaction and joy
  2. Engagement – participating in “flow like” interactions and hobbies or commitments
  3. Relationships – people matter, enjoying the energy and support of friends/family
  4. Meaning – belonging to and serving something that is larger than one’s self
  5. Accomplishments -achieving or winning for one’s own sake of being the best

PERMA for the most part describes someone who is thriving in a way to feel positive and create a happiness for the self which may affect others – but the measuring line is not against society or another world culture it is subjective to each person.  In terms of accomplishment, one person’s achievement may bring no joy to the outside world, yet it is what that achievement brings to the person that matters.

Celebrate International Happiness Day by focusing on PERMA elements within your life and allow the space for others in your circle to do the same.  Think about it? If everyone in the world actually stopped for one day to only focus on what brings personal happiness, be it other people, passions, playtime, or peace, what energy would we feel across the globe and how would we follow up on March 21.International Happiness Day

Enjoy a day of happiness – everyone in the world will be celebrating with you!

Resources to check out from organizations that are spreading happiness in education and everyday life around the world are the International Positive Education Network (ipen),, and action for happiness.

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Wellness Strategies #2

Wellness Strategies – Tool # 2

Follow Your Yellow Brick Road

The popular movie “The Wizard of Oz” has a well-known song – “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” Yellow-brick-road-copywhich is sung by Munchkins (not to be confused with those Dunkin Munchkins) who offer five words of advice.  They tell Dorothy in their little magical voices to Follow the Yellow Brick Road and then they repeat the word “Follow” five more times.  Yet, aside from murmuring that it will take you to a wonderful wizard, who is wonderful because of the wonderful things he does.  The munchkins don’t offer much more of what the road will hold in store for Dorothy.  Although Dorothy is equipped with magical Ruby Red Slippers to protect her on the journey, in the real world, ruby slippers are not going to get anyone to OZ.

Your road to wellness lies ahead of you and sadly it will not be paved with pretty yellow stepping stones or emerald cities awaiting you but it can be paved with wellness strategies that you choose to use and re-use as you work your way to your Magical OZ.

In an earlier post, “Tools You can Use #1” a Wheel of Life was described as a method of determining where one is across many personal dimensions. The wheel or pie pieces depict a visual of how a life is functioning – is it smooth, choppy, or in need of a major overhaul.  This second tool is where you look at the wheel and decide which pieces you want to focus on and create an Action Plan.  Even though you may only select one or two pieces to focus on, the way personal wellness works is that by improving in one area of your life elevates other areas of a life.

Action planning can be as simple as listing items that you would like to work on with an associated completion date. If working with a coach, the list would contain at least three pieces – What are you going to do, When are you going to do it, and How will you communicate to your coach that you completed the action.


 TO DO  When I will Do it How to communicate
 1. Exercise 3 times a week Mon, Wed, Fri I will email my coach MWF
 2. Oatmeal for bfast each morning M-F  M, T,W, T, F Text a pic each morning to coach

Action plans are created with much reflection on past personal practices and current life situations that may be prompting the action.  Often times a diagnosed health condition, loss of a job, or wanting to look good when attending a child’s wedding will prompt a strong desire to change and setting an action plan will become your  road map to wellness.

Wellness tools like action planning only work when the actions are held accountable and that is why a wellness coach will ask “How will I know you completed a task?”  Coachees who work through a wellness plan with a coach often comment that it was because they were held accountable that made all the difference.

Follow Your Own Road and color the bricks whatever color you want – just “FOLLOW”  your action plan with accountability and you will reach OZ.

“Good luck and while you are there tell the Wizard I said hello!

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Wellness Strategies

Wellness strategies: Tools you can use – #1!

Wellness strategies can affect many areas in a wellness tools to useperson’s life and by understanding how a strategy affects one dimension a person can strengthen other dimensions.  The first step is to determine where one is on the wellness continuum, which dimensions are affected the most, and setting an action plan to begin your wellness journey.

Since there are many dimensions to wellness the first strategy is to become aware of how many dimensions you associate with and decide which area of your life to focus on first.  An non-exhaustive list of dimensions may include self-responsibility, intellectual, physical fitness, nutrition, environmental, spiritual, finding meaning, communication, occupational, financial, family, self-care, connections …, play. Many of these dimensions can collapse to make a wellness plan more manageable (e.g. physical fitness and nutrition becomes diet& exercise) and have less dimensions to think about but once dimensions are set it’s time to look inside oneself.

Assessment of Dimensions

Wellness and life coaches have many tools to help coachees figure out where they are in life and one tool is a Wheel of Life – a circle which is divided into equal pie parts based on the number of dimensions you believe represent your life and then your rank of  a number, 10 being awesome and 1 being low.  Once the numbers are entered, a wheel of lifeline is drawn and the pie piece is colored in to show a schematic of where you stand in relation to each wellness piece.  Most of the time the wheel shows a discrepancy in rankings for certain pieces, physical may be 9 but financial is 3, family is 4 where play is 10….and so on. This first tool gives you a glimpse of how bumpy your life is and the picture provides a conversation starter in deciding where to begin. It should be noted that having a 5 for all pieces would depict a wheel that could turn without bumps, however, the goal of life is to constantly strive for high level wellness.

Wellness tools are for everyone, since wellness is not the absence of illness or disease, rather a way to focus living a lifestyle of improvement, even those who have been challenged with disease, family strife, or environmental difficulties can move towards the positive end of well-being by assessing their whole life and enhancing pieces in small or big ways.  It is impossible to improve one dimension of life without improving another dimension.  If your goal is to build better relationships within your family, as you begin the process you can’t help but increase your personal growth, physical health, and possibly fun and recreation.

Your pieces of life play on each other – so take your first tool and assess where your wheel is in need of repair.

* This is the first in a series of wellness tools that are offered by wellness coaches.

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Positive Habits – 21 Days

21 + days21 days and Counting

It is the third week of January a time where some New Year Resolutions begin to wane and frustration about keeping commitments to gym workouts, conscious eating, and spending quality time with friends and family begins to elevate itself.  Adding to this  frustration is that old adage that if you can just stick it out for 21 days you can create a new habit and at about this time that adage seems to be the enemy as well.  The Good News is that the adage is a myth, so take a deep breath and move forward you still have time.

Yes, 21 days to create a habit is a popular myth that has survived a half century due to the many self-help authors, researchers, coaches, and speakers who have powerfully stated and wrote about the myth as a fact.  Although it sounds inviting to actually change a life in 21 days in reality the research on forming habits indicates that it takes between 18-254 days (average was 66 days) to form a habit(Lally 2010).  Naturally each person is unique in how and when a habit forms and if one misses a day or action it doesn’t nullify the ability to create the new habit – it is not a do or die situation, rather an evolutionary process .

Myths are sometimes hard to dispel yet, the 21 days change is attributed to Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon, who in 1950 observed that it took his patients on average 21 days to feel comfortable with their new look or to become acclimated to losing a limb or whichever modification they went through.  He wrote about his observations in a book that became a 1960 blockbuster, Psycho-Cybernetics, and those who came after decided to sell the observation as a fact.  Interesting to note, Dr. Maltz never stated that one can change a habit in 21 days.

So, hold the course this year as you try to incorporate good habits into your daily routine, don’t get caught up in the numbers, know that you can miss a day and still create a positive habit, and be skeptical of what you hear and read.  If there is one truth to 21 days and creating a habit, remember that you can’t reach 66 or 254 days unless you pass 21 time after time.

Don’t get discouraged, your habit forming number is within you – hang tough.

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Top 10 Ways to Be Positive

snow treeIt’s the Winter – you know that time of the year when stress is everywhere, people hate the weather, children want a snow day, and there is never enough time in the day to get things done……Well Cheer-UP and Tune-UP your life in the top 10 ways to be positive:

Top 10 Ways to Be Positive:

  1. Write a gratitude journal.tune up figure
  2. Write down 3 things each morning that will elevate your day.
  3. Do a secret good deed for someone – shush don’t tell them.
  4. Write a gratitude/thank you and hand deliver
  5. Go to register and take the VIA Strength Survey for Adults or Children
  6. Use one of your top 5 strengths each day.
  7. Surround yourself with positive energy – people, environments, food, social media
  8. Meditate or do Yoga
  9. Prepare for a calling not a job or homework – focus on what lights you up – develop and use passion.
  10. BE YOU – Not what others want you to be – Live on Purpose!

Take a few minutes everyday you wake up and right before you go to sleep and practice one of the 10 ways of being more positive and you can guarantee yourself a bit more calm and a doable outlet to ENJOY Each Day!

Hang in there Winter is over in less than 6 weeks!

Sue Dinnocenti, Ph.D.

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