Bounce Back: Positive Education in the Preparatory School

20 August 2020

Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.


Throughout history, philosophers, psychologists and educationalists have reminded us of the importance of teaching the whole child. We know that teaching and role modelling social and emotional skills not only enhances students’ learning but also builds their capacity to form positive relationships and cope with the inevitable ups and downs of their lives.

Preparatory students in assembly

This year, the Preparatory School are committed to building on their focus on social and emotional learning. They have made a significant step in their Positive Education journey in choosing to embrace the evidence-based whole-school programme called 'Bounce Back'.

Principal, Jonathan Bierwirth has been inspired by the philosophy of the Danish education system where, since 1983, they have made 'empathy classes' compulsory for all students aged 6–16. The Danes believe empathy, the ability to listen to and understand others, is the foundation of a flourishing society. You can read about Klassens Tid here. Mr Bierwirth saw the Bounce Back programme as having similar philosophical underpinnings to the Danish system.

St Andrew's Preparatory school students gathering for the pancake race

Head of Teaching and Learning, Vicki Pettit, also saw the need to create more space in the curriculum to focus on teaching the skills of resilience and well-being. She could see that young people are more in need of coping strategies in a world that is growing in complexity. Mrs Pettit was attracted to the Bounce Back programme because it provides a robust framework that can be used across the whole Preparatory School.

At the end of Term 2, all Preparatory School teachers participated in Bounce Back training. An experienced educator shared advice and tips about how to use the curriculum to its full potential. It was exciting to be part of this training; I could feel the collective energy of excitement and possibility in the room.

Student participating in Matariki celebrations in the Preparatory School

What is Bounce Back?

Carefully choosing peer-reviewed and evidence-based resources have always been important for our well-being goal at St Andrew's College. We know buying any of the many well-being programmes that are on the market is the easy part, but the power is in choosing carefully and then bringing them to life with focus, time and energy. Created in 2003 by two eminent Australian psychologists, Dr Toni Noble and Dr Helen McGrath, Bounce Back is an evidence-based whole school well-being curriculum that focuses on building resilience. The curriculum spans Years 1–8 and has ten units that focus on topics such as emotions, relationships, courage, being safe and values. Bounce Back has been trialled and reviewed internationally and has won multiple awards.

Bounce Back Positive education approach books

 Why is Bounce Back effective?

  • It starts when students are young. Reviews on well-being interventions stress that the earlier children learn the skills of thinking, feeling and behaving optimistically, the more effective it will be for ongoing mental health and well-being.

  • Bounce Back is a whole school programme that spans eight years of a child's development. Multi-year programmes are more likely to produce benefits, especially when taught across all year levels as part of a whole-school programme.

Preparatory students sharing a book together
  • It is grounded in robust psychological research. The reference pages are full of the who's who of academia. Bounce Back uses practices derived from the field of Positive Psychology, especially the work of Dr Martin Seligman. It also brings to life psychiatrist, Aaron Beck's work on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I have loved looking at how cleverly the writers have simplified complex theories for children of all ages.

  • It utilises evidence-based effective teaching strategies to engage and motivate students. Bounce Back uses cooperative activities, thinking tools and high-quality educational games to bring the content alive. Circle Time is a structured framework for involving everyone in a whole-class discussion. Through sharing and listening, students build empathy and connection.

Preparatory students working with their teacher
  • Bounce Back is designed to be integrated into all curriculum areas. In each of the units, there are suggestions for how teachers can link learning to high-quality children's literature. Currently, the preparatory school is curating a treasure trove of library books that explore real-life issues and introduce children to characters who are navigating challenges. Other activities have links to the arts: acting, drawing and painting, and the Health and Physical Education curriculum

Bounce back education book

Trialling the programme

In 2019, Year 7 teacher, Kelly McBride trialled Bounce Back with her class. Working alongside Mrs Pettit and the well-being committee, she shared her perspectives on using the resource. Compared to other programmes, she could see the power of Bounce Back in creating a whole school, universal, and holistic approach.

In her reflection, Mrs McBride emphasised the power of Circle Time as an effective teaching strategy for her students. Providing students with space and the structure to share their stories and perspectives has cultivated more understanding and acceptance in her class. The thought-provoking questions posed as part of the programme helped Mrs McBride feel more confident about facilitating class discussions. She also reflected on the value of having access to links to engaging online resources and literature. These bought the topics to life.

Preparatory school students studying in the library together

An essential part of Bounce Back is an acronym that is used as a ‘coat hanger’ for learning about coping through adversity. Based on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, each simple statement links to rigorous psychological research. Mrs McBride noted that the acronym is relevant to staff, students, and parents and is something she is using in her own life. You can read the coping strategies below. They will be relevant to you too.

Bounce back education book

Challenge, change and uncertainty is an inevitable aspect of the human experience. Education about well-being should not only teach children how to build positive relationships, cultivate positive emotions and find passion and purpose in their lives but also needs to give them the skills to cope with sadness, disappointment and empathise with others. The decision to embrace Bounce Back provides the preparatory school with an exciting path forward to help children build resilience and grow socially, emotionally and cognitively.

What statement in the Bounce Back acronym resonates with you at this time?

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