The principal from Parkmore Primary School in Victoria is so “captured” by the science behind what makes us thrive that she’s made it her professional agenda to spread the word to educators across Australia – and now the world.  

In July Doherty scored the ultimate professional development experience, when she was selected to present at the Fifth World Congress on Positive Psychology in Montreal, Canada.  

With a Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (and School Leadership) behind her, Doherty says the chance to share her expertise and draw upon Parkmore’s own journey with Positive Psychology was, quite simply, “just amazing”. 

“One of the things that’s really powerful for me is the science, so that notion that schools, quite rightly, very much focussed on evidence-based approaches, so what the Positive Psychology provides is that evidence,” Doherty tells Australian Teacher Magazine.

“At the conference this year, what was really heartening was just the progression of the science, so over time the studies are obviously accumulating and they’re  gathering quite a compelling argument as to why [Positive Psychology] is a ‘must-have’ not a ‘nice-to have’.”

Despite the educator’s insistence that she’s “not Robinson Crusoe” when it comes to forging  the tenants of Positive Psychology across school curriculum, one quickly gets the feeling Doherty is selling herself short.

“When I did my masters I did … my thesis on growth mindsets in maths, and it was really focussed on how students really needed ‘psychology resources’ when they were in the maths classroom.

“So this notion of teaching wellbeing at three o’clock on a Friday afternoon wasn’t having the effect that you need, because any anxiety about learning, (like in) maths, is contextual,” Doherty reflects. 

The principal says this is precisely the message she wanted to convey to delegates at the international meet; wellbeing should not be considered a stand-alone subject that sits outside the curriculum. 

“We really see that high academic progress is really an act that’s empowered by good character.

“So if one is doing really well in their tests or exams, what does that mean in terms of their contribution to their world, to their communities?” she poses. 

Indeed since starting as principal at Parkmore last year, Doherty has mounted something of a Positive Psychology revolution, despite limited financial recourses at her disposal. 

She says she wants to show other public schools that Positive Education is not something that needs to be reserved for those with meatier budgets. 

“We really integrate it into all of the (students’) work,” she says.

“So in the mornings there is check-in and circle time, and in maths or in English [students] might be looking at character strengths, and also before NAPLAN they practice mindfulness, so we are always looking at ways in which Positive Psychology builds learning and character.”

And if it’s good enough for Parkmore children, then it’s good enough for staff, whose own ‘character strengths’ are proudly mounted on a wall.

“You won’t have change and you won’t sustain it unless the staff live it,” Doherty states. 

Next on the educator’s relentless to-do list is instilling parents, via PD sessions, with the “language” of Positive Psychology to ensure the tenets of building resilience, growth mindsets and solid character traits are nourished at home as well as within classrooms.