Bringing Sustainable Happiness to Life
Well-Being for All, Sustainably

By Catherine O'Brien • June 23, 2016

Excerpt from Education for Sustainable Happiness and Well-Being

Why can’t I learn what I want to learn when I want to learn it? Why do I have to learn the same thing as everyone else, all at the same time? Sean Murray, age 8

Educ for SH and WB cover copyEight year-old Sean already understands that the conveyor belt of learning that moves everyone along at the same pace is not engaging her. She has pinpointed one of the unfortunate structures that persist in our current approach to schooling. Yet, these are exciting times in education as we find active debates in education journals, books, blogs and conferences about how to transform education to meet 21st century learning needs, questioning the role of education and how to scale up the best practices of education leaders.[1] Traditional education is criticized for being outdated, stuck in patterns that were suitable for the Industrial Age (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012; Robinson & Aronica, 2009, 2015; Zhao, 2012), too limited in our integration of technology (C21 Canada, 2012; Khan, 2012), or stifling creativity and innovation (Robinson, 2011; Wagner, 2012). Creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship feature prominently in education transformation discussions. Proponents of 21st century learning (C21, 2012; P21, 2011) have recognized the value of developing competency or skills relevant to these three inter-related areas. The rationale offered for doing so range from enhancing individual well-being to securing national prosperity (Kelly, 2012; Kelley & Kelley, 2013; Robinson, 2011; Wagner, 2012; Zhao, 2012). Enterprise and entrepreneurship education are viewed by many as a vital contribution to reimagining education (European Union, 2013; Rae, 2010; Zhao, 2012). Unfortunately, on a very practical level, trying to infuse creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship into existing education frameworks that favor conformity is destined to mute the potential positive impact. Additionally, on a global level, the staggering level of youth unemployment poses a pressing challenge for educators to re-evaluate the very purpose of education, and ultimately how we should endeavor to meet our global learning needs (Zhao, 2012).

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all package that will work for every country and school district, we are unlikely to gain traction in a healthier, more sustainable direction with the current multitude of visions for educational reform. Furthermore, many of these visions, have not incorporated sustainability and essentially aim to ensure that students are prepared for success in a fast changing world – presumably contributing to the outdated and unsustainable economic activity that prevails; a pattern that relies on the over consumption of non-renewable resources and environmental degradation. (The term sustainability in this book refers to the view that we must live equitably within the resource capacity of our planet). It could be argued that even the apparently most forward thinking visions will not adequately meet the needs of citizens in an era where climate change adaptation, and heightened threats to food security and water security are the rapidly emerging reality of our times (IPCC, 2014) unless sustainability is fully integrated through a repurposing of education (Hopkins, 2013). In contrast, if we are prepared to critically revisit the purpose of education for our modern context we will open the creative space for discovering how to meet our global learning needs.

Stay tuned for more excerpts from Education for Sustainable Happiness and Well-Being


[1] Parts of this chapter first appeared in: O’Brien, C. (2013). Who is teaching us about sustainable happiness and well-being? Health, Culture and Society, 5(1), 292-307. The use of this text complies with Creative Commons 4.0 International.

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udemy Yellow Swallow Tail ButterflyIf you are interested in exploring sustainable happiness, consider signing up for the online sustainable happiness course! It’s a great way to enhance your own happiness and wellbeing! There are 35 short videos (mini lectures) and 15 activities to deepen learning. These are also great resources for teaching about sustainable happiness. Use the coupon code SH4Teachers to get 50% off!


Education for Sustainable Happiness

By Catherine O'Brien • June 20, 2016

Educ for SH and WB cover copySustainable happiness is happiness that contributes to individual, community, or global well-being without exploiting other people, the environment, or future generations. (O’Brien, 2010)

[book excerpt]  Scanning through Twitter this morning, a headline caught my attention: “Jane Goodall: 5 reasons to have hope for the planet.”[1] I was curious to learn what gives her hope. This famous conservationist has no doubt overcome numerous barriers throughout an extensive and distinguished career. She has surely encountered significant ecological tragedies that could lead to despair. Nevertheless, in a nutshell, Goodall takes hope from the energy and commitment of young people once they are inspired to take action (the Roots and Shoots program she helped to found is clear evidence of youth activism); from the human brain’s capacity to consider the consequences of our actions and to craft innovative solutions to the problems that humanity has created; she is encouraged by the power of social media, by the resilience of Nature[3] itself, and by the indomitable human spirit (she cites Don Merton as an example. He was determined to bring the Black Robin back from near extinction in New Zealand, when there were just seven birds left, including one fertile female. Today, there are 500 black robins).

Goodall’s optimism shares many similarities to the views of Canadian activist, Craig Keilburger, who co-founded Free the Children at the age of twelve to take action on the abuse of child labor. His youthful desire to make a difference led to an organization that has now worked in over forty-five countries with more than 2.3 million youth participating in Free the Children’s education and development programs. As an adult, determined to ensure the financial sustainability of Free the Children, Craig collaborated with his brother, Marc, to establish the successful social enterprise, Me to We, in 2008. In a very short time, Me to We has amassed extraordinary youth interest with a Facebook following of nearly four million people. “We Day” events in cities throughout North America and the United Kingdom launch year-long initiatives of youth-led action. Despite their many successes, the Keilburger brothers have grappled with significant challenges in their efforts to work with communities in the Global South, charting pathways for more sustainable lifestyles and livelihoods. They have garnered considerable insight. Craig believes that what we desperately need in order to address pressing global issues is innovation. His inspiring recommendation is to stretch ourselves to find creative solutions even for challenges that are “seemingly impossible.” He says, “that’s how hope stays” (Crossan & Reno, 2014).

Jane Goodall and Craig Keilburger have undoubtedly learned that humanity’s well-being is intertwined with the well-being of the natural environment. In Goodall’s interview, she recounts the need for conservation groups to collaborate more with one another, rather than competing for scarce financial resources. She also underscores the significance of working with local communities in efforts to conserve a natural environment – and that we do not exist in isolation – sustainable solutions involve working together. Likewise, the We Days which broke out of the conventional non-profit mode of fundraising for individual organizations are events that inspire the joint efforts of multiple organizations to raise funds and awareness for diverse issues.

Reflecting on the experience of these change leaders, there are striking implications for the transformation of education. In fact, the total “makeover” (Fullan, 2013) that is required to bring the behemoth of formal education into the 21st century truly does appear at times to be a seemingly impossible venture – and yet, there are so many leaders, of all ages, who are undaunted, invigorated, and finding novel ways to disrupt education. We will meet some of those leaders throughout the book. We will also look at opportunities for accelerating the transformation of education through engaging students as change-makers and choice-makers; and your essential role as an educator. I am especially excited to share with you the path breaking work on leadership character (Seijts, Gandz, Crossan, & Reno, 2015) that holds tremendous promise for individual and collective flourishing.

Changing the narrative of education ultimately requires us to consider the very purpose of education, to test our own assumptions and to be open to a paradigm shift. I am also convinced that our efforts will be immeasurably more far-reaching and innovative if we deepen our appreciation for the relationship between education and sustainability. This means coming to terms with the positive and adverse role that education is currently playing in terms of social, cultural, environmental and economic sustainability. How are we accelerating over consumption, for example? Are we modeling green design in our schools? Does the curriculum portray the complex ecological and social systems that sustain us? Do our schools celebrate life and foster resilience? Taking stock of where we are is just the beginning. Understanding the limitless opportunities that are possible when we bring life into learning can energize, stimulate, and inspire all of us to be part of a more hopeful and dynamic story.

Stay tuned for more excerpts from Education for Sustainable Happiness and Well-Being



[2] This book follows the recommendation of the Earthvalues Institute to capitalize the word ‘Nature.’ (

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udemy Yellow Swallow Tail ButterflyIf you are interested in exploring sustainable happiness, consider signing up for the online sustainable happiness course! It’s a great way to enhance your own happiness and wellbeing! There are 35 short videos (mini lectures) and 15 activities to deepen learning. These are also great resources for teaching about sustainable happiness. Use the coupon code SH4Teachers to get 50% off!

Innovative Educator – Anita Fedoruk

By Angela Neufeld • June 17, 2016

My colleague, Kathy Snow, introduced me to the concept of open knowledge and inspired me to find ways to share the amazing learning that is happening in our MEd (Sustainability, Creativity, and Innovation) program. Our grad students have created digital curation sites and I have asked their permission to publicly share their insights. I have already posted articles by Julie Van Caeyzeele, Ashley Pilatic, Evelyn Zankowski, and Paul Clarke. This piece, by Angela Neufeld, profiles an innovative educator, Anita Fedoruk who is connecting her students with seniors to enhance literacy. (Catherine O’Brien)

To foster more creativity in the classroom, Anita believes that it is important that teachers learn to give up some control and let the students guide where the class is going to go – within reason. Angela Neufeld

[Excerpt] I recently followed Archwood School on Twitter.  I used to work at Archwood School and I enjoy feeling like I am still connected to its story.  A few weeks ago I noticed that a grade 5/6 teacher was posting about the HOSTS program.  I didn’t know anything about this program, but the tweet implied that senior citizens were a regular part of the school week.  I loved this idea as I have often worried about the disconnect between students and seniors and the percentage of lonely seniors.  I felt that this was an innovative way to help students and seniors who could benefit from one-on-one connections.

I decided to interview Anita Fedoruk to learn more about this innovative program.

Anita informed me that HOSTS stands for Helping Our Students To Succeed.  For her classroom, it consists of seniors who volunteer for 1 1/2 hour periods. The seniors work with three different students in that time frame.  The same students are supported on a daily basis with reading/writing.  Students are provided reading materials at their instructional reading level. They read the material several times to develop accuracy and fluency and then answer various questions to support comprehension and writing skills.

Read the rest of Angela’s article at:

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“A magisterial overview and synthesis of leading ideas about educational reform. Well researched, fluently written, and replete with originality. Catherine O’Brien provides theoretically sophisticated practical applications that bring together insights from positive psychology, education for sustainable development, and the literature on creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.”

David Bell, Professor Emeritus and former Dean, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University



udemy Yellow Swallow Tail ButterflyIf you are interested in exploring sustainable happiness, consider signing up for the online sustainable happiness course! It’s a great way to enhance your own happiness and wellbeing! There are 35 short videos (mini lectures) and 15 activities to deepen learning. These are also great resources for teaching about sustainable happiness. Use the coupon code SH4Teachers to get 50% off!


Innovative Educator – Rex Ferguson-Baird

By Paul Clarke • June 13, 2016

I (Catherine) am currently teaching a graduate course in Education for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship for Cape Breton University’s Master in Education (Sustainability, Creativity, and Innovation). I asked the students to interview an innovative educator and I encourage any of you who might be looking for inspiration to do this yourself! It reminds us that education leaders are all around us and that they are transforming education. You’re in for a real treat with this article by Paul Clarke (@paulleoclarke). He profiles Rex Ferguson-Baird (@RexFB).

“If some sort of “social entrepreneurial aura” exists, Rex oozes it. Friendly, attentive, confident, engaging, eager.” Paul Clarke


Lao Tzu copyAs I drove to meet my old friend Rex at his school, Siri was giving me directions. It’s a novel app for me right now; only used it a couple of times. I reflected back about eleven years ago when Rex and I had first met co-leading the 82nd Westminster Cub Scout group, and how he had brought along these cool GPS gadgets “borrowed from work” to take our Pack geocaching through the neighbourhood.

This was 2005; personal GPS’ were still new and very, very cool. Rex was, and still is a gear-head. I was more a map and compass guy. Rex took the lead with the new tech, and we had the group match it with the old tech as we roved around the area; under a bridge, behind houses and apartments, between little shops in the area.

One evening, one activity, 20 eager minds, and we covered environmental, social and economic spheres of sustainability. Without even knowing it. Further, we took these young Cubs through the “simple recipe” use of the GPS unit, progressed to more complicated map-based orienteering and finally became more aware and involved in the amazing complexity of the physical and social environment. In a sense we’d moved through the simple-complex-complicated, the cake-rocket-child model of innovation that Westley, Zimmerman and Quinn Patton describe (2007). Without even knowing it.

Rex and I work well together.

Rex Ferguson-Baird is the Principal at Brooklands Elementary School in Winnipeg. It is a geographic outlier to the St. James School Division, a tombolo poking into the central Winnipeg School Division catchment area. Some call it “the Eastern Front”. Its students and families are socio-economically much more similar to my North End school than to the rest of his division. The student population is about 55% Indigenous, and 35% new-Canadians, including recently, several Syrian families.

Somebody probably could’ve used a GPS gadget when the lines were drawn.

Rex stands about 6’5’, head shaved bald and is imposing only in stature. If some sort of “social entrepreneurial aura” exists, Rex oozes it. Friendly, attentive, confident, engaging, eager.

When he was selected as principal to Brooklands six years ago, after teaching and a short vice principal stint in more affluent schools in the division, some colleagues thought he’d been banished to the hinterland for his “squeaky wheel-ness”. When Rex arrived, the situation was if not bleak, then at least disheartening: attendance low, attrition and turnover high; poverty, family and social issues overriding; literacy & numeracy levels all over the map or unknown; staff full of heart, love and resilience, but tired and barely keeping their heads above water.

Read the remainder of Paul’s article to find out what Rex and the school team at Brooklands have done to create a new narrative at Brooklands….

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Innovative Educator – George Couros

By Evelyn Zankowski • June 11, 2016

George Couros, author of the Innovator’s Mindset, is the focus of Evelyn Zankowski’s inquiry into innovative educators – and with good reason! It’s heartening (and not the least bit surprising) to know that the Winnipeg School Division is encouraging innovation in education. (Catherine O’Brien)

An interesting question that George asked teachers to reflect upon was, “Would you want to spend the whole day learning in your own classroom?” Teachers need to take risks and learn to keep up with the changing technological advances. Evelyn Zankowski


On May 9, 2016 I was very fortunate to attend a professional day seminar featuring George Couros as the guest presenter.  Mr. Couros spoke to approximately 2100 teachers from every school in the Winnipeg School Division. The topic of the seminar was, Exploring Innovative Teaching, Learning and Leadership Strategies. He also spent time within the division consulting with small teacher groups. Although George had a very busy schedule in Winnipeg he did find time for me to conduct a short interview. 

  • George Couros is the Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning for Parkland School Division. He has worked with all levels of school from K-12 as a teacher, technology facilitator, and school based administrator. He additionally co-facilitates Great Leaders, Great Teams, Great Results leadership training, is a leader on the effective use of social media to improve student learning. He is a sought after speaker on the topic of innovative student learning and engagement. George is also the creator of the Connected Principals blog site as well as the founder of Connected Canada. His focus is to help organizations create optimal learning environments for innovation within schools.


-When George was asked to accept the position of division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning he had to address some specific questions for himself. What is innovation and what does it look like?  When students have the world at their fingertips what are they going to do with it to make the world better? George believes that, innovation often begins and ends with empathy. Technology can build relationships and create positive sharing of ideas and opportunities. Social media can be used to help student learning by  developing an understanding of global connections, it can create possibilities for student exploration and reflection.

-Changing the way educators think about innovation was a barrier that he needed to address in his new role. He had to help teachers see the potential in innovation and change the mindset of how many teachers teach or react to a digitally global way of teaching. The way in which children learn and discover is changing and teachers need to ask themselves, what’s best for the kids? An interesting question that George asked teachers to reflect upon was, “Would you want to spend the whole day learning in your own classroom?” Teachers need to take risks and learn to keep up with the changing technological advances.

-By connecting with others, schools can foster more creativity and innovation. Teachers need to be open to learning from others. The sharing of resources and ideas on a global scale is important. Educators need to move from a ‘fixed’ mindset to a ‘growth’ mindset. We need to see the ‘world wide web’ as more than just a place to teach/learn programs, but rather a place that can incorporate innovate ideas, excitement and deeper reflection in students. George says, that change starts from within each person, we need to be open to new learning opportunities. That means using all of the technological tools around us and as educators helping our students to navigate these tools.

-Being more socially and globally aware develops empathy and then the hopefully the desire to help others. This in turns helps contribute to social, economic, cultural, or environmental health and well-being. There are children using social media all over the world to connect with others and to be noticed, it is important for adults to properly guide them.

Read the rest of Evelyn’s article at:

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udemy Yellow Swallow Tail ButterflyIf you are interested in exploring sustainable happiness, consider signing up for the online sustainable happiness course! It’s a great way to enhance your own happiness and wellbeing! There are 35 short videos (mini lectures) and 15 activities to deepen learning. These are also great resources for teaching about sustainable happiness. Use the coupon code SH4Teachers to get 50% off!

TakingITGlobal – Social Entrepreneur Inquiry

By Julie Van Caeyzeele • June 7, 2016

Earlier this week I shared the social entrepreneur inquiry from teacher Ashley Pilatic. Today, we hear from Julie Van Caeyzeele. TakingITGlobal was the focus of her inquiry (Catherine O’Brien).

I had the pleasure of listening to Michael Furdyk speak at the NPDL Deep Learning Lab in Seattle last year. I looked at my notes from his session to find a very blank paper other than some links to websites and a couple of quotes. It’s not that I didn’t learn anything from him but quite the opposite. I wrote nothing because I didn’t want to miss out on anything he said. He is such an inspiration to youth and educators around the world. When given the opportunity I knew I wanted to learn more about his organization…When I looked back at my sparse notes based on Michael Furdyk’s session, I am struck by his quote “What would you do if anything was possible?” This is the mantra we need to instill in our students.. Julie Van Caeyzeele

TakingITGlobal was founded in 1999 by Jennifer Corriero and Michael Furdyk who were 17 and 19 years old. Essentially they created an online forum where youth can become involved in global and local change opportunities and where they are able to search for inspiration or information with youth around the world. The social network serves to raise awareness on global issues and encourage youth to take action. TakingITGlobal has been referred to as the world’s largest community for young people interested in positive change. Correiro and Furdyk later developed TakingITGlobal for Educators where educators can gain inspiration for global change projects, learn from other educators and collaborate with students across the world to foster change making in our classrooms.

Read Julie’s full article at:

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Social Entrepreneur Inquiry-Green School Bali

By Ashley Pilatic • June 4, 2016

I am currently teaching a graduate course in Education for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship for Cape Breton University’s Master in Education (Sustainability, Creativity, and Innovation). It is my great pleasure to share this digital curation piece with you that was posted by one of my grad students, Ashley Pilatic. (Catherine O’Brien)

“John and Cynthia’s actions have provided me with hope that there are people who are interested in and passionate about innovative and sustainable education. More importantly, conducting this research has developed a new item for my bucket list. I now want to attend one of the seven-day professional development sessions at the Green School Bali. I envision the professional development to be life changing for me personally and the future students in my classroom.” Ashley Pilatic

ExGreen School Bali 1 copycerpt: When deciding which social entrepreneur I was going to conduct further research on while reading chapter 5 [of Education for Sustainable Happiness and Well-Being], Entrepreneurial Mindset written by C. O’Brien, the Green School Bali caught my eye. It initially caught my eye because I have been meaning to conduct further research on green schools and the positive impacts that gardening and green spaces have on students. This understanding of green schools came from the short video that I watched in the first class of this program, Green Bronx Machine. Aside from this being an opportunity to research a topic that I am interested in, the Green School Bali caught my eye because Winnipeg does not have any LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) schools. The idea of children learning in a LEED school fascinates me. It fascinates me because I work within a school system that is very structured and has not evolved in many years. More importantly, the Green School caught my eye because it is much more than growing a garden within an urban setting. The Green School encompasses an unimaginable amount of creativity, innovation, and sustainability.  Aside from the innovative and well being mindset that this school has embraced, I am also infatuated with the idea of the bamboo architecture.


Read the remainder of Ashley’s article at:

New Pedagogies Develop Leader Character

By Catherine O'Brien • March 7, 2016

Transformation of education requires transformation of ourselves and at the root of this transformation is leader character. Mary Crossan, Distinguished University Professor, Western University

Last summer, my sister, Dr. Mary Crossan, and I had a long, lingering conversation about the intersection between her research on leader character and mine in sustainable happiness. We were both on vacation and enjoyed the opportunity to catch up on each other’s work. It was a pivotal moment in our discussion when Mary asked me what kind of person is likely to choose sustainable happiness. Given the various options and pressures that individuals have on a day-to-day basis, what motivates one person to engage in sustainable behaviour and another person, who may be fully aware of environmental consequences, does not? She pressed further with questions about what kind of person will care deeply enough about other people or even future generations in order to embrace sustainable happiness in a meaningful way. She explained that in her view, who that person is – the choices that they make – will ultimately be influenced by their character.

Mary referred to the significance of character development as ‘bedrock,’ meaning that it is a fundamental to our well-being. It is entirely possible that many teachers would agree. A Canadian study that reviewed recommendations for 21st century competencies noted that when teachers were asked about their views on the weight that ought to be placed on character development in the classroom, “the results, which are consistent across provinces, indicate that teachers attribute more importance to character development than they feel the curriculum does” (Action Canada, 2013, p. 11).

If character is a major influence on the choices that we make, it stands to reason that it is relevant for our students and also relevant for educators.

At this point I should mention that when Mary and I were chatting about character I was already familiar with character education and the classification of character strengths and virtues that have been developed by Peterson and Seligman (2004). I had not yet articulated for myself why that view of character hadn’t resonated with me as a strong connection with sustainable happiness. However, over the course of many more conversations with Mary, I began to understand how leader character is essential to individual and organizational transformation – and how leader character differs from the positive psychology perspective on character. I also had the opportunity to participate in a workshop on leader character that Mary facilitated with a group of managers. During the session one participant leaned toward me and said, “This is remarkable! I could see this work being applied to every field! Imagine if this was taught in school!”

Leader character and change

Character is developed over a lifetime. It is a journey, rather than a destination. Every situation presents a different experience and opportunity to exercise, apply and develop character. (Crossan, Seijts, & Gandz, 2016, p. 30)

Reading through the character education and positive psychology literature the following questions arose for me:

1) It is highly likely that helping students to identify and develop character strengths will contribute to a stronger awareness of their strengths and potentially enhance their well-being. Will the development of character automatically lead to healthier and more sustainable choices?
2) We are immersed in a consumer culture with daily pressures or incentives to engage in behaviour that is not in the best interest of our well-being nor a model of sustainability. (E.g. eating fast foods; purchasing products regardless of their origin, packaging, or the fair labour practices associated with their production; driving for convenience when many of our trips are within walking distance). How does the Peterson and Seligman (2004) character classification assist individuals to navigate this kind of socialization or situational pressures?
3) How does the character of teachers, administrators, and education policy makers impact the transformation of education? For instance, how does it impact our openness to implement new pedagogies or to be leaders of educational change?
4) What kind of character development will assist students to be leaders of change – for themselves personally, and of education?

As I pondered these questions, I contacted Mary once again to deepen my understanding of the work that she and her colleagues are doing at the Ivey Business School (Western University). I learned that while their previous research incorporated the Peterson and Seligman (2004) character classification, their latest work is a very important departure. Their team used an engaged scholarship (Van de Ven & Johnson, 2006) approach to investigate how various leaders view the character strengths classification, and indeed, if the strengths are relevant to the real-world challenges of the organizations they lead. The impetus for this research came from the economic crisis that unfolded over the last half of the previous decade. The researchers wondered, what was the role of business schools in averting the innumerable catastrophes that reverberated throughout the world. They began to frame their answer to this around leadership. The Ivey research team developed a discussion paper and set up focus groups with business leaders from various kinds of organizations – small, large, public, and private – in Canada, New York, Hong Kong, and London to garner feedback on the paper. A theme that emerged from these discussions was the role of leader character and the publication of Leadership on Trial (Gandz, Crossan, Seijts, & Stephenson, 2010). This theme was reinforced for the team when Domenic Barton, head of McKinsey’s global consulting practice, formulated the importance of character during his commencement address at Ivey. “When we think about leadership,” Barton told the graduating class, “we focus too much on what leaders do . . . and we don’t spend enough time on who leaders are—the character of leaders” (Seijts, Gandz, Crossan, & Reno, 2015, p. 65).

Let’s think about this statement in the context of schools. Could we say the same about our classrooms? That we focus too much on what students do, with insufficient attention to developing who they are? For example, if we consider the many benefits of real-world, project-based learning, we can see that this affords students the opportunity to experience themselves as leaders and to grow from the experience of interacting with the ‘messiness’ of contexts that are not carefully controlled with pre-determined answers.
Might we also learn from the Ivey team’s quest to understand the role of business schools in averting economic calamity? The education sector and teacher training institutions could likewise take a hard look at our role in preventing human suffering and environmental degradation, as well as contributing to greater health and well-being.

To continue the Ivey story, the team obtained a major research grant to pursue the study of leader character. Drawing upon research literature and insights from practitioners (leaders) they shifted away from the Peterson and Seligman (2004) classification and established a model for leader character that is based on 11 dimensions. Each of the circles in their model (below) is referred to as a ‘dimension’ and within each dimension you see words that describe ‘elements’ of those dimensions.

Source: Seijts, Gandz, Crossan, & Reno (2013)

Source: Seijts, Gandz, Crossan, & Reno (2013)

This is a dynamic model that views character as a collection of virtues, values and traits. It is important to note that the values and traits are not just a random cluster but rather include only the ones that are defined as virtuous. Another extremely important differentiating factor is that good leadership relies on all of the dimensions. It is not sufficient, for example, for a leader to draw upon his or her top five dimensions (akin to working with one’s top five signature strengths) and depend on others to complement him/her with their “strengths.” Likewise, the dimensions work in concert. They are interdependent. For example, imagine someone who has exceptional Drive. You very likely know someone who does! If that person lacks Integrity, Justice, or Humanity it is possible that an “ends justifies the means” attitude could prevail. Thus, each dimension is important. Also, finding the right balance amongst all of the dimensions is essential. Building on the example of someone who has exceptional Drive, such a person would not necessarily lower that drive to be balanced, but rather increase his or her development of Temperance. In other words, preventing excess in one of the Dimensions involves having strength in the others.

You will also notice the central location of Judgment. At the beginning of this blog I shared the questions that Mary had posed to me about what kind of person would choose sustainable happiness. Looking at the leader character model, we find some answers. The character dimensions come into effect as an individual responds to each choice that they make on a daily and moment-to-moment basis. Will I recycle my coffee cup, or not? Will I make a healthy meal or reach for the processed food? Will I plant a vegetable garden? The quote below from the Ivey team’s book, Developing Leadership Character (Crossan, Seijts, & Gandz, 2016) outlines the particular significance of Judgment.

A word more on that central dimension: judgment. Each of the other dimensions of character represents reservoirs of varying depth – in other words, people may have lots of courage or a little, or great integrity or not so much. How an individual’s character influences their actual behavior in a particular context depends on their judgment. It serves to moderate and mediate the way that the other dimensions determine individuals’ behaviors in different situations. In effect, it acts as a sort of air traffic controller, determining when courage should be shown and when it is better suppressed; when collaboration is appropriate and when a leader should go it alone; when it’s appropriate to demonstrate humility and when to demonstrate great confidence; when to be temperate and when to be bold; and so on. Conversely, judgment without the other dimensions moderating it is inherently superficial. (Seijts, Crossan, & Gandz, 2016, p. 10)

You can read more about leader character and education in my forthcoming book, Education for Sustainable Happiness and Well-Being. However, today I would like to share some of my current thinking about the relationship between leader character and new pedagogies. Over the past year, I have been inspired by reading books, articles, and blogs by innovative educators. I believe that teachers who are using new pedagogies such as Genius Hour, flipped learning, innovation classes, inquiry-based learning, real-world project-based learning and so forth are actually developing leader character, even though this term has not yet been used by them. Quotes from various innovators below give us a glimpse of this story and its relationship to change.

The biggest game changers in education are, and always will be, the educators who embrace the innovator’s mindset. These teachers and educational leaders look at change as an opportunity, not an obstacle, and they constantly ask: “What is best for this learner?” With this mindset, they provide new and better learning experiences for our students every single day. (Couros, 2015, pp. 227-28)@gcouros

The students who are taking your courses need to know how to think for themselves. They need to know how to discover their passions, work with others, behave like professionals, and use social media effectively and appropriately. Even without a course description titled Innovation Class, you can impart those skills and help your students build character traits that will serve them well. (Wettrick, 2014, p. 148)@DonWettrick

Another innovative Genius Hour teacher, Sheri Edwards, says that she asks her students to create, contribute, communicate, consider, cooperate, collaborate and curate successfully. What could be more important for success in this century? (Krebs & Zvi, 2016, pp 27-28)@mrsdkrebs @gallit_z

I enjoyed Genius Hour. I think it taught us that we as seventh and eighth graders can change the world with our genius. (Krebs & Zvi, 2016, p. 84)@mrsdkrebs @gallit_z

Inquiry-based learning (especially at the high school level) is about providing time for students to grow as learners, individuals, and creators. They may not be a straight “A” student, but their inquiry project will blow you away. (Juliani, 2015, p. 63)@ajjuliani

In the coming weeks I will be writing more about leader character and new pedagogies. Please send me examples of how you see new pedagogies developing leader character:

The first part of this blog is an excerpt from my book: Education for Sustainable Happiness and Well-Being. It is available for pre-order through Routledge.

Action Canada. (2013). Future tense. Adapting Canadian education systems for the 21st century.
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Wettrick, D. (2014). Pure genius: Building a culture of innovation and taking 20% time to the next level. San Diego: Dave Burgess Consulting.

Who is transforming education?

By Catherine O'Brien • January 31, 2016

During my university sabbatical last year I spent the first four months just reading and mulling over everything I read about transforming education. Books by ‘thought leaders’ discussed creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship, 21st century learning, integrating technology, and so on. Very few of those books drew connections to student and teacher well-being, the importance of spending time in natural environments, or the broader perspective of sustainability.

As I read, my mind was filled with questions like: Is it possible that a focus on innovation, in the absence of sustainability, could lead to innovators who accelerate the development of products that deplete non-renewable resources? If children and youth continue to be disconnected from the natural environment, how will they develop a profound desire to safeguard the ecosystems that sustain us? Why aren’t we talking about the fact that how we teach is impacting student and teacher well-being?

Every one of us who has been schooled in formal education has developed countless assumptions about it and I knew that as I pondered what is needed to transform education I would have to challenge my own assumptions about its purpose. If Michael Fullan (2013) is right that education needs a complete ‘makeover’ does that mean that education, as we know it, needs to be entirely dismantled? Should we embrace unschooling, or just draw lessons from it? Should we look to the social innovators like Khan Academy to understand how to bring a world class education (Khan, 2012) to everyone? I interviewed social innovator, Michael Furdyk, one of the co-founders of TakingITGlobal to discover more about their truly extraordinary initiatives. What could we learn from the Green School Bali? How could I apply what I had learned from my doctoral research at the Barefoot College in Rajasthan, India where more than forty years ago they had challenged their assumptions about education in rural communities and created internationally recognized and award winning education programs that were ahead of their time?

My intention was to disrupt myself as my assumptions were challenged, teased apart, considered critically, and combined with times of deep reflection. Quite frankly this led to an uncomfortable feeling of being ‘discombobulated’ – unclear of the way forward but that also told me that I was on the right track. In the process I found myself consistently returning to a conviction that education should be contributing to well-being for all, sustainably (Hopkins, 2013). It should help us to meet our global learning needs individually and collectively. From this starting point, we can see that creativity, innovation and an entrepreneurial mindset need to be part of a coherent well-being for all vision for education that enables people and ecosystems to flourish.

As I continued to explore these ideas it became evident to me that we can transform ourselves and education when we notice that who is teaching, what we teach, when we teach, where we teach, why we teach, and how we teach play a significant role in shaping education. Focusing on the ‘how’ part of this, I have been particularly inspired by the educators who are engaging in new pedagogies, challenging themselves to discover what happens when they try Genius Hour, flipped learning, real-world project-based learning, and New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL). As I engage with this worldwide movement of innovative educators I’m feeling heartened by the generosity of teachers who are sharing resources, collaborating with colleagues, celebrating their students, taking risks, and openly inviting others to join them. They are enabling students to be choice-makes and change-makers. As Don Wettrick says, “innovation in education is education. You can and should be innovative in any classroom, whether you have a chunk of time called Genius Hour, or just a willingness to integrate new approaches to learning” (Wettrick, 2014, p. 15).

I began my sabbatical wondering how I could contribute to transforming education and along the way I’ve discovered that there are teachers and students across the globe who are already leading the way. The makeover is already in progress and everyone’s voice is needed. As Denise Krebs and Gallit Zvi say about Genius Hour:

We need you dear friends. As you set out to create Genius Hour in your classrooms, please add your voice to the global conversation about Genius Hour. We need you to become resources for others because together we are smarter. It is time for you to share your genius in your own schools and with the world. Use all the social media you love and celebrate by posting all the wonderful projects and work of your students. However, we want you to dare to do more than that. That is, to tell your own story. Share how your own learning and teaching craft are being honed through the process and products of Genius Hour. We want to hear about your journey. (Krebs & Zvi, 2016, p. 87).

These days, my teaching practice is being influenced by educators like this. When I connect with Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr), Peter Cameron (@cherandpete), AJ Juliani (@ajjuliani), Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher), Hugh McDonald (@hughtheteacher), Angela Maiers (@angelamaiers), Denise Krebs (@mrsdkrebs), and Gallit Zvi (@gallit_z) I feel an urgent desire to share this learning with the pre-service and in-service teachers who are my students, inviting them to join the conversation. Together, all of us, with our students, are transforming education.

Coming soon!…Education for Sustainable Happiness and Well-Being


Fullan, M. (2013). Stratosphere: Integrating technology, pedagogy, and change knowledge. Toronto: Pearson.

Hopkins, C. (2013). Educating for sustainability: An emerging purpose of education. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 49(3), 122-125.

Krebs, D. & Zvi, G. (2016). The genius hour guidebook: Fostering passion, wonder, and inquiry in the classroom. New York: Routledge.

Wettrick, D. (2014). Pure genius: Building a culture of innovation and taking 20% time to the next level. San Diego: Dave Burgess Consulting.

Sustainable Wellbeing, Creativity, and Innovation

By Catherine O'Brien • January 23, 2016

This is an excerpt from: O’Brien, C., & Murray S.E. (2015). Sustainable wellbeing, creativity and innovation. International Journal of Innovation, Creativity, and Change.

Considering the ponderous pace of change in formal education, shifting towards learning that fosters creativity and innovation, dislodging it from the ‘factory model’ that moves students along the conveyor belt of schooling through successive grades of prescribed content, is a formidable task. On a very practical level, trying to infuse creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship into existing education structures that favour conformity is destined to mute the potential positive impact of doing so. Ultimately, as Fullan (2013) has suggested, what is required is an extensive make-over of education systems. One element of that make-over process, he proposes, is the use of ‘new pedagogies.’ This makes sense if we look at the great hopes and expectations associated with updating education through greater use of technology. Simply adding technology to existing practice hasn’t been nearly as transformative as expected (Bain &Weston, 2013). Rather, Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) needs to be utilized with new pedagogies. Moreover, the new pedagogies and make-over need to be associated with a coherent vision of education that has challenged outdated assumptions about the very purpose of education.

Zhao (2012) advocates the benefits of developing an entrepreneurial mindset but, similar to the pitfalls of adding technology to encrusted modes of teaching, he questions whether an entrepreneurial mindset can be nurtured in a traditional school environment. Along with many others, he calls for a paradigm shift in education.

The vast majority of children in the world today still attend schools that attempt to instill in them predefined knowledge and skills in a lock-step fashion.

Worse yet, we are moving backwards. […] the world is moving toward more curriculum standardization as a way to fix the traditional paradigm. (Zhao, 2012, pp. 157-158)

Despite this severe critique of traditional school, Zhao believes that constructive change is possible and that taking the following measures will help: provide a school environment with more freedom and flexibility for students to develop and follow their interests and passions, create opportunities for students to be decision makers, offer diversity in physical space and access to learning facilitators (i.e. teachers facilitating learning and students also having access to talented mentors outside of the school environment). Additionally, he discusses the importance of designing learning experiences to develop a sense of agency in students as they take more responsibility for their learning and to express their unique voice in the world. This points to a crucial role for students as change-makers, not only as future global citizens but also as vital contributors to the ‘make-over’ of education. Can we assume, though, that any make-over is inherently good and at the very least will not increase harm to others and the environment? It has been questioned, for example, whether education is part of the problem or the solution to meet our global learning needs.

We are faced with a paradox: Is education the problem or the solution in working toward a sustainable future? At current levels of unsustainable practice and over consumption it could be concluded that education is part of the problem. If education is the solution then it requires a deeper critique and a broader vision for the future. Thus, whole systems redesign needs to be considered to challenge existing frameworks and shift our thinking beyond current practice and toward a sustainable future. (UNESCO, 2005, p. 57)

Optimistically, educators seem to be more open than ever to the realization that conventional education is outdated and diverse “alternatives” are demonstrating fresh new directions: expansive education, flipped learning, competency-based learning, social and emotional learning, and the gamification of learning, to name just a few. This is also a time in which various recommendations for transforming education are being offered beyond creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. Recommendations vary from simple modifications for delivering existing content, to “add on” programs/toolkits, to complementary programs, to significant revisions of both curriculum and content, to abandoning formal education altogether with unschooling. For instance, in addition to competencies included within the various 21st century learning lists, there are advocates for greater attention to sustainability education/Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), social and emotional learning, Health Promoting Schools, enhancing student connections with Nature, and positive education (CASEL, 2008; Hopkins, 2013; JCSH, 2008; Louv, 2012; Morrison & Peterson, 2010; Seligman, 2011; UNECE, 2011). What is lacking at this time is a coherent vision of education that has the capacity to integrate the strengths of all of these recommendations while setting the foundation for a truly innovative approach to learning that will enable us to meet our global learning needs, sustainably (O’Brien, 2014). Hopkin’s (2013) view that repurposing education with a vision of wellbeing for all, sustainably will assist us with reframing our discussions.

Wellbeing for all, sustainably brings forth two key perspectives that are often absent in the innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, and 21st century learning literature: sustainability and wellbeing.

The full text of this article is available at:

Coming soon!…Education for Sustainable Happiness and Well-Being