During a moment when Anne Johnstone was lecturing in law while her honours’ thesis supervisor was taking a sabbatical, she had an epiphany that her calling was to teach.
“I had a real sense that I could make a positive contribution to people’s lives through the realm of education” she recalls. Anne is no stranger to the education sector – her father is a psychologist and has worked as a school counsellor for almost 50 years, and her mother is a piano teacher.
“Naturally, I have an enormous respect for teachers,” she says. “I had some extraordinary teachers and leaders in my schooling and at university, and recognised the difference that educators can make.”
Now, she is delighted to be working as Principal at Ravenswood School for Girls on Sydney’s North Shore. Founded in 1901, Ravenswood has had a remarkable 120-year history of empowering young women.
“Our motto is, ‘Always towards better things,’” Anne says. “We are a school that is strongly leading the way in positive education, which provides a scientifically validated framework for wellbeing. We take an evidence-based approach that emphasises strengths rather than deficits, with a focus on positioning young people to fulfil their potential.”
Currently completing a PhD in Education from the University of Melbourne, Anne is passionate about the transformational benefits of positive psychology, particularly as it applies to an educational setting.
“We teach our students from a young age that learning and wellbeing are linked. Positive education is not happy-ology; it is about taking a strengths-based approach and developing resilience so that we can bounce back and indeed bounce forward, in response to setbacks and challenges.
“Over time, with the right instruction, fostering learning dispositions and habits of mind such as learned optimism, grit, courage and a growth mindset can help enable young people to fulfil their potential and flourish – in other words, grow up to be the best versions of themselves.
We are a school that is strongly leading the way in positive education, which provides a scientifically validated framework for wellbeing.
“As a Principal, I’d like to know that when they leave our gates, our girls can say, ‘Coming to Ravenswood made all the difference in my life, and I’m passionate about living a life of meaning and purpose, and making a positive difference in other people’s lives as well.’”
Anne gained her Master of Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2017 and was one of the top graduates in the course, being recognised for her distinguished capstone paper.
In 2019, she was the only woman among five global educational leaders to be recognised for ‘pioneering work, contribution and internationally recognised leadership in the field of positive education since its inception’ by the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and the Eisenhower Fellowships.
Anne’s esteemed reputation has attracted some of the world’s biggest innovators in the areas of positive psychology and positive education to Ravenswood, to share their knowledge with students and staff.
In 2018 and 2019, the Founder of positive psychology and international bestselling author Professor Martin Seligman visited the school to lead training sessions and workshops.
During his 2019 public lecture, he told the 1,000-strong audience that in his opinion, Ravenswood is the leading positive education girls’ school in the world. Anne is also Chair of the Positive Education Schools Association, an organisation here in Australia committed to helping young people flourish through the embedding of science of wellbeing in schools.
And she became the Global Vice Chair of the International Positive Education Network in 2021. “At Ravenswood we are committed to actively seeking opportunities to share our insights and experience in positive education with other schools, especially state schools, as they embark on their own positive education journey,” she says.
As Ravenswood Principal, Anne believes it is essential to prepare young women to have a voice. Every International Women’s Day, the school hosts a discussion panel featuring illustrious alumni to engage the students in dialogue about following your dreams and preparing for workplace success.
“This year, when the girls were asked to reflect on the women who are making a difference in the world, it touched me to see them not only cite remarkable individuals such as Malala Yousafzai and Jacinda Ardern, but their own mothers. To me it was a sign they understand the importance of gratitude and that we each have the power to make a difference from where we are and to the people in our lives, both personally and professionally,” Anne reveals.
Ravenswood is a Uniting Church School with a Christian ethos that encourages compassion, love and respect. “It’s about living lives of meaning and purpose, and reaching beyond ourselves. This informs our social justice programs as well,” she explains.
“There is a great sense of connectedness and belonging here. Our Prefects’ slogan this year is ‘You strengthen the sisterhood’ – it’s about recognising everyone’s inestimable value and strengths; celebrating our individuality with a diverse student and staff population, as well as our strong sense of community.”
In addition to its more than 1,300 students, the school offers its teachers, administration and operations staff ways to access high-quality professional development opportunities. “Through the Ravenswood Institute, we offer study fellowships for staff to enhance their practice in a variety of areas,” Anne says.
“We really believe in them and what they can achieve. We also include them as much as possible in the strategic development of the school.” Anne counts it a joy to work with the students, team of staff, school council, parents and alumni who support the school’s direction. “They inspire me every day,” she smiles.
“And I love the fact that I might be able to inspire the leaders of tomorrow. We can never underestimate the impact that a school has on young people’s lives. It doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges, but it’s a meaningful and fulfilling journey. I feel honoured to be able to lead in this way.”