Dr Helen Street

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About Helen

Associate Professor Helen Street navigated her own school career on the back of every educational award imaginable. She won year prizes, subject prizes, and scholarships for being a high achiever and a total perfectionist. However, as much as Helen excelled academically, she struggled to find her own path in life. If truth be known, she preferred fine art to pure maths, drama to physics and friendships far more than text books. Helen's school success had largely been defined by others expectations, and yet failing others had never seemed a possible option.

Helen couldn't help but wonder why she was working so hard at the subjects she liked the least, why high grades were so important to her life, and who exactly she was achieving everything for. Helen left school and decided enough was enough...

...by the time Helen finally arrived at university two years later, she was a firm believer in autonomy over anyone else's judgement of her worth. She cherished her relationships far more than her wall of certificates, and desired creativity far more than regurgitation of copious notes. Helen had also begun to wonder what a great education really entailed...she rejected an offer to study medicine and took up psychology in search of some answers.

Helen began her journey supporting youth wellbeing and mental health when she was awarded the Howard Morton Trust Scholarship to undertake a PhD at the University of Sheffield in 1994. Her research enabled her to build on her experience as a former psychiatric nurse during her 'gap years' after leaving school; and later as a psychology graduate from The University of Surrey.

During her time in Sheffield, Helen carried out research exploring motivation and social cognitive causes of depression. Her theory of Conditional Goal Setting explains how misunderstandings of motivation can lead to a lifelong vulnerability to depression and anxiety. Helen was finally understanding the difference between reaching a sought after outcome for someone else, and engaging in a worthwhile process, for oneself.

Conditional Goal Setting theory has since become an internationally recognised theory of depression vulnerability. It has been applied to the understanding of depression in eating disorders, chronic illness and drug abuse among other issues. In 2003 Helen wrote the book 'Standing Without Shoes' with George Burns. The book explains Conditional Goal Setting theory in detail and suggests that a better understanding of motivation can lead to greater wellbeing and contentment. The final draft of the book was read by His Holiness the Dalai Lama who so loved it so much, he wrote the foreword.

Helen also organised a one-day conference on goal setting, motivation and wellbeing while living and working in Sheffield. The success of the event led to her first visit to Australia in 1996. This visit was the beginning of a warm relationship with the red country and led to a permanent move in 1998. It was then that Helen arrived at Central Queensland University to take up a position as a psychology lecturer. during her time in Queensland Helen also became a registered psychologist and built on her academic foundations by furthering her research into motivation, goal setting and wellbeing in young people and adults.

In 1999 Helen moved to Perth to take up an academic position in the School of Psychiatry at The University of Western Australia. Helen taught medical and dental students in addition to continuing her research and writing. Soon after arriving in Perth, Helen also met her partner, Neil Porter. Helen and Neil have since worked together to develop the Positive Schools Initiative which advocates for educational reform to better support equity, motivation and wellbeing in young people.

The Positive Schools Initiative informs educators about up-to-date, evidence based research and practice that is relevant to their work supporting academic, social and emotional learning in schools. At the core of The Positive Schools Initiative are The Positive Schools conferences which have grown from strength to strength since their conception in 2009. In 2018 the Positive Schools conferences celebrate their tenth anniversary across four states in Australia and their fourth anniversary in Asia. The conferences have become known as Australia's leading mental health and wellbeing events for educators, and are a proud reflection of Helen's passion for education reform.

Over the past ten years, Helen has becoming increasingly interested in finding genuine ways to better support wellbeing, motivation and engagement in young people within a school environment. She has, often controversley, campaigned for schools to reduce extrinsic reward systems, excessive grading and homework; and to spend more building cohesive communities and equitable educational practice.

As an advocate of supporting teacher wellbeing, Helen wrote 'LifeOverload in 2011'. She also co-edited 'Better Than OK' in 2014. In Better Than OK, Helen stresses the importance of focusing our efforts to support young people on the creation of more equitable, more evidence based education systems.

In 2016 Helen wrote two academic chapters bringing together her ideas about contextual reform into a single model of 'contextual wellbeing'. In both of these chapters Helen stresses the need for educators and policy makers to pay more attention to school context in their consideration of social emotional learning. In addition to supporting teacher wellbeing and policy change, she has campaigned for greater consideration of the physcial environment and a need to better understand the development of healthy social norms in schools.

During the past ten years, alongside her roles at The University of Western Australia and Positive Schools, Helen has been a regular advisor to the Health Department of WA's Centre for Clinical Interventions and the WA Association of Mental Health. She has written and presented regularly on TV, radio and in other media, including a year spent as the show psychologist for Channel Ten's morning TV show 'The Circle'.

Helen has also worked with schools and colleges around Australia and internationally in countries including England, Wales, Germany, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Helen continues to be a powerful advocate for school contextual reform and the revolutionising of traditional education systems. She writes and speaks regularly in schools and at conferences. She also continues to edit The Positive Times as a free online resource for teachers, and to run the Positive Schools events in a bid to develop a better world for tomorrows schools, today.

Helen is currently an honorary associate professor in the graduate school of education at The University of Western Australia, the chair of Positive Schools with Neil Porter, and most importantly of all, a keen painter, and besotted mother of three beautiful girls.

Helen firmly believes that the only way we can sustainably, effectively support youth wellbeing is through the development of contextual wellbeing in our schools and colleges. Our role as educators is not to tell someone how to be well, or to reward them for behaving well. We have to provide young people with a context in which they can flourish.