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Q&A with Nick Holton, Associate Director of Positive Education

A leader in the field of Positive Education, Nick Holton was the Founder and Director of the Positive Education Institute at Milken Community Schools in Los Angeles—the first Positive Education program in California. Nick holds a PhD in Educational Psychology with a focus on Positive Psychology from Michigan State University, where he also earned an MA in Education with a focus on leadership, and a BA in history. Nick has spent his career working as a teacher and coach in schools, but also consults with businesses on performance and workplace satisfaction. He is hosting a virtual Shipley Parent Education series called Flourish: An Introduction to Positive Psychology on Monday evenings in July from 7:00-8:00 pm starting July 6. Learn more about it on Shipley's Summer Programs page.

What are five words to describe you?
I'm really uncomfortable describing myself. (That's five, right?)

What are your signature strengths?
I try to take the VIA survey every six months or so, often with one of the groups I'm teaching. Most recently they were Judgment, Love, Kindness, Gratitude, and Fairness. Sometimes Perspective and Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence sneak in there, too. 

Why did you decide to become an educator?
I knew pretty early that I really enjoyed the feeling of helping someone improve themself. Once I got a taste of that, it became pretty clear to me that teaching and coaching was the route to take if I wanted to do a lot of that kind of work. I've also always felt a sense of connection and obligation to the world as a whole, and, while it may sound idealistic or naïve, I still very much believe that we've yet to discover the best system of education for drawing out the greatest potentials of human beings around the planet. I want to be a part of that process. 

Why Shipley?
Simply put, because my impression of Shipley is that it is both a school and community that are in-line with and actively trying to do exactly what I mentioned above. 

Who or what inspires you?
Choose your sports analogy: when it comes to my wife, my family, and my friends, I out-kicked my coverage and punched above my weight class. Just about everyone in my life that I'm close with carries certain traits that I admire and aspire to. I also have a deep appreciation (see question about signature strengths) for excellence. It can be creative, academic, athletic, you name it. I'm both interested in and motivated by people who seem to be hitting the upper limits of their potential and who use that potential to better the world. 

What are you most excited for in your new position?
The people, absolutely. The possibilities that come from being in a true community, which, being K-12 helps foster. The stellar colleagues I've already met and will meet. I’m excited to work in a school where some of the leaders in positive and organizational psychology choose to send their own children. It's been crystal clear from the get-go that Shipley is a tight-knit community in many ways, and I'm excited to get to know all the unique individuals who help make up that whole. 

Why is Positive Education important?
I love the Steve Jobs’ quote, "I want to put a ding in the universe." I think Positive Education can put a ding in what we conceptualize as "education." Education as a system was created for clear purposes, but, in many ways, it's outgrown those purposes. That growth provides us with a unique context in which we can explore better ways to actualize human potential. That potential is ultimately why this endeavor is so important. I firmly believe that human potential is the world's greatest resource and that systems of education can amplify that potential or squander it. I believe Positive Education does the former. 

What do you do for fun or to relax?
I have a lot of interests, but recently I've grown in my appreciation for some of the simpler things—like a walk with my wife and our two dogs, or some time with close friends and family. We love to travel nationally and internationally and are looking forward to getting to see this part of the country once the pandemic clears up. Like most folks, we also enjoy good food and drink, so we'll happily take recommendations from anyone who's got ’em!

What are you currently watching/reading/listening to?
Listening - My favorite podcast is put on by Adam Grant (along with TED). It’s called WorkLife. The nerdy psychologist in me can’t get enough of it! Music wise, I listen to a lot of different stuff. Most recently I seem to be on a combo of Beastie Boys hits, Mumford and Son’s Delta album, and some newer singles from artists like The Weeknd and Surfaces. 

Reading - I’m currently reading Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization by Scott Barry Kaufman, which is a deeper dive into the humanistic psychology of Abraham Maslow and how we should see it in a new/different light given our advances in understanding human flourishing today. 

Watching - I reserve my watch time for vegging out like most other folks. Right now my wife and I are on a kung-fu movie kick, probably because of the recent documentary by ESPN about Bruce Lee (which was great!). 

What was a highlight from your move from LA to Bryn Mawr?
I’m originally from Michigan, where most of my family and a lot of my close friends still live. So being back there and getting to see all of them, and especially my dear three-year-old niece, AJ, was definitely the highlight. She’s crazy funny and interesting.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I’m not sure how many people would be surprised, given that I’ve not met many folks quite yet, but some quirky or maybe interesting things are that many of my friends and family actually call me by my middle name, “Skeets,” which comes from the nickname my great grandfather was given. He and my dad were really close. I suppose it also catches people a bit by surprise when they see I have a lot of tattoos, all of which serve as reminders to me. I’m in a full suit most days. So whenever I need to roll up my sleeves a bit, I can tell people are surprised. 

Why should parents sign up for your virtual parent education series?
There is so much good content and research out there that we can learn quickly, easily and start applying to our lives. This series is going to give some “quick-hitter” science, tips, and tricks to help any adult do the same. Whether it's for personal, professional or parental use, there’s something for everyone. Plus, most people just really enjoy the experience of learning about themselves and how most of us function.

Flourish: An Introduction to Positive Psychology
Mondays, July 6-27
7:00-8:00 pm
Learn more on Shipley's Summer Programs page.


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The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.