Schools are full of characters. Lovely, shady, reformed and real characters everywhere. How many positive ones do you have though? If a six year old was helping a friend with a problem and said to you, “I am being helpful because that’s one of my positive strengths” then I’m sure you’d be pretty impressed.
Recognising a character strength and articulating it with understanding is no mean feat for a nipper, especially in a culture where it is more common to hear someone saying what they aren’t good at rather than what they are. Knowing what character strengths you possess at such an early age is very achievable via the teaching of positive values in action. It’s safe to say that talking positively can be out of character for many children.
Positive psychologists Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman have identified 24 character strengths and how they can benefit happiness and well being. They recommend identifying our top strengths and then using these regularly in our lives for improving health, happiness and our sense of self-worth. To find out what yours are start by visiting www.viastrengths.org and complete an online test. I’ve done just that and my top five signature strengths are curiosity, love of learning, humour, perseverance, and an appreciation of beauty and excellence. I’m happy with that. But who taught me these and how have they developed? The different schools I attended when I was younger certainly contributed to these traits along with my parents, friends, clubs and jobs but I don’t recall anyone teaching me specifically about ‘character’ and playing to my strengths.
Given the importance we attach to character traits it is amazing that the majority of schools don’t actually have a character building teaching programme devoted to teaching specific strengths. Sure, ‘character’ is taught implicitly and explicitly in lots of different ways but how many places do you know that have a whole-school approach to teaching and developing character?
If only someone had written an inclusive character development programme you could open up to the school and embed across the curriculum to enhance learning. Someone has – Jenny Fox Eades.
TTS met Jenny and set off on a journey to take Character Strengths to the masses. Through understanding the type of resources schools like and the content Jenny could write, the first Character Strengths resources were born in January 2013. This ambitious and well-thought out programme has three strands to it to help deliver in school: strengths, stories and celebrations.
The programme has been tried and tested and the feedback from schools is very encouraging. An academic evaluation study of five schools using the programme reported enhanced emotional and social well-being, increased self-confidence and self-esteem, increased citizenship skills, and an enhanced ability amongst pupils to identify strengths in themselves and others. Rather impressively, the programme was also linked to improvements in story-telling and in developing a calmer school environment.
Jenny Fox Eades has written all the content for the Character Strengths resources and is passionate about delivering ‘Strengths’ sessions in school!
With thanks to John Debaell for writing this post. John is a Teacher and Author from the East Midlands. You can read his full review of the Character Strengths programme and resources here.