Frederika Roberts and Elizabeth Wright discuss Character Education as a way of helping children to develop positive values and emotional resilience, and provide an example of how it can be practised in the classroom. They are the authors of Character Toolkit for Teachers, publishing 21st May, which contains 109 practical activities for making Character Education accessible to teachers.
We have seen a Year 4 boy who couldn’t sit still for a couple of minutes complete a 3-minute breathing meditation and experience incredible joy and pride at this achievement. A year 5 girl told us that focusing on gratitude and simple meditation techniques helped her overcome her severe panic attacks. A year 4 girl told us that learning about resilience helped her deal with her parents’ separation. A year 8 girl decided, after a week of working with us on aspects of her character, that she would ask her parents for a new running coach and aim for the Tokyo Olympics. The seeds we, as educators, plant in children’s minds can create wide-ranging ripples throughout their lives, and the lives of those around them. All we have to do is start somewhere.
Flourishing is a term that is often used in positive psychology and character education, but what does it mean? Flourishing broadly describes a range of factors, including optimal mental health, the achievement of human potential, and satisfaction with life. The term became widely used in psychological terms after Keyes’s (2004) research into flourishing and languishing. Fredrickson’s (2004) broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions further develops the concept, whereby positive emotions are said to allow us to open up to more opportunities, learn better, have better relationships, and build our internal resources such as resilience.
A flourishing child can enjoy their learning journey, has a reliable group of supportive friends, relishes challenges as exciting opportunities, and has a great future ahead of them. Being able to influence outcomes like these in an educational setting may seem like a lofty and unreachable goal when teachers don’t directly influence a child’s home circumstances and only spend a certain amount of time with each child. But teachers, and a school’s ethos and environment, including all who work and learn there, can have a fundamental impact on a child, so let’s do what we can together to make that impact a positive one.
How does character and positive education, then, lead to flourishing? And how are character and positive education connected? IPEN describe positive education as a ‘double helix’ of ‘Character & Well-Being’ and ‘Academics’. The well-being aspect is where the positive psychology comes in. Character has been defined in different ways, but ultimately whether you look at the VIA character strengths, or those of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, character strengths are those strengths we possess and can develop further that allow us to frame our value system and our decisions and behaviours in life. They are what makes us who we are.
In our work in schools, we translate the research into tangible actions; simple activities that enable children, staff, parents and the wider community around the school to flourish. From writing down ‘three good things’ once a day, to bringing the language of character strengths into everyday conversation (“I saw you help Sanjeev earlier by holding the door open when he was carrying sports equipment outside. That showed your strengths of kindness and teamwork!”), to taking random acts of kindness out into the community, it is the small, daily activities that will ultimately make the biggest difference.
Below, you’ll find a sample activity from the ‘Love of Learning’ chapter of our new book, Character Toolkit for Teachers.
We all know children who will answer a question with ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t care’. This activity will help them, as well as your other pupils, to change their perspective and seek answers to questions they don’t know the answer to.
- Recommended age
Depends on the question and the depth of research needed for the answer
»» Paper (or journal/diary)
Set up a rule in your classroom: If your pupils (or you – this is a great opportunity for role-modelling!) don’t know the answer to a question, they have to respond by saying, ‘I will look into that.’ If a pupil says they will look into something, give them the time and space to do some research. Once they have discovered the answer, they can report it back to the class. In terms of reporting back to you and the class, they can either write a report, create index cards and give a talk in front of the class on the question/answer, or discuss it one-on-one with another pupil, who can then discuss it with another pupil, and so on. Decide, with the pupil, on the best method of reporting back.
You can discover over 100 more such activities in the book – out on 21st May 2018 and available to pre-order from Fred and Liz’s website now.
Frederika Roberts and Elizabeth Wright run Character and Positive Education workshops, presentations and programmes in schools. They are passionate about helping teachers and school leaders put character education and positive psychology research into practice. Fred and Liz are holding two Character Toolkit for Teachers book launch events. The ‘South’ event will take place in Didcot on 22nd May 2018. Very few places are still available (but hurry, places are limited!); you can register here. The ‘North’ event will be on 14th June in Liverpool, and you can register via this link.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). ‘The broaden–and–build theory of positive emotions.’ Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 359, 1449, 1367 LP-1377. Retrieved from http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/359/1449/1367.abstract
Corey L. M. Keyes. (2002). ‘The Mental Health Continuum: From Languishing to Flourishing in Life.’ Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43, 2, 207-222. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3090197