Character Strengths, Well-being in education

Character Strengths – The Ingredients of Resilience

What is resilience?

This morning I worked with an Australian colleague putting together a workshop for the Practicing Positive Education Conference at Knox Grammar School in August.

In Australia, positive education, education for academic achievement and well-being, has been growing as a theme – or philosophy – of education for some years. Resilience is one of the core ideas at the heart of positive education and an important one. But what is resilience? How do you encourage it? Can you teach it?

A head teacher who has worked with positive education in the UK for 8 years now told me recently what she thought the ingredients of resilience actually are. She called it ‘an inner strength’ that gets you through times of difficulty or struggle.

We build resilience, she said, through identifying our strengths of character and learning to use them in different situations, learning to use them wisely. Over the next few weeks I am going to share some of her wisdom along with my suggestions for how you might apply it in your own context.

The Ingredients of Resilience

Ingredient 1: Open-mindedness

One of the things that undermines resilience most is jumping to conclusions:

  • ‘I can’t do this’
  • ‘this is too much for me’
  • ‘nobody cares’
  • ‘life is completely dreadful’

Open-mindedness is the antidote to jumping to conclusions because it helps us to withhold an immediate snap judgement and look again, more clearly, more thoughtfully. Open-mindedness looks at different sides of a situation, or a person, and is willing to change its mind in the face of evidence or persuasion.

Open-mindedness says

  • ‘I might be able to do this with the right tools’
  • ‘Perhaps I do have the strength to cope with this’
  • ‘I do have friends and people who care’
  • ‘life might be difficult but it’s not ALL bad’

Essentially, open-mindedness sees clearly and most situations and most people are a bit of a mixture!

So, open-mindedness in action:

  • listening to other opinions
  • finding out about different people
  • finding out about different cultures
  • looking for, and enjoying, similarities and differences

What can we do to encourage open-mindedness in our classrooms?

Firstly, try to practise it ourselves. Children and young people learn most by example. Think about how often YOU jump to conclusions or make snap judgements and challenge yourself to think again.

Then you could try this ‘Strengths Builder’ to encourage an awareness of how people think, believe and act differently.

A Strengths Builder for open-mindedness: Same or Different?

The sign from British Sign Language for ‘the same’ is both index fingers placed together. The sign for ‘different’ is the same two fingers placed together and then moved apart. Teach this to the students first.

Younger students can do this activity in pairs. They need to talk with their partner and find some way they are the same and some way they are different. Then they share this with the class. When a few pairs have had a chance to share, everyone moves around and finds a new partner and the process is repeated.

You could follow up with a class display of ‘Similarities’ and ‘Differences’.

Older students can work in bigger groups and make lists of the ways their group is similar or different.

(This activity is taken from Character Strengths Activity Ideas Box

http://www.tts-group.co.uk/shops/tts/Range/Search?search=character%20strengths)

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