Character Strengths, Spirituality, The Calm Classroom, Well-being in education

Well-being and character strengths and virtues

A language for being well in education

Next week I will be speaking to 30 head teachers from Merton about the well-being work in schools on which my PhD was based and which I have written about in books and teachers’ resources.

An important strand of that work is a focus on character strengths and virtues. You can hear me talking about this strand of my work on  You Tube

What are character strengths?

Every religion and every philosophical tradition has a concept of virtue, a way of thinking, feeling and acting that is morally valued or good. And as far back as Aristotle, education has been concerned with character and with morality or goodness, teaching children to understand right and wrong, as well as with knowledge. Aristotle saw the virtues as necessary to a flourishing life or happiness.

More recently, psychologists have linked the use of character strengths and virtues with well-being, vitality and a sense of fulfillment. Psychologists Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson (Peterson & Seligman, 2004) say that there are 6 universally valued virtues

  • Wisdom and knowledge
  • Courage
  • Love and humanity
  • Justice
  • Temperance
  • Spirituality and transcendence

They describe character strengths, like creativity, hope, gratitude, kindness, as the traits that allow us to display these virtues and say that

  • They are valued in almost every culture
  • They are valued for themselves, not as a means to other ends
  • They can be developed
  • They are influenced by our environment, some settings lend themselves to the development of strengths whereas others preclude them

Seligman and Peterson list 24 character strengths, under the headings of the six virtues. I have used this list for 15 years in my work in schools and in my PhD on well-being in education. I kept most of the names of the character strengths but changed the virtue headings to strengths of the head, action, heart, community, self-control and meaning.  I have added a single strength, patience, which is essential to teaching and learning. I have written a simple definition for each strength. I also dropped ‘social and emotional intelligence’ and replaced it with the Aristotelian virtue of friendship.

Some questions for educators to think about:

Is it better to focus on strengths or weaknesses? Always? Sometimes? Never? If sometimes, when?

Do you think there is anything missing from this list?

You can find out more about the classification of strengths that my work is based on  here:  VIA Character Strengths

Tool: A Strengths Prompt

Strengths of the Head

Creativity: thinking a little bit differently                                 

Curiosity: wanting to find out

Love of learning: enjoying, learning new things

Open-mindedness: enjoying difference, open to different people and ideas

Wisdom: understanding what is really important in life

Strengths of Action

Enthusiasm: eager and full of energy, raring to go

Persistence: Sticking at things, not giving up

Couragedoing the right thing even when we feel scared l

Honesty: telling the truth, being an open, straight forward person

Strengths of Community

Fairness: treating everyone equally

Teamwork: pulling together, working well with others

Leadership: Helping or guiding other people to do something good and to get on well

 Strengths of the Heart

Love: caring deeply and showing we care by thoughts, words and deeds

Kindness: Doing and saying things to make people happy

Friendship: being gentle with ourselves and loyal and kind to other people

Strengths of Meaning

Gratitude: being thankful for good things, saying thank you

Spirituality: thinking deeply about God, love or the meaning of life

Humour: Seeing the funny side of life and making others smile or laugh

Hope: trusting that good things will happen

Love of beauty: noticing and enjoying good or beautiful things

Strengths of Self-control

Forgiveness: letting go of hurt and anger and wishing other people well again 

Prudence: making good choices that effect our future

Self-control: controlling thoughts, emotions and actions so we live well and achieve our goals

Modesty: a true knowledge of our own strengths and weaknesses

Patience: Letting things take the time that they take

 

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