Book Reviews, Prayer, Spirituality, Well-being in education

Book Review: Appreciating Church

Tim Slack and Fiona Thomas

Appreciating Church: A practical appreciative inquiry resource for church communities

ISBN: 978-0-9955594-1-7

Publisher: Fiona Shaw www.appreciating.church

Appreciating Church is a handbook style resource book based on an ecumenical project of the same name. The aim of the project is to create ‘communities of practice’ – groups that foster change in positive, hopeful, inclusive and encouraging ways. Behind the project, and behind the book, is the organizational practice of Appreciative Inquiry, a practice that is based on looking for the best in people and in organizations. Developed by David Cooperrider, appreciative inquiry and, by extension, Appreciating Church start NOT from the viewpoint that organizations are problems to be solved, but that they are miracles of human organizing and ingenuity – to be appreciated.

I heard Cooperrider speak once. He is both the son and the father of Christian ministers. His belief in the potential of human goodness to bring about positive change in the world was palpable and deeply inspiring. He was perhaps the most hope filled person I have ever met. Cooperrider’s key insight is that if you go looking for problems you will find them – and you are then likely to get bogged down in them. If you ask different questions – questions about when an organization is at its best, when its people are at their best, you don’t cover over the difficulties but you do help to generate the imagination, the creativity and the energy needed to move beyond them. In every system, every church, every person – something is working, something good is happening. Appreciative inquiry seeks to find that goodness and to grow it.

Appreciating Church is a practical resource for bringing some of that hope filled appreciation into churches and church projects. It does this by bringing together a bit of theory, a lot of stories and a lot of resources to help communities see themselves and the future a little bit differently. As a church leader, I particularly liked – and will be able to quickly and easily use – the practical suggestions for introducing an appreciative approach into meetings and also its use for the discipline of spiritual journaling.

Richard Rohr describes contemplation as a way of seeing that includes recognizing and appreciating. I have worked with appreciative inquiry in the past and recognize its overlap with the contemplative path. Appreciating Church seems to me to be one more way in which the essential spiritual path of contemplation is being reinvigorated for today’s church.

Spirituality, Well-being and the Alexander Technique, Well-being in education

Learn from a master mover…..

An excellent talk on movement and why the fitness industry gets it badly wrong from a fitness expert and male model, Roger Frampton. He highlights the ridiculous practice of Western cultures of taking master movers – also known as children – who squat naturally and with ease and then teaching them to SIT for 7 or 8 hours a day.

AT toddler playing in a squat iStock_000012881728XSmall (2)

I suspect that this single practice, the practice of replacing the natural human positions of standing and squatting with sitting on that man made, modern and malign invention THE CHAIR probably contributes more to the epidemic of back pain in the Western world than anything else.

Sitting, slumped over, limits our breathing, contracts our spines, weakens our core muscles and probably much more. We used to squat – Frampton calls it the ‘pre-chair resting position’ – why were we made to stop???

photo of boy wearing headphone
Photo by Todd Trapani on Pexels.com

Frampton says we should watch children to understand how our bodies want to move and try to get back our full range of movement – the movement we once had. He criticizes the outcome focus of the fitness industry – constantly measuring time, distance, repetitions, weight – and says we should focus instead on HOW we move – and focus on movement, not looks, not muscles. Work with your body, not against it, he says and prioritize the spine. You are, as a Chinese saying has it, as old as your spine.

So, the Alexander Technique – not about posture but about movement – put movement first, understand how your body wants to move, used to move – find an Alexander teacher or, perhaps better still, watch a small child.

adult baby business child
Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Character Strengths, Storytelling, Well-being in education

A day in the life of a head teacher using her strengths to support her own well-being and that of her students

Yesterday I had the privilege of working with 30 wonderful head teachers from Merton, on strengths based leadership and well-being.

One of the highlights of the day was listing to the the story told by Celia Dawson, head teacher of Cricket Green http://www.cricketgreen.merton.sch.uk/.

Celia told us the story of Project Search http://www.cricketgreen.merton.sch.uk/project-search/4578432848

Project SEARCH changes the way people think as it challenges ideas about what        people with a learning disability can do. It raises expectations of employability and the general public can see people with a learning disability hard at work as part of    everyday life.

Only 7% of people with learning disabilities nationally are in any form of paid work, compared with 74% of the wider population. However, many of Cricket Green’s trainees are now in meaningful employment within a local hospital and externally.

We used the #strengths circle reflection tool which I have developed in the course of my work to identify the many strengths that we felt Celia had used to get this important project off the ground. It was, for me, a humbling and inspiring experience. Thank you Celia!

 

 

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

 

Character Strengths, Prayer, Spirituality, Storytelling

St Francis, a failure and a friendship

We think of Francis as a saint. But Francis didn’t think of himself that way, I suspect saints never do. Francis saw himself as a failure and this story is the story of one of those failures. It is a story set nearly 800 years ago, in fact it will be 800 years next year. It is the story of how Francis tried and failed to stop a war.

The war was the 5th Crusade. It is worth remembering that Christians have not always been people of peace. The 5th crusade was a crusade by Christians, against Jews, Muslims and heretics and it was breaking Francis’ heart. Francis had once been a soldier, he knew what violence was and he knew what it was to be a prisoner of war. But when Francis fell in love with the Risen Christ, he fell out of love with everything that puts barriers between people, the barriers of pride, power and wealth.

And in 1219 pride and power and wealth had already killed many people. To try and end the bloodshed, Francis went first to the Christians, begging Cardinal Pelagius, the Christian commander, to end the fighting. Pelagius refused.

So then Francis, and his friend Brother Illuminatus, went to the enemy instead, to the Muslim army against whom the Christians were fighting. They went to stop the war and they went to try and change the hearts of the enemy so that they would follow the Risen Christ.

And they walked, the two of them, unarmed, through the camps of that enemy. They were captured and they were beaten. They were taken, finally, to the Muslim commander, the leader of their enemy, to Sultan Malik-al-Kamil of Egypt, an enemy leader who had offered a gold piece for the head of every Christian. And when Francis was led into the Sultan’s tent he said ‘May the Lord give you peace’. It is said that the Sultan was startled to hear a greeting so close to the traditional Muslim greeting of peace, Assalam o alaikum (as-saa-laam-muu-ah-lay-kum), Peace be upon you.

And in the meeting that followed, I am first going to tell you what Francis DIDN’T DO, because I think it’s important.  Francis did not try to deny the truths of the Muslim faith. He did not insult Islam. He did not argue or attempt to convince this enemy unbeliever that he was wrong.

What Francis respectfully did was to tell the Sultan the truth of why he was there – that he was there because of the gospel of love, that he was there because of his love for the Risen Christ, that he was there because he had been sent there by the God who IS love, And that he was there because of his love for his enemy – for Sultan Malik – al- Kamil. And the Sultan listened to this gentle, foolish, ridiculous man of God, sitting in his tent, speaking truth about love.

And then, in his turn, the Sultan told Francis, truthfully, about the faith and the prayers and the practices that HE loved.  And the gentle, foolish ridiculous man of God listened in his turn. Because that is what love does, that is what friendship does, it listens.

And then Francis left. And the war continued. And the Sultan continued to be a Muslim. Which meant that Francis had failed. He had failed to stop the war. He had failed to convert the Sultan.

But it is said that the Sultan was changed by his encounter with Francis, with the gentle, foolish follower of the Risen Christ. It is said that after meeting Francis he treated Christian prisoners with unusual and unexpected kindness and respect. And perhaps that is as much because of what Francis didn’t do, as what he said. As much because of what Francis WAS – a gentle, foolish, ridiculously loving man of God.

And it was not only the Sultan who was changed. Francis loved the fact that the Muslims prayed 5 times a day. So when he went home he asked his brothers and sisters to do the same. And though Francis refused the many rich gifts that the Sultan offered him, because Francis was not terribly interested in stuff, he did accept the gift of a horn used to call Muslims to prayer. And when he got home he used it to call Christians to prayer. Five times a day.

And perhaps he listened, too, to the beautiful Islamic tradition of the 99 names of God. Because when he got home he wrote a song, the song we are about to share, called the Praises of God. There are not 99 names in it. But then Francis was a humble man. But, if you count carefully, there are 33 names in it. 33 names of the God Francis loved, the God who sent him not to argue with his enemy but to listen and to speak truth about love and to be changed by his enemy, to become his enemy’s friend.

Francis saw himself as a failure. I think that the Sultan and the Risen Christ saw Francis as a friend.

Sources

www.darvish.wordpress.com

www.aleteia.org

 

Character Strengths, Joy in education, Storytelling, Uncategorized, Well-being in education

A Saintly Request!!!

A special request! In the past I have written stories for school assemblies, simple versions to tell aloud. Quite a few of those stories figure saints – St Werberga (One of my geese is missing!) St Bridget, St Columba. These feature together with traditional folk stories and other faith stories in a book I published with TTS called Character Strength Assemblies https://www.tts-group.co.uk/assemblies-for-cha…/1009310.html

I would LOVE to write a similar book that collects together saints from different traditions and, for that matter, secular saints. Saints have BIG characters and are great for children to know about and think about. Could anybody, especially those from other faith traditions, help me out here with ideas for who to include and some stories???

Character Strengths, Well-being in education

New book chapter

I am very pleased to say that I have just had a chapter published in this new book on positive psychology. It is co-written with Judith Gray, formerly head of Frodingham Infants and details the work we did together on Celebrating Strengths.

Celebrating Strengths combined ideas from positive psychology with psychodynamic theory and theology and philosophy to create what I think was a unique educational philosophy and approach to school life – and Judith was an important part of that process.

Character Strengths, Well-being in education

Character strengths and virtues in education – how and why?

In my latest video I talk about how and why you might want to introduce character strengths and virtues in education. There are three main reasons – to help to manage or contain anxiety, to build relationships and to help teachers and students alike to stay hopeful. And I break all the good rules of talks by adding a fourth reason – it gives us a language to discuss – not to impose – ideas of right and wrong and what constitutes a good life.

Well-being in education – character strengths and virtues