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 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

The importance of joy and pleasure in education

Today, I have been working on my PhD. And as a result of my reading and writing today, what is uppermost in my mind is the importance of pleasure – the simple pleasures of teaching, learning, writing, researching – and just living. I feel that pleasure in learning, what Simone Weil called ‘joy in the work’ is in danger of being eclipsed in all the talk of targets, improvements, standards etc.

Weil wrote that the intelligence only grows and bears fruit in joy. If she is right and I think she is, then much of what happens in schools today is not about growing intelligence. If teachers feel no joy in teaching, children are unlikely to feel much joy in learning, and if children don’t feel that joy in learning, that thrill of discovery, that freedom to try and to fail and try again, they will want to leave education as quickly as possible instead of seeing learning as a delight to pursue throughout their lives.

And today, I have felt joy. Joy in standing at my desk (I stand to work, sit down to rest); joy in reviewing the videos of my conversations with colleagues and pupils. Joy in the fact that I have the time and the energy and the mental space to write a PhD. Joy in the sunshine of a spring day in my study.

Interestingly, this joy does not preclude struggle or discomfort. I struggle to express my ideas clearly, feel anxiety about whether my work is of the required standard, get frustrated at trying to sort out a muddle of an over-long chapter into two tight, well-argued and interesting ones. There is dis-comfort in learning, too and it can sit, strangely enough, alongside the joy, even deepening it.

And what about the simple joys of standing, sitting, breathing, looking that my training as an Alexander Technique teacher has opened my eyes to? Those are there in the classroom too – but mostly, we’re too worried about targets and goals to notice. And that seems really rather sad. So now, I will end a day’s reflections with the joy of a walk in the sunshine. And, if you read this, I wish you a drop of joy too.

Weil, Simone. (1959) Reflections on the right use of school studies with a view to the love of God London: Fontana Books

 

Character strengths in action: Using your whole body to tell a story

You can, and I do, often use simple props to tell a story. You can also use your body. A mixture of tai chi moves, with signs from British Sign Language help me, as the storyteller, to embody the story. Because I am using my whole body, I am fully present, aware of where I am, my audience and my whole self as I tell the story. It is less a cognitive and verbal activity, than a way of inhabiting the story and drawing my listeners into the story with me.

I demonstrate this method of storytelling here

A retelling of Anansi and the Pot of Wisdom, using BSL signs and tai chi moves to enhance the storytelling

As well as the character strength of #wisdom, students see many other strengths in this story, including #humour, #persistence, #teamwork and #spirituality.

Here’s a picture from Frodingham Infants that is based on the story,

Frodingham Infant School Scunthorpe UK

 

I hope you enjoy it 🙂

 

Three ways to develop character strengths and promote educational well-being

In these blogs and the videos that accompany them I am sharing with you what I have learned from 12 years of working in schools supporting the well-being of teachers and students.

The blogs and videos are meant either as a stand alone training resource or as a supplement to my published resources and my story videos.

In an earlier film, I talked about how I have put stories and storytelling at the heart of my well-being work in schools – precisely because a good story well told promotes the well-being of both teachers and students, An introduction to my well-being in education videos.

Now I want to talk about another theme, that of paying attention to character strengths and virtues.

I first came across the idea of character strengths in the work of Martin Seligman and the VIA or Values in Action character strengths and virtues. You can find more about this approach at the VIA Institute .

Of course the association of character strengths with education is much older and dates back to Aristotle. Aristotle linked happiness with the use of character strengths and virtues. And he said that children learn about qualities like courage and honesty in three ways

  1. seeing them used by role models
  2. thinking and reasoning about them
  3. using them for themselves

So we learn what courage is by being brave.

In my work, I’ve tried to draw on those three ways of learning.

Firstly, I’ve encouraged teachers to tell stories that show characters or historical figures using – or failing to use – qualities like love or friendship or enthusiasm. I might tell a story like Anansi and the Pot of Wisdom or Where is the Moon or the Three Little Pigs and then ask, what strengths did you see in that story? Where? I might also ask, were there character strengths that SHOULD have been used but weren’t?

In this way, children and teachers engage in a thoughtful – and educational activity – and at the same time begin to build up a picture of what the strengths look like in action and to listen for, look for the strengths, to spot them both in stories and then in other people and finally in themselves. Using character strengths for yourself, seeing them in others, thinking about them, builds positive relationships in the classroom and creates an atmosphere that enhances learning and supports well-being.

To develop Aristotle’s idea that we learn about character strengths and virtues through reason, I have used Philosophy for Children or P4C and taken either a story or a single word like creativity or courage as a stimulus for discussion. If you don’t know about philosophy for children there are resources and training available and the more I use it the more powerful a teaching tool I think it is. Again, a philosophy session is a very educational activity – we’re not trying to be therapists, we are encouraging intellectual rigour, depth of thinking and discussion. At the same time you as a class are building your understanding of what a particular character strength means in this group and in this community, now. It’s not what the ‘experts’ say about courage that really matters – it’s what it means in your school, your family, now that is important.

Finally, the third way of learning about character strengths that I have used in education is to create a concept of Strengths Builders – ideas and classroom exercises that deliberately set out to let you use and therefore build a particular strength. So, for example, if you want to focus on building the strength of curiosity for yourself or your class, you might set a challenge trying a single new food you have never tasted in the week ahead, or of watching a television programme or film you haven’t seen before – or of reading and even learning by heart a poem by a poet you have never read. You set out deliberately to pay attention to – and build – a particular strength. Then, if everyone in the class has done this activity – you can share and reflect on your experiences.

The shared experience – and the way that you are all paying attention to the same thing – curiosity – is part of what builds community. I will say more about community building in a future video.

If you want lots of ideas for building character strengths you can find them in my Character Strengths Ideas Box Character Strengths Ideas Box or in Character Strengths for Circle Time.

 

character strengths activity box tts

You can find a high school programme that contains strengths builders for all the VIA Strengths here Strengths Gym – a high school programme of strengths builders and stories for 11 to 14 years

Equally, you can think up your own.

Have fun.

Stories and storytelling for teacher and student well-being

Educational well-being – practical ideas for supporting teacher and student well-being

1. Stories and storytelling for teacher and student well-being

This is the first in a series of blogs and videos which are intended to share with you the fruits of 12 years of working to support teacher and student well-being in education – through a focus on character strengths and virtues, stories and storytelling and the creation and celebration of rhythm and traditions in the classroom.

I will be telling my stories and sharing ideas and suggestions. If you enjoy these resources, please let me know!

The first of a number of films will follow shortly 🙂

Why become a storyteller?

Storytelling is an ancient and highly effective teaching technique and ANYONE can learn to tell stories. The world’s greatest teachers all told stories to convey their essential messages. Storytelling engages the whole selfthe emotional as well as the rational self – even the physical self (a good story gives us ‘goose bumps’ or makes us shiver), so stories are far more memorable than a series of statements or a list of facts. Telling stories allows us to make an emotional connection with our audience because storytelling is mind to mind, face to face and heart to heart.

Psychologist Dan McAdams says ‘We are all tellers of tales…each of us comes to know who he or she is by creating a heroic story of the self’, (McAdams, 1993, p. 11). Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, says that ‘the telling of stories has a key part in educating us into the virtues’ and that without stories, children are ‘unscripted, anxious stutterers in their actions as in their words’ (MacIntyre, 1981, p. 216). Bettelheim regarded fairy tales as essential to children’s healthy emotional development, (Bettelheim, 1976).

Storytelling allows a teacher to be playful, to model creativity for their pupils, to nurture them and introduce them to the stories of their own culture and those of others. It is an opportunity for a teacher to show their pupils something of their authentic self.

Storytelling is perhaps our oldest art form and has been used in all societies to pass on values and wisdom to the next generation. Children never forget a teacher who tells them stories. The stories you tell children are the most lasting gift you will ever give as a teacher.

Storytelling stimulates the imagination more than the reading of books or the watching of films – because it leaves more for the child to fill in. Stories that are told are remembered better than those that are read aloud. This is probably due to a combination of their greater emotional impact and the fact that oral stories tend to be shorter and use strategies to engage memory – rhyme, rhythm and repetition.

Storytelling helps children become comfortable with silence and stillness.

Telling stories increases your own ability to hold children’s attention and enhances your creativity.

Finally, storytelling is immensely enjoyable – for the storyteller!

How to get going as a storyteller

First, tell stories you love. Your enthusiasm and pleasure in the story is mostly what children will remember. The fact that you tell it with passion is much more important than how fluent or skilful you are.

So, start either with a favourite story of your own or choose one from my published resources. The ones in my books are already written very simply, and are designed to be told aloud. Read them through a few times then put the book down and practice in a room, all by yourself. Practice IS important.

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In particular, make sure you know the first and last line by heart. This is important. Then, learn by heart any memorable phrases that are repeated through the story. There are usually a few of these.

Then, let the children know you have never told this story, or even told any story before. This gets them on your side. Then, have a go. And remember, Rule 1 of storytelling: Enjoy it.

Don’t worry if you miss bits out, slip up on words, get stuck and have to start again. Storytelling is a skill, you get better with practice.

If you want to tell a particular story that is not available in the TTS resources, find a few versions in books or on the internet and read them all through. Then put them all away and write your own version as simply as possible.

Rule 2 of storytelling: Keep it Simple.

A good template for creating a good story to tell aloud is The Three Little Pigs. Simple structure, memorable phrases with alliteration, lots of repetition. Most people could tell this story with no practice at all. It is a really good example of a memorable, oral story. All the stories I write to be told aloud are really The Three Little Pigs in disguise!

Rule 3 of storytelling:  If you can see it in your imagination, your listeners will see it in theirs.

When you tell the story, make sure you are seeing it in your mind’s eye. Picture it as clearly as you can.

Rule 4 of storytelling:  Tell the Same Story As Often as Possible.

Tell the story again as soon as possible, either to your class or to another class. In the Waldorf education system in Scandinavia children hear the same story told every evening, by firelight, throughout the week. This allows them to get to know the story really well and for the teacher to get to know it too, so that it really enters their repertoire. And children enjoy repetition – look at how often they watch a favourite DVD or play a favourite game. Novelty is good – so is repetition and familiarity.

When to tell stories

Storytelling has an obvious association with literacy and with speaking and listening. However, you can tell stories in any subject discipline. I knew a maths advisor once who used The Three Billy Goats Gruff to great effect to help teach measurement. She took the class outside to take little steps across the ‘bridge’, counting how many were needed to get across; then they took bigger steps and counted how many of those were needed and so on. She used Coronation Street, Brookside and East Enders to teach place value to high school students, too.

So, don’t feel limited to literacy lessons to tell stories. And don’t forget that older students like stories, too.

My retelling of a traditional Lincolnshire story, Where is the Moon?

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)

A Character Strengths in Action Story for #Friendship or #kindness: One of my geese is missing

My version of the legend of St Werburga: One of my geese is missing 

Werburga was a saint, everybody said so, and they told stories about her kindness. But Werburga said she just looked and listened and noticed the important things in life. Like the children who played in the fields next to her cornfield. Werburga smiled when she saw them and when, one day, a little boy lost his favourite wooden horse in a clump of grass, Werburga noticed and helped him to look for it and stayed with him until it was found and his tears had dried up and he was smiling again. Werburga thought children were important and ought to be noticed

Werburga was a saint, everybody said so, and they told stories about her kindness. But Werburga said she just looked and listened and noticed the important things in life. Like the animals and birds who lived in and around her cornfield. Werburga smiled when she saw them and when, one day, a sparrow hurt its wing and couldn’t fly, Werburga noticed and picked it up and fed it until its wing was healed and it could fly away. Werburga thought sparrows were important and ought to be noticed.

Werburga was a saint, everybody said so, and they told stories about her kindness. But Werburga said she just looked and listened and noticed the important things in life. But when, one evening, she noticed a flock of geese trampling her corn with their great, webbed feet, as they settled down to sleep, she didn’t smile at all. Even saints have their limit and Werburga frowned, and called a neighbour and told him to tell the geese they could sleep in her barn instead.

Werburga never said very much. Mostly she looked and listened but people said she was a saint so when she did say something, people paid attention. And the neighbour did as she asked, though he thought the geese would ignore him and only hiss at him and honk at him and shake their great long snake like necks at him. And when the neighbour told the geese to follow him to Werburga’s barn, they did hiss at him and honk at him and shake their great long snake like necks at him, but they followed him all the same.

The next morning, Werburga went to the barn and opened the door. She looked and listened as the geese waddled out of the barn hissing and honking and shaking their great long snake like necks and then Werburga noticed something. She noticed that the geese were hissing more sadly than usual. She noticed that their honks were not as loud and fierce as they usually were. She noticed that they were shaking their great long snake like necks from side to side as if they were trying to tell her something. And then she noticed that one of the geese was missing.

She called her neighbour and asked him where the missing goose had gone. The neighbour hung his head in shame. He had thought no one would notice if he took one of the geese. He had thought no one would notice if he killed that goose and ate it for his supper. But the geese had noticed, and so had Werburga. Werburga looked and listened and noticed things.

Werburga told her neighbour to fetch the bones of the goose he had eaten. And then she prayed, hard, because Werburga thought geese were important and ought to be noticed and God must have thought so too because, as she prayed, the bones started to move and fit together, and as she prayed some more, flesh began to cover the bones and, as she prayed some more, feathers began to sprout out of the flesh and soon there was a live, hissing, honking goose waving its great long snake like neck at her, where before there had only been a pile of bones.

And the goose lowered its great long, snake like neck and bowed to Werburga, to thank her for her kindness in noticing that it was missing. And all the other geese did the same. And then they spread their wings and with a last great honk they launched themselves into the air and flew away.

So when you see geese flying overhead, and hear their honks filling the air, remember Werburga who looked and listened and noticed the important things in life.

A story for thinking about friendship, kindness, love, spirituality, wisdom…….

PrintYou can hear me talk about character strengths in action stories and tell this story here

One of my geese is missing – the story of St Werburga

You can find more of my stories here:

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