Positive Education and Character Strengths


The essence of character development in schools is based on the VIA Classification of Character Strengths developed by SELIGMAN. The development of strengths within classrooms can be done in multiple ways.

Firstly students and educator would need to become familiar with the 24 strengths included in the VIA. The VIA character strengths classification offers the opportunity to learn more about the individual assets and values of each learner which can then empower them as well as the educator to learn and develop at their best inside and outside the classroom.

There are 7 character strengths which have been found to have the greatest impact on school and workplace success (Levin) . The development of these character virtues can be encouraged in the classroom using different creative activities.

The KIPP works on the premise that character education is ongoing. The educator can make use of the strength language and call out examples of strengths in action. Modeling these traits is also considered an effective way of naturally teaching students the behaviours and benefits associated with strengths in action.

Strength-based interventions also focus on the relationship of the teachers to the students. When a teacher gives feedback, they should be specific feedback about the strength the student demonstrated rather than a vague feedback such as “Good job!” Teachers are a big influence on their student in their day-to-day interactions and the simple attention to wording of positive reinforcement makes a difference. (Student spotlight: Bringing positive education to schools, 2014.)

Just one example of strength interventions at school is the Jigsaw Classroom. This is a technique in which students are split up into groups based on shared skills and competencies. Each student is assigned a different topic and told to find students from other groups who were given the same topic. The result is that each group has a set of students with different strengths, collaborating to research the same topic. This method also encourages social cohesion and group work.

Using the Character Growth Card (CSC)

The KIPP has developed the this tool as a way to make positive education part of the official school system. In what they used to call the character “report card”, students in KIPP schools were assigned grades not only for academic subjects like math and history, but also for how they well they performed (according to teacher observation) on a series of seven character traits.

Now called the Character Growth Card, the CSC emphasizes the potential for growth instead of the grade itself whilst having a positive schooling system helps enable the formal discussion and measurement of traits.Image result for Positive Education

Teaching Gratitude

  • The benefits of gratitude practices are well recorded. The use of exercises such as:

Gratitude journaling

  • Having each student keep a journal where they keep track of what they are grateful for

Gratitude letter

  • Have students write a letter to someone they are grateful for.
  • Get to sleep, replace the sheep
  • Go to sleep counting all the blessings for your day.

There are many exercises, activities and playful ways to engage students in expressing and receiving gratitude. For more ideas you can join our Positive Psychology Toolkit and receive ideas, support and regular updates.

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Building Resilience

Resilience is the skill which helps us to keep going when we are kicked down and gives us the strength to keep going despite adversity.  The research has shown time and again the benefits of resilience in positive education.

In order for children to learn to face challenges and thrive when life is at its worst they require the opportunity to develop this skill, and what better way than in the safety of the classroom.

Some resilience exercises used in positive education interventions include:

Benefit finding

Help the child to actively remember the negative event and reflect on the things they have learnt about themselves, others and the world.

Feeling Wheel

A wheel has been developed that identifies each feeling within the overall headings of joyful, scared, powerful, peaceful, sad and mad. Using the feelings wheel student can be asked to do weekly, daily or long terms reflective exercises.

Building resilience has been shown to have powerful effects of self-confidence, achievement and stress levels. When included into a school program we can confidently believe that children progress and well-being will improve.

Want More?

Positive Psychology interventions which offer students and teachers the benefits of wellbeing and positive mental health are varied and numerous.

Punishment: Restorative Practices

Considering how many days of school and learning are lost due to expulsions and suspensions, progressive school administrators are starting to rethink disciplinary processes in school. The idea being that if a child is expelled for bad behavior is it likely to help the child learn from his or her mistakes, and not repeat their behavior once back in school or in new environment?

Many would argue that these types of punishments serve to further alienate these children physically and emotionally from their peers, only making them more likely to repeat harmful behavior. What if there was another way?

In a restorative practice the teacher would question why the student is behaving in that way and what effect he/she’s having on the students around him/her, and whether he/she thinks it’s fair for the other students to be on the receiving end of that behavior. This can be used for minor situations in the classroom or more serious difficult behaviours such as fights, vandalism etc.

The student would also be assigned activities or programs that would help prevent further fights such as writing letters of apology.

Does it work? According to one school district, “89 percent of those who go through restorative practices do not re-offend”. It also helps that the system was inspired from the restorative justice practices in the world of criminal justice, so it is not a new concept. And when it comes to helping children actually learn and develop from their mistakes instead of facing arbitrary and potentially destructive punishments, it is a step in a logical direction.

Take home message

In a world where the number of depressed and anxious children is growing dramatically, the field of positive psychology is exploring how positive education can help school age children to flourish and

promote positive mental health. Positive education can be applied in different ways however the main themes are based on the PERMA model of wellbeing, the VIA character strengths classification, as well as gratitude and resilience practices. While these are the foundational pillars the application may differ. An individual, character building, positive learning experience is what all parents, teachers and students are aspiring towards! The research is there to prove it, positive education is a highly beneficial method to address mental health and promote flourishing and resilience for a new positive generation.

More information can be found at: https://positivepsychologyprogram.com


About Author

Tim Hemingway is an education and entrepreneurship expert located in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is a frequent speaker at schools and universities across the world and an advocate for skill development programs and community outreach.

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