How Teaching about Strengths Can Give Balance in the Classroom

How Teaching about Strengths Can Give Balance in the
We are probably well aware that the traditional
focus in education could be seen as weakness- or deficit- focused. As teachers,
we continually assess our pupils to see how they are performing on an academic
level. Then we put measures in place to try to remedy these weaknesses. Kids
soon learn that they are weak in certain areas, and awareness can build up over
time in a class regarding the perceived  abilities of everyone in it. While it is vital
to assess and remedy academic weakness, I have found that teaching about
character strengths provides a great balance to this deficit –based approach.
It gives kids a chance to identify their top character strengths, to spot
strengths in others, and to use their strengths on a daily basis.
Identifying and using character strengths is one of
the key components of Positive Psychology. 24 character strengths were
identified by Seligman and Peterson in 2004. These strengths are specific
personality characteristics which are associated with well-being- e.g.
gratitude, zest, creativity, kindness, social intelligence, self-control,
perseverance, humour. Seligman and Peterson then developed an assessment test,
the VIA-IS questionnaire, to help people to identify their top strengths. You
can complete this questionnaire online if you’re interested in finding out your
own top strengths.
Research has shown that identifying and using your
top character strengths leads to increases in well-being. This makes sense - I
found that helping the kids to identify and use their strengths seemed to
provide an immediate boost in self-esteem. We start our Character Strengths module
by learning about the strengths (six strengths per lesson). Then we do lots of
strength-spotting exercises- the kids love hearing their classmates telling
about when they spotted each other displaying  a particular  strength. Kindness, teamwork, creativity, humour,
self-control and love of learning  are
some of the most commonly noticed strengths in our  class.
We also integrate our learning throughout the
curriculum, for example, we discuss the character strengths of characters from
novels and readers. Our recent history lesson on Florence Nightingale led to a
stimulating discussion on her character strengths and how she used them. I find
that the concept of character strengths gives me such a positive base to build
so many lessons on.
After learning about all 24 strengths, the kids
talked with their parents and tried to identify their own top five strengths (they
are too young to use the VIA questionnaire). This is just to give them a
flavour of their strengths, and it’s important to emphasise that different
strengths can develop over time too.  The
following day we had a lovely session in which each child proudly talked about
their top five strengths. It was great to see every child in the class having
their moment to shine!
After they identified their strengths, we did a
number of follow up sessions in which the children talked and wrote about times
when they used their strengths. Then they planned and tried out ways to use
their strengths in new ways.
I find the concept of character strengths so
beneficial in the classroom in many ways. For example, I might remind a kid to
use his or her strengths to help solve a problem or dilemma. Or before a
particular lesson or task, we might discuss which character strengths we could
draw on to help us. It’s almost as if we have a whole new language to
communicate with.
I love this quote from Christopher Peterson:
…schools are busy measuring student academic
abilities and monitoring the progress of learning. We hope that someday schools
will assess character strengths of students and record them on report cards.’
  Christopher Peterson- Handbook of Positive
Psychology in
Food for thought?
Lopez, S. J., &
Snyder, C. R. (2009). Oxford handbook of positive psychology. Oxford University Press.
Carr, A. (2011). Positive
psychology: The science of happiness and human strengths
. Routledge.

Peterson, C., &
Seligman, M. E. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford University Press.

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