Character Strengths for the Staffroom | #cultureofwellbeingDGinset
This blog post is my contribution to the #cultureofwellbeingDGinset digital INSET day organised by the wonderful Clare Erasmus.
My colleagues and I were running a training day for TA’s. We stood there smiling as the TA’s tentatively engaged with the activity we had set them. A few seconds passed, and then one TA launched herself at her colleague, flinging her arms around the neck of the surprised-looking recipient. Suddenly another TA started wiping tears from her eyes. Over in the corner two more TA’s were shaking each other’s hands and patting each other on the back, grins stretched across their faces. This is a scene I have seen repeated in the past year as Frederika and I have run our training workshops, and no, we were not running some kind of weird new-age, woo-woo kind of thing; we were using science - research-backed interventions that enable people to flourish, including the use of character strengths.
Character strengths move beyond just looking at grit, resilience, and growth mind-set, which are often actively developed in schools (though these are certainly a part of, or complementary to, character strengths). Strengths are really about the whole person and how they can thrive / flourish on all levels of the human experience. Each strength is interconnected to the other, with research showing that we all have these character strengths to some degree (though it is worth bearing in mind that the expression of each strength may vary from culture to culture), and that we can all work on these strengths to bring our lives meaning and purpose. When we can see and acknowledge strengths in ourselves and others, we can start to grow in confidence in our own (and others’) abilities, bond, grow, and appreciate who we are and how we can contribute positively to society.
So how can developing and using character strengths help you in the staffroom (and therefore by extension affect the whole school)?
There are many ways that you can use character strengths interventions to build team bonding, communication skills, gratitude, and well-being in the staffroom. One of the simplest ways to start introducing character strengths is to do two things: During a staff meeting ask your staff to look at the VIA Character Strengths and choose the three that they believe are their top strengths. Then ask them to pick the one they are proudest of and give an example of when they last used that character strength to the group. Focusing on strengths instead of weaknesses allows people to experience faster growth in their overall development, to be more satisfied with their lives, and more hopeful for the future - some pretty good reasons to start integrating character strengths into your life!
Research into character is wide and varied and includes concepts and ideas beyond the character strengths interventions; this is something to also consider when bringing character into the staffroom (and wider school). Places like the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues and ACE (Association for Character Education) here in the UK are invaluable resources that take an Aristotelian approach to character, and consider Phronesis as the epitome of character development.
What is Phronesis and how can it help you in the staffroom?
According to the Jubilee Centre, character is ultimately about the intrinsic value that developing character can bring. This means actively working on the virtues that constitute the “good life.” It is through cultivating the good life that we flourish; the “good life” isn’t a means to an end, it is about living using phronesis on a day-to-day basis to help us navigate through this thing called life.
“Practical Wisdom” is another name for phronesis, and it means making the right choice / decision in the circumstance you find yourself in. This is why it is important to develop all aspects of character, not just the performance virtues, such as resilience, grit, and determination, but also moral, intellectual, and civic virtues. Moral virtues are considered the guiding traits to develop, the traits that tether us to the other traits to point their use in the right direction. Phronesis is the overarching aim of developing character, and developing Phronesis, as well as the other character traits, is like developing a practical skill. Consciously use your character traits, actively be kind, grateful, and perseverant on a day-to-day basis; a way to encourage staff to think of character on a daily basis is to encourage them to keep a self-reflection journal, or have a self-reflection wall in the staffroom, where staff can write about moments they have shown character throughout the day, or made a good decision etc.
So, what did we do to those TAs to make them cry, snot on each other’s shoulders, and hug each other to oblivion? We asked them to work in groups and take turns telling each other what character strengths they saw in each other! It has become apparent to us during our workshops and training days that a lot of people have trouble seeing positive traits within themselves, and when someone else notices these traits, emotionally it can be a lot for someone to take in. Having that acknowledgement, however, of how positively people see you, can make a world of difference to your confidence to do your best in the classroom, but also in life in general. So my rallying cry for you today it to consider character, look at the impact character development could have, not just on your pupils, but also your staff, and imagine BIG on action steps you can take to bring it further into your staffroom and school.