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Building character in generation next

Posted: 11am 15 Apr 2021

Students at Deception Bay State High School are learning much more than what is on the national curriculum, they are learning about their own character strengths during classes aimed to bolstering their wellbeing for life.

The school has been running the Virtue Program for the past three years, offering it to children not taking part in interschool sport on Thursday afternoons.

Deputy Principal Darrell Crimson says it is a continuation of work teachers have already started, and while outcomes are difficult to quantify, he has noticed positive changes.

“We started to focus on character strength as a part of our wider responsibility in pastoral care,” Mr Crimson says.

The program is based on positive education and the work of American psychologist Dr Martin Seligman, who pioneered positive psychology and the PERMA framework.

The framework’s principles are: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishments.

Students learn about the virtues of wisdom and knowledge, humanity, justice, temperance, transcendence and courage.

How they do this

They investigate 24 character strengths and learn how to identify them in themselves and others. The also learn ways to enhance relationships through the combination of everyone’s character strengths.

The program helps them look at ways they can improve their lives, rather than what is wrong with their lives.

“Part of that is looking at character, building character vocabulary will give them strength,” he says.

The students, in Years 7, 8 and 9 have completed a questionnaire to identify their strengths.

Interestingly, students learn that some strengths can be over-used to their detriment. The program aims to make them more self-aware and able to manage this.

Mr Crimson says year level leaders have embraced it.

“They are identifying strengths in others and empathising with people. They understand themselves a lot better with what motivates then and can see it in other people,” he says.

Mr Crimson recalls a Year 10 boy who was not afraid to stand up to anyone. Through the program he was able to understand strength could be over-used to his detriment and it affected those around him.

Another student was able to use journaling to identify her strengths.

Mr Crimson says the writing component gives students another way to express themselves, and Youtube videos are even used to demonstrate some points.

Making a difference

When Moreton Daily visited a class, they were discussing zest and energy which fall under the virtue of courage.

Year 7 students Olivia Davies, William Fraser and Corbyn Tomkins say they have learnt some valuable skills already.

Olivia says: “It’s taught me quite a few ways to show different emotions and how to show zest and not give up”.

William says: “These classes have taught me a lot of strengths and confidence and how to use them at an appropriate time and things about other people, and I’ve made some new friends”.

Corbyn adds: “I’ve learnt how to see and realise when someone is angry by their behaviour and how to use courage. I’ve made some new friends and had a lot of fun in these classes because of all things we’ve learnt”.

Mr Crimson says there has been some inhouse training with staff about character to help them better understand themselves as well.

“It’s really important that our kids have an understanding and vocabulary and framework that they can easily use when it comes to understanding the strengths of others and how they work because it builds empathy for people and it’s also a way in which we can have positive conversations with kids,” he says.

“You can turn negatives into positives.”

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