Embracing Character Strengths in the Classroom

Embracing Character Strengths in the Classroom

Grade 4 students move through learning obstacles using strengths language

Donna Mayerson’s favourite story of using character strengths at school comes from Grade 4 teacher Jay Sharp’s classroom in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Donna, director of practice at the VIA Institute on Character, says Jay has always been a relationship-based and gifted teacher.

Through conversations, she says the Bella Vista Elementary School teacher realized the language of strengths was something he could incorporate into his teaching.

“He realized . . . if he could find a way of infusing this into everything in a teaching day that the kids would find themselves in their own education and come at it from a different place, a more engaged, and more powerful place,” says Donna.

The VIA Inventory of Strengths Survey is a free online scientific tool that measures an individual’s universally-endorsed character strengths and virtues from VIA’s Classification of 24 character strengths — such as creativity, honesty, kindness and teamwork.

Jay took the VIA Strengths and translated them into the curriculum. Rather than telling students the meaning of the strengths, students interviewed people about what they thought the character strengths meant and discussed those ideas, notes Donna.

“They began to use it in their classroom all over the place,” she says.

The transformation and the students’ ability to come together and move through learning obstacles through the language of strengths was remarkable, says Donna. For example, children who had attention problems worked through where their curiosity lies and how to pursue that, as well as how to exercise strengths like self-control and persistence.

Through conversations that were real and meaningful for the children, they moved from obstructions to learning to find ways within themselves that they hadn’t yet realized.

Donna notes another example of a teacher using strengths with children is happening in China, where she knows a teacher who is using strengths language with five- and six-year-olds.

The teacher helps identify strengths highlight represented in her students, and has a way of helping them build on strengths. The teacher may ask the students to “try on self-control” while getting their backpacks, for example.

“It’s a way of embracing who they are, and it’s also a way of helping them learn who they could be,” says Donna.

Watch the video below shared from the VIA Strengths YouTube channel that highlight’s Jay Sharp’s classroom.

Visit viacharacter.org to learn more about character strengths and to take the VIA Survey.

Share your feedback through commenting below or contact Jennifer(at)axiomnews.ca.

Writer Bio

Jennifer Neutel's picture
Jennifer Neutel

Jennifer Neutel is a Story Advocate and Generative Journalist at Axiom News. She completed her Bachelor of Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa in 2006, and joined Axiom News in 2007. She has taken on a variety of roles at Axiom including new social media intiatives and has a passion for creating strengths-based questions that can lead to positive change.

Contact Jennifer: jennifer@axiomnews.ca, or 705-741-4421 ext. 26.

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