Discovering Our Character Strengths

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Discovering Our Character Strengths

How do we help our students to reach their full potential and flourish in life?

The field of Positive Psychology tells us that at the heart of any attempt to promote wellbeing is a focus on strengths. “We get more of what we focus on.” As a result of the research, Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School has made a commitment to promote and encourage the awareness and use of Character Strengths within our school and wider community.

Character Strengths are ways of thinking, feeling and behaving that come naturally and easily to a person and that enable high functioning and performing.  Professors Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman led a large team of scientists and professors to identify a common set of Character Strengths that are valued across cultures and religions throughout history. 

The result is the VIA Classification of Character Strengths – 24 character strengths that appear to be universal. Whilst all 24 character strengths exist in each individual, we naturally have strengths that we employ more often and find easier to use. We call these ‘signature strengths’ and research has shown that these are relatively stable over time but can also develop through changing life circumstances, opportunities and intentional effort. Research has gone on to ascertain that whilst it is beneficial to your wellbeing to be aware of your character strengths, those who are conscious of using their signature strengths in novel ways in their work and school life are much more likely to be happy and engaged.

The School’s journey with Character Strengths began in 2014 at our whole of staff conference. Staff completed a survey to identify their signature strengths. Working together with Justin Robinson, Head of Positivity Institute at Geelong Grammar School, we explored our strengths and how we could best use them in our workplace both with other staff and students.  As a group we found that our collective signature strengths were Honesty, Kindness, Humour, Fairness, Perseverance and Love. 

Character Strengths are tangible and applicable to all year levels and activities both within and beyond our School. Students and staff are challenged and prompted to think about their strengths during class time to ponder these strengths and develop them further. In a Year 7 class focusing on Character Strengths, students were given the task of ‘strength spotting’. They were asked to identify the five signature strengths of each of their Year 7 teachers.  Towards the end of the session, each of the teachers came forward to reveal their identified strengths and the students marked off how many they were able to guess correctly. In the midst of the activity, the teachers began to talk to the students about how they thought their strengths had developed and how they use them in their lives.  I’ve rarely seen a group of students more captivated. We learnt about the influence that Mr Murray’s sisters had on his character strengths of Love, how boarding school shaped Mrs Orchard’s Bravery and Perseverance and how Mr Potter’s strengths had changed since he became a father. The students were, perhaps, able to see their teachers in a different way, through the lens of Character Strengths.

Now knowing our own strengths, we are working with teaching the language of these strengths to our students and embedding them in every day school life; In the Primary School students focus on one new character strength every fortnight. During assemblies and school activities one chosen strength is highlighted and discussed, encouraging students to think about how they can work on using that strength during the week.  Our Year 7 students have further explored their own strengths in detail by identifying their five signature strengths which are then celebrated with staff and parents.

This year our Year 8 students will explore Character Strengths as part of their English curriculum to further enhance their “strength literacy.” As we move forward it is hoped that Learning Areas, classes, Houses, and sports teams will also be able to identify the common strengths of their groups in order to promote wellbeing and flourishing within teams.