Celebrating Strengths

Jenny introduced four schools in Scunthorpe, in the UK, to the concept of the 24 VIA ‘character strengths’ in 2004. The strengths became the final thread of a project focused on supporting the mental health of pupils and teachers. The project incorporated the insights of pupils and teachers and was an interdisciplinary project that drew on theories from anthropology, psychoanalytic theory and theology as well as positive psychology. The project became known as ‘Celebrating Strengths’ and Jenny later wrote a book of the same title. Celebrating Strengths linked a focus on the 24 strengths over the course of a school year, with regular school wide celebrations or traditions and frequent use of oral storytelling, using traditional, folk and faith stories from around the world.

Celebrating Strengths, while it can be used as a methodology by individual class teachers, is primarily a whole school philosophy that promotes the moral, spiritual and emotional development of pupils within a multi-faith context.

Key Ingredients:

  • Establishing links between school traditions and particular character strengths: building on existing school traditions, setting aside time for reflection for the whole school, using the language of strengths in the environment, in art and through displays
  • Blending direct discussion of character strengths with their indirect reinforcement through traditional stories and through the environment: telling stories that show strengths in action, allowing pupils to spot strengths in stories and to interpret stories and strengths in their own way
  • Strengths as a language used by teachers and pupils: teachers model the use of strengths language in feedback and comment; use of sign language to reinforce strengths

Domain: Education, but Celebrating Strengths is also used in Early Years settings, in high schools and by colleagues working in business

Target audience for application: Initially developed with 4 to 11 year olds but relevant to any age

Description: an example of a ‘Strengths Builder’ from Celebrating Strengths: Strengths spotting in a traditional story – : Anansi and the Pot of Wisdom, a story from Africa

Materials Needed:

  • A  simple version of the story (you can find one on Jenny’s website www.celebratingstrengths.co.uk
  • A set of cards with the strengths on, perhaps with pictures or cartoons. (You can make these yourself but Jenny can supply you with a set if you would like them)

Pre-learning: The teacher needs to be able to retell the story (preferably WITHOUT a written version – story TELLING is a powerful experience for children, even if you are not very confident), Children would benefit from having been introduced to some of the strengths and to have had the chance to think about what they mean.

 Process: 
     1. This process works best in a circle, either sitting on the floor or on chairs. I always work at the same level as the children – if they are on the floor, I am on the floor. Storytelling is a democratic process.

     2. The teacher creates a quiet, expectant atmosphere then simply, and with joy, retells this old story

     3. The children spend a minute in silence (yes, they can do this!) to think about the story
 
     4. The children gather in groups of 3 to share their thoughts and ideas about the story  

     5. Set the cards out in a circle on the floor

     6. Invite each child, if they wish, to stand up and move a card that shows a strength THEY heard in the story into the center, saying which character showed the strength and where. Nobody comments – this is IMPORTANT. The children need to feel safe to express their views.

      7. If a child wishes to include a strength that is already in the center they pick it up and put it down in the same place, saying where THEY saw this strength.

      8. They might also say which strengths a character did NOT use that they should have used.

      9. Finish by going round the circle and completing the sentence, ‘the strength I saw most in the story was….’

Benefits:
Oral story telling is a creative teaching technique that is enjoyable and profoundly respectful. It allows hearers to interpret a story in their own way. It allows teachers to BE creative and it allows listeners to be creative too – they have to create the story in their heads. Children can see that each of them has a different perspective on the story and sees something different.Children are given a chance to discuss moral concepts in a fictional setting and to explore what concepts such as ‘courage’ mean to them. They also hear what they mean to other people. This process teaches children to listen to one another, to see that all characters have strengths and to express their views simply and clearly.

Duration of application/program: The pilot schools for Celebrating Strengths are still using either elements of the program or the entire program 7 years after we developed it.

Results:

Schools that have used Celebrating Strengths have commented on:

  • Increases in teacher confidence
  • Reduction in teacher stress
  • Increased teacher enjoyment of teaching
  • Increases in student confidence
  • Improvements in student behavior and particularly in teamwork

An evaluation of Celebrating Strengths by Professor Alex Linley and Reena Govindji of The Centre of Applied Positive Psychology is available. If you would like a copy please email jenny@celebratingstrengths.co.uk