Jay Sharp, Retired School Teacher
Building a classroom culture of enthusiasm, respect, and love of learning begins on day one. This application of the VIA Character Strengths allows teachers to begin the year off on a positive and strong footing that will also inspire students far beyond the classroom. Building a Strengths Vocabulary begins with the distribution of a list of 12 of the 24 VIA Character Strengths to each student in class. Students are assigned the task of taking the list home and asking a variety of people what the words mean. Students write out the various answers that they get and bring the list back to class after two weeks for a discussion of strengths, creation of class definitions, and the continual use of the vocabulary/concept throughout the year.
- Establishing personal relevance of CS to individuals
- self observation, discussions, best self stories
- Finding new ways to use strengths
- exploring new ways to use strengths at work, in relation to co-workers
- Strengths spotting
- understanding others in terms of their strengths
Description of application
1. After students bring back their vocabulary lists with the descriptions they were able to find, the teacher then takes one strength at a time for a vocabulary word and they all go through the list sharing the various definitions, explanations that they received.
2. The class discusses similarities and differences in ideas of what the words mean.
3. Once all students have shared their findings, the class develops one definition that they will use throughout the year to help describe each strength. Ex: - Perspective – looking at something in new or different ways -- to see different ways something can be viewed.
- This lesson built a basis for each child to gain understanding of the universally valued character strengths in him or herself and in others.
- Through the new, shared vocabulary, the teacher was able to build a culture of learning based on universally valued character strengths. The expectations for behavior and the treatment of others was established early on, based on positive concepts, experienced by the students. A short cut to establishing respectful environment.
- The discussions that transpired outside of the classroom created a link back to the classroom, thus involving parents, families, friends, and others in the learning process. This link shows the students that learning can go beyond the classroom, and that they are teachers, too.
Follow-up? The concepts are continually reinforced throughout the day/year in conversations, assignments and outside of class observations/experiences.
Materials needed? Paper, copier/printer
Variations of application used? This activity could be used for any group to help define a group culture and expectations.
A town working to define a comprehensive plan could pass out the list of strengths to residents to begin a conversation of what the strengths mean, which strengths the town exemplifies, what do the residents value? How do these strengths shine and how to they get stifled?
Possible Difficulties -- Making sure the students had people they felt comfortable asking to help define the words. Teacher provided time for the students to ask other people at school in case they were having any trouble finding others to talk to about strengths.
This approach could be used in a variety of settings:
- A Community Strengths Vocabulary- in relation to the town/organization
- A Team Strengths Vocabulary - business or sports teams – identifying how the strengths are defined in relation to the particular team’s goals
- Family Strengths Vocabulary – taking a look at what the strengths mean as a family, as family members
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