What are the most important things a teacher can do? Answers could include, offering compassion, empathy, building confidence, providing enriched learning opportunities, guiding, instilling knowledge, and or teach values or character strengths like integrity, gratitude, humility, honesty and kindness (The 24 are listed in the graphic below).
It is exhausting to even begin thinking about the responsibility a teacher is entrusted with each year. Parents also have a full plate. They work hard to make sure that they help their children grow in ways that will serve them for the rest of their lives. However, speaking from experience as a working parent, it is really tough to find a way to teach all of the character strengths on a daily basis in an organized way that will provide an experience for kids to really grasp what being a productive member of society means. Everyday seems busier then the day before when kids are in school. There is something powerful about slowing down, and intentionally making character building a priority. When I think about the why in regards to positivity, I am overwhelmed with energy by the opportunities there are to work with young people. Intentional character education is not easy; but it is necessary and it is worth it.
But, what if there was a way to organize character education in a way that made sense, and was not that complicated? What if there was a way for teachers to help students navigate more than a dozen character strengths over the course of the year, without really interrupting the school day? What if teachers had a resource that could show students how to develop values, and impart wisdom by fostering opportunities for students to discover how numerous character strengths are a part of their everyday life? Imagine a curriculum designed to build character strengths that could be embedded into the daily schedule at a school where everyone did the same thing at the same time. A place where the school shared the same goals and common vocabulary. Imagine being able to create assignments with the character traits in mind, or refer to them during a class period.
Enter the Positivity Project. Our school has been fortunate enough to receive a curriculum that allows teachers to facilitate learning about 24 different character strengths that have been studied and researched. Link to the Positivity Project
Each week parents are provided information about the character strengths being discussed in the middle of emails and newsletters. At the start of each school day, before we do anything else we have 10 minutes of time that is devoted to Postivity Time. Teachers have a lot of autonomy to make this project their own. There are suggestions for pacing, but it comes down to making sure what is being done matters and makes an impact. Sometimes less is better. One way to be effective is to set an intention for the week or the day. By focusing on one character strength each week, students are able to give complete focus to one trait and really dig deep to really get to know the topic. As teachers guide students through each character strength, kids are given the opportunity to see what deep and meaningful conversations look like. And, one of the best things about having discussions in a classroom is that big topics are approached from many perspectives. Our students have the benefit of seeing other people’s thinking.
Meaningful learning is messy. I love that everyday is different. There is a predictable pattern to the way the resources (Google Slide Deck) will go, but each week and every day more importantly is so different. Some days we go through several slides at a good pace, and then other days we might struggle get through one or two. I love that there is no feeling of competition among staff members when it comes to what we accomplished. The goal of the program is to have quality, and meaningful conversation and to be intentional. It is exciting to hear about how other classes took on the character strength and made it their own. Many weeks I find myself wishing that I had more time to devote to the activities and discussion. Maybe that is one of the strengths of this program; It leaves you and the kids wanting more, so that they realize it is never over, and so many more things can be learned about each strength being discussed. I like to keep in mind the quote by Theodore Roosevelt, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”, when I feel like I am struggling to accomplish everything offered in the week’s slides. I am confident that each year we do P2 I as well as the students will get a little better. I remember the first time I taught MacBeth to an English class. By the third time I taught it, I was so much better, and had figured out how to best facilitate the learning experience for students. There are weeks where I wish I had had more prep time to really look at the slides so that I could have taken advantage of the activities and pacing better. However, it is okay to be real with students, and think aloud about what I might have done differently regarding the strength.
One of my favorite parts about P2, is that I have an opportunity to share personal examples and experiences from my own life. It allows me to be humble and show the students that I do not have it all together, and am learning right along with them. This week for example, we are talking about “Self Control”. I have been able to share several things about going home for the holidays from college, or being in close quarters with siblings. It is also a strength that I have talked about in regards to being healthy.
As an educator, I appreciate how each week is seat up. The character strength is identified and defined at the start of the week. As the days progress, there is a combination of discussion questions, videos, talking points, illustrations and activities. The videos are up to date, and the references are current. Students typically buy into the content provided and treat it as credible. As a technology and journalism teacher, I have been able to incorporate the character strengths into my weekly lesson plans and projects. We have also found ways for our Student Council to design school wide projects and assemblies based on the character strengths being discussed over a particular month.
On a whole, my first experience with P2 has been positive. Do students love every minute of every class period where we do it; most likely not. But, are they able to find something several times a week to connect with; most likely yes. And, are they able to learn about something that they can directly apply to their lives? Yes to that too. With the positivity project, students not only learn a lot about themselves, but about how to serve and think a lot more about other people. The big takeaway with the Positivity Project, is that Other People Matter. When I think about things that I want my students, and own children to learn; this concept tops the list. This year the first ten minutes of our school days is more real than anything I have ever experienced in education.