Student success, usually in the sporting, cultural and academic realms, is widely celebrated at St Andrew’s College. However, during the inaugural Well-being Assembly, led and organised by the student Well-being Committee, it was character strengths taking centre stage.
Based on student vote, students across all year levels in the Secondary School were recognised at the assembly for role modelling characteristics including kindness, teamwork, creativity, humility, humour, and perseverance.
Head of Positive Education and Well-being, Kerry Larby, says understanding our own, and others’ character strengths, can have a significant impact on well-being and flourishing in life. “Every individual has a unique constellation of strengths which make them who they are. Research shows that developing self-awareness and understanding about our character strengths builds resilience, engagement, and well-being. Our brains tend to have a negativity bias, however, focusing on our character strengths helps us to celebrate what works, build confidence and competence, and establish more positive relationships.”
The Character Strengths programme has been integrated into the culture and curriculum at St Andrew’s College over the last two years, which is based on the research of Professors Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, who, in the early 2000s, collaborated with over 55 leading academics to ponder the universal human strengths of character, says Kerry. “This research resulted in the creation of the Values in Action (VIA) Classification of Strengths and Values, which classified 24 character strengths, underpinned by six different virtues. This was the foundation for Positive Psychology and has provided the basis for lots of different interventions and projects all over the world, many in the areas of positive education. Character strengths are now seen as a pathway to well-being, and as a school which values well-being, it is important that we continue to develop a shared vocabulary around them.”
All staff at St Andrew’s have identified their individual ‘signature’ (or top five) character strengths by completing a Values in Action (VIA) Character Strengths Taxonomy survey. “Teachers have also completed three professional development sessions looking at the different strengths, and all have their signature character strengths on display. Making them visible is important, as this helps to build awareness of self and others, encouraging inclusivity, collaboration, and an appreciation of difference. Staff are also regularly given character awards at staff briefings to keep the dialogue alive.”
This year, for the first time, the programme has been embedded into the curriculum, with all Year 9 Health classes also formally completing the VIA survey. “They will continue to test and do exercises on this work, building on their strengths as they pass through the different year levels.”
Kerry says student agency is one of the exciting outcomes of the character strengths work so far. “The students have real energy for this, with the Well-being Committee and Middle School Leaders pushing to have a formal assembly which celebrates character strengths and recognises diversity in our community.”
The Well-being Committee also organised activities for Student Well-being Week, which were designed to bring students together. These included a multi-ball competition against staff, a karaoke extravaganza with impressive singing and dancing, a College Jump Jam session, and sharing hot chocolates and crepes.
“We are committed to continually reviewing and enhancing our focus on well-being. Our aim is that, through their education, our students develop the self-awareness needed to achieve engagement and purpose, cultivate positive relationships, and adopt emotional, mental, and physical strategies which enable them to ‘bounce back’ from disappointments, and embrace challenge as necessary for growth.”