Character education is one of the many ways that we work on supporting our students as they develop social emotional skills. Character strengths are called “strengths” because we want to portray the message that these are not just traits that remain the same throughout life; instead they are strengths that can be developed and fostered throughout life.
Keeping in mind that all of our character strengths are crucial to the success of every individual learner, in order to maintain a focus on recognizing these strengths and developing them within our students, we choose two each quarter to concentrate on. Although we are only focusing on two each quarter, this does not mean that the other strengths are not recognized, celebrated, or brought up daily. Character education is also not a separate component of the typical classroom academics. Instead, it is continuously recognized and mentioned throughout the day. While a majority of teachers focus on character strengths during their trust circles or community meetings, they are also brought up during all academic lessons in order to remind students that certain character strengths will be relevant as they tackle specific tasks.
This quarter, we are focusing on zest and gratitude.
Zest: actively participate, show enthusiasm, approach new situations with excitement and energy
Gratitude: notice when others help, say thank you, show appreciation for the good things in life, do nice things
Both of these character strengths were strategically chosen for this quarter because, during the third quarter, we have noticed that learners can easily feel stressed with the amount of intense review and strategic grouping being done. In order to truly keep students at the center of our decision making, we have recognized that zest and gratitude are the two skills they need the most in quarter three, and therefore, we have chosen those two to focus on.
It is a common misconception that zest is based on circumstances and situations as well as general personality type. However, when we think about zest as the “ability to approach new situations with excitement and energy,” we realize that part of it is being open minded. Teaching zest can be challenging when we only think of it as being excited or happy. Instead, we can teach zest as the ability to explore new things with a positive approach. We can also provide more opportunities for students to experience new situations that may ignite some passion in their learning. The more opportunities we provide to students and the more we listen to their interests and apply them to their academic learning, the more enthusiastic they will be about their learning. Allowing the students to have voice and choice in their learning will give them opportunities to feel zest and help them be even more open minded to changes and new experiences.
There are two parts to gratitude – recognition and expression.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
Before a learner can feel gratitude, they must recognize that something kind has been done. Then, once that has been noticed, they can express their gratitude through their actions and words. When we are talking about gratitude with our students, it is important to make sure that they understand how to express their gratitude. Gratitude is not only about saying thank you, instead, it can also be done through our facial expressions, our actions, and our physical gestures. The Tiny Buddha has 50 great ways to express gratitude.
When thinking about character education, one of the most important things that we can do is to be continuous models for our students. When we exemplify the character strengths and recognize them in each other, the students sense that there is a community of support and they see the positive impact this can have.