As a sports person (and Western citizen born and bred) I have noticed something about our cultures, from Australia to the UK, to the US, and many European countries, we are extremely focused on performance and outcomes. What do I mean by this? Let us look at two examples that I am familiar with - the Olympics/Paralympics and Education.
In the Olympics (AND more recently the Paralympics) there has developed a cult of hero adulation, much to the detriment of the true meaning of sport, that has impacted the wider community, and how we view and articulate success. Athletes are awarded with monetary support from governments, but only if they achieve top results (i.e., being in the top 8 in the world, and/or if you win a medal at the games). This extreme pressure to perform has now been noted to have a detrimental effect on sports peoples mental health and wellbeing.
The wider impact of hero adulation on the community can be mostly seen in two arenas - education and business. In education the epitome of success comes from the multitude of unnecessary tests that students take, tests that are there to bolster the school’s position on league tables, and build their reputation as a school that gets results. But what results? And to the detriment of what? A child’s mental health and wellbeing?
Performance and outcomes; data in, data expressed, and data out. By performance I am meaning specifically the performance traits that we as a Western society purport to be the most important character traits we should develop in ourselves and the coming generations below us. Duckworth, Seligman, Lickona, and Davidson, describe performance character traits as qualities that help individuals self regulate their thoughts and behaviours that support achievement of goals. Traits such as grit, resilience, hard worker, perseverance, diligence, self control, self regulation…. They’re not bad traits at all, but taken out of the bigger picture of character and character education, they can start to be problematic.
What research has shown is the benefits that developing performance traits; a school that focused on performance traits showed students to have higher levels of perseverance and community connectedness over an academic year. The problem with performance traits, however, is that they cannot be claimed to be either good or bad. Intrinsically they are neutral, a blank trait that can be applied in a good or bad situation. The best example I can give is when one of my lecturer’s stated “even a criminal has to be gritty and resilient if they want to break into a car or house.” Traits such as perseverance, self regulation, diligence, and grit can be applied as much to cheating in an exam as well as doing your homework so you can pass an exam honestly.
So should we stop developing performance character traits in our young people?
Of course not! We should still develop these traits in young people but alongside a moral imperative.
What are moral character traits? Noddings, Walker, and Pitts state that moral character is the traits that help individuals strive for ethical behaviours and values that have an impact on their relationships with others and communities. Examples of moral traits include, kindness, compassions, empathy, integrity, and social responsibility. As part of the research mentioned above (about performance traits), a school that focused on the development of moral traits showed students to show a high increase in integrity and social responsibility that are intrinsically good regardless of context.
To develop a well-rounded, community minded, flourishing individual it becomes apparent that we have to focus on a mix of character traits that complement and support each other. But how can we effectively do this? The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues character "building blocks" shows an elegant and simple way to express this mix, they divide traits into four categories: moral, civic, intellectual, and performance. The Jubilee Centre stresses the importance of the moral traits being the overarching traits that guide the other categories. The VIA Institute on Character classifies their 24 character strengths into 6 categories: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. The VIA Institute on Character emphasises the importance of all classifications in the development of character in individuals.
What becomes self evident is that we human beings are complex creatures, but given the right support and encouragement, the right guidance and role models to emulate, we can develop a well-rounded sense of character within ourselves, a well-rounded sense that will see us thrive and flourish in all areas of our lives.
Duckworth, A., & Seligman, M. (2005). Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting aca- demic performance of adolescents. Psychological Science, 16, 939-944.
Lickona, T., & Davidson, M. (2005). Smart and good high schools. Washington, DC:
Character Education Partnership.
Noddings, N. (1988). An ethics of caring and its implications for instructional arrange- ments. American Journal of Education, 96, 215-230.
Walker, L., & Pitts, R. (1998). Naturalistic conceptions of moral maturity. Developmental Psychology, 34, 403-419.
There is something of the controversial and confrontational in the understanding of humility in our society today. I say this, with an honest hand on heart, that I even find, within myself, a certain struggle in understanding humility and applying it to my own life and sense of self. Growing up, especially in the eighties and nineties, to be humble was not “cool” - in fact we were actively encouraged to be as big, loud, and out there as possible. Think big shoulder pads, big hair, and even bigger egos. Our role models were people who made big bucks in banking and investments, celebrities who were extravagant and unapologetic for their “live big” lifestyles, and sports stars who were focused primarily on winning, winning, winning and who would chuck massive tantrums if they lost. Success was defined by being the best and having the most material things - money, property, objects. Life was aspirational in a capitalist way, material objects revealed status, if you weren’t aiming for the large house with large furniture and a fancy car in the garage there was something wrong with you. In the eighties and nineties humility was seen as a weakness and a character trait that would not help you achieve individual success in life; achieving the socially accepted BIG life meant there was no space, no place, for humility.
Humility comes from the root words of humilitas and humus, meaning “the earth beneath us.” What this says to me is that humility is about being grounded, grounded in ourselves and in the world around us, in being grounded in the truth of our lives, our successes and our failures. Humility is not a weakness, but like the earth that stands so solidly beneath our feet, humility is strength in knowing our true selves; it takes strength in the feedback and comments of others; it takes strength in the knowledge of doing what it takes to be the best moral and ethical person that we can be. Humility is finding strength is your abilities, your knowledge, your character, and using these strengths to help others grow, learn, and succeed. There is power in humility, there is power in the deep, pro-social connections humility assists you in making. Humility is that beautiful middle ground between vanity/pride and self deprecation. In Don Quixote humility is said to be the base and foundational virtue of all the virtues and without humility no other virtue would exist. So I ask you, do you cultivate humility in your own life? Or in the lives of the kids you work with or parent?
How can we cultivate our humility? And what impact will cultivating humility have on our lives and the lives of others?
(image from Pixabay)
Living by ones values has, in recent years, become very important to a lot of people. I certainly know, amongst my friends, that they often talk about what values (or character strengths *wink *wink) are important to them - honesty, authenticity, openness, knowledge, love, kindness, gratitude....
I also see how values play out in the actions that people take, the relationships that they build, the jobs that they have. For most people I know there is such a beautifully obvious ode to service in the way their values are expressed, service to others (humans!), service to the environment, service to animals, service to the greater good of society.
It has got me thinking how I actively practice my own values and if, in the actions I take on a day to day basis, I am being true to myself and what I believe in.
Let's talk about what my values are:
(humility can, on occasion be a hard one for me,
I think there is an entirely other post in the making to explore this further)
appreciation of beauty and excellence
(the above are in no particular order)
How do I express these in practical ways in my life?
Love is a no-brainer and pretty much covers all of the others, I love my friends and family, I love life, I love knowledge, and I love everything that is beautifully challenging (as in anything artistic, i.e., art, music, writing).
Family and friends, I try to support and develop positively developing relationships with the people in my life. Since having been bereaved three times in the past six years this has taken on a new meaning for me and I pay particular attention to building good relationships with those that are open, willing, and able.
Gratitude is what gets me through anxiety filled moments, whether work-wise or socially, reminding myself that I am abundant already, rich in relationships, interests, and experiences. That putting on that mask to impress others, or failing to nail that work contract, well, ultimately those things don't matter, and that my worth is not to be judged by others. I also practice gratitude through my ever growing spiritual practice, through meditation and prayer, that connecting into what is bigger than me, a heart to heart with God.
Curiosity - very simple, I never want to stop learning about life, humans, nature, the universe.
Humility, I constantly remind myself that I wouldn't be where I am without so many others, success is not just given to you, it is earned through the collaborative and interconnected nature of human society.
Care, in friendships, but also care of nature and my own body. Inspired by my sister, I developed an interest in chemical free beauty and hygiene products over fifteen years ago. Combining this with my concern over the environment and single use plastics, I have reduced my beauty/hygiene products to chemical free, plastic free, and almost waste free: a shampoo bar, soap bar, clay toothpaste, and I am currently finishing off moisturising cream that is in a glass jar, but I intend to start using body/face creams that come in compostable cardboard containers (YES there is such a thing!!).
Kindess (see all of the above).
Appreciation of beauty and excellence and creativity go together, I have an innate need to create, and if I can create something beautiful, even better. I have weekly piano lessons, I knit in winter, and do cross-stitch whenever I have time (and of which I want to make more time), and I mend clothes that are still beautiful and just need creativity to make like new again.
What are your values and how do you express them in your day-to-day life? Let me know in the comments below.
(image from Pixabay)
(I wrote this the other night... but I still think that it is relevant and important to post here. Because life isn't always sunshine and rainbows and unicorns. In fact, without the moments of existential doubt - as I infer below - we cannot appreciate the lighter, happier, content moments of life. So on reflection, a few days after writing below, I say this to you, really feel the wide variety of emotions that you feel, remembering always that change is inevitable and that as the sun rises and sets, so sadness, anger, fear, happiness, joy, and ecstasy will come and go).
I suspect I am having an existential crisis.... again.
I don't mean to make an existential crisis sound flippant or deluded or sublime. But it's there and it is something that I trip into regularly, especially since my Mum died. This is going to be a deeply personal blog post, be warned.
As a renowned optimist I do generally see the good, great, and grand view of life, the lighter side, the side where laughter is contagious, the ridiculous can send me into fits of laughter that draw tears from my eyes like the turning of a tap, the marvel at nature that surrounds me, the love expressed through the deepening of relationships with those that love me (and whom I love dearly).
But there is the whirling chaos of despair that sits ever present in a very particular area of my brain and heart. Albert Camus wrote "There is no love of life without despair of life," and the way I see life resonate with this is astonishing. I see friends affected by grief (in the many varied ways that grief expresses itself and the many varied ways that grief comes about), and I recognise that that whirling chaos of despair is a condition of the human experience. To feel grief (for me the grief of losing a parent) is to feel love and a love of life in all its glory. There is hope in even the darkest times and that hope is love. Love is never lost, but it is enduring, most especially during loss, whatever that loss looks like. Despair, I think, almost guides love, guides it to where it needs to go, where it needs to wrap its tendrils tightly, binding; safety.
The colours of life enthral me, including the feeling of despair when I trip inelegantly into it, because, to fully be human, to fully understand the human experience, we have to trip into the dark, if only so we can excitedly skip back into the light.
And so we were off, to the only second ever International Positive Education Network Conference, with fingers and toes crossed that we would arrive in Fort Worth, Texas, on time and with our luggage (to make a long story short, last trip to Texas for the conference we were severely delayed and they lost our luggage, hey ho). Well, we were delayed, and missed our connecting flight, were repeatedly put on separate new flights, until finally they got the picture and put us on the same flight, but then we arrived in Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, and our bags did not appear! Surely it could not be a perfect repeat of two years ago - but you know, we are positive education specialists, so of course, we had to be positive!! I suggested maybe our bags had come earlier - and what do you know, I was right.... only this meant that at midnight, on a Saturday night, we had to trudge to another terminal to pick up our bags. Crap happens right? But sometimes, when it happens we have moments of connection that lift the spirits and make you grateful for the delays, diversions, and grumpy tiredness (cause I do get grumpy when I'm tired). Finding our suitcases, the lady at the desk asked to see our luggage tickets, I handed them to her and said "it's those two purple ones." With a sudden grin on her face, the lady replied, "say what now?" I repeated, "the two purple ones are ours." The lady said again - grin widening - "say what now?" I started to laugh, she then asked me "can we have a conversation? I just want to hear your accent!" How could I deny her, even in my sleep deprived state; she was surprised that I wasn't English, that I am, in fact Australian and speaking with an Aussie accent. Ahhhhhh those Americans LOL. So after locating our suitcases and having our accents relished by the customer support lady, we made it to our hotel; we truly started our adventure into the #WPEA2018 conference.
Positive Education is really becoming a global movement. A movement that is open-minded, curious and with a shared aim to make education for all (meaning from baby to elderly). It isn't just about academic knowledge, but about self knowledge, social action, and wellbeing, irregardless of demographics, cultures, and socio-economics. To be around like-minded people who have come from as far afield as the Australia, Dubai, and India, the US, Canada, and Europe, the intensity of the learning, the networking, the building of new and existing relationships, is like being in a pressure cooker full of different, exotic, ingredients, with the final result to be a perfectly seasoned dish of happiness, contentment, and flourishing for all. It was exciting.
This conference was to be very different to the previous and first IPEN conference two years ago. We were to have one full proper day of typical conference doings (i.e., talks, workshops, and keynotes), and then three days of a process called appreciative inquiry. Appreciative Inquiry (or AI for short) is a process that looks at the strengths of an organisation and looks at how we can use those strengths to build and grow in a positive way. As a process to build on the strengths of an organisation, it is starting to emerge as a brilliant way to assess, goal set, and move forward in schools.... but more on that a little later.
Here are my themed thoughts on #WPEA2018 -
1. Time for major, purpose driven change in education: it was acknowledged time and time again that what employers need from future employees is not how to conjugate a verb or solve a physics problem (unless, of course, your job depends on you being able to do these things), but what is needed is critical thinking and creative problem solving skills, the ability to cultivate and maintain positive, productive relationships, the ability to be a leader and a team-player, people utilising their strengths to achieve their potential. That is not to say that academic learning should be disregarded, but it should be developed in tandem with life skills that enable all (regardless of interests and abilities) to flourish. On the flip side, we also have to acknowledge that educations main aim should not be about making a young person employable. That makes education very utilitarian, feeding into the "factory farm" feel education currently has. Education should be a life long pursuit born our of a curious and engaged mind (see more at #3).
2. School Culture is key: a new buzz word at the conference was "ecology." The ecology of a school is considered every part, looking at the bigger picture of what makes up a school, and acknowledging how their is an interconnectedness between all of the parts. If one part of the school ecology is not well then this has a negative impact on the other parts. If a school has teachers who are stressed then the students won't learn well and may not have good relationships with the teachers, AND the teachers won't have good relationships between each other. If students are suffering from anxiety and extreme pressure, as a group, relationships will fail, self esteem and self belief will disappear, and academic results will fall, impacting on the reputation of the school, and also how the teachers and school staff feel about themselves and as a group and there would, undoubtedly, be a negative impact at home. With a focus on changing school culture to embody wellbeing, character, and academics, we can impact the potential of all in the school community to thrive and flourish.
3. Education is lifelong: as I mentioned above, education should be a life long pursuit, and to encourage children to grow with a curious and enquiring mind, we need to change how we view the development of and dissemination of knowledge. There were many opinions at the conference, ranging from starting with positive education classes for potential parents, through to engaging learning with elderly people, perhaps through connections with younger people. Also the way that students learn was considered, with the main concept being, to move away from the feed information to and test information out approach, so project-based and student led learning. What #WPEA is show me was that there is a growing momentum for extreme change in education and that this momentum is not only NOT slowing down, but is in fact growing quickly across the globe.
4. AI can create magic: For three days of the conference we did the AI process, opening up the discussions to what we going well in positive education, how our individual strengths could contribute to what was going well and what could go well, and ultimately dreaming big - imagining the biggest, brightest future for education globally. I worked with the "Youth-led Initiative" group, which did include some young people. We let the young people lead the group and allowed them to dream their biggest dream for bringing Positive Education to young people all over the globe. We supported and encouraged, and watched the blossom, both in terms of their strengths and leadership skills. (My colleague, Frederika Roberts, is a qualified AI practitioner... you know, if you're interested in running the process in your school *wink *wink). Ultimately, the AI process inspired and motivated the 900+ group of global educators, and is now leading to actionable change on a global scale - how amazing is that.
Do you want to know more about #WPEA and IPEN? Check out the IPEN website here - International Positive Education Network. If you would like to know more about how my colleague and I can help you with bringing positive and character education into your school, or even to run the AI process in your school community, then check out our website here - Resilience Wellbeing Success.