Strengthening My School’s Community with The Positivity Project

The Positivity Project’s impact on Morgan Road Elementary’s community has been tremendous. We have a powerful new vocabulary, which my students and staff understand and consistently use. This produces conversations that are deeper, more nuanced, and more positive than they’ve ever been before.

These conversations exemplify another trend I’ve witnessed — students and staff appear to have a higher understanding of and appreciation for their peers, leading to enhanced interpersonal relationships and a stronger sense of community. Our stronger relationships and community, I believe, are rooted in a deeper understanding of character. For example, in one classroom, while teaching students the character strength of hope/optimism, a 2nd grade student told her class about an illness she’s had for years — but had never shared with anyone outside her family. She went on to explain that even though her doctors have yet to find a cure, she was hopeful and optimistic that they will.

Parents are also noticing a difference at home. They specifically note the language their children are using at the dinner table, oftentimes sparking deeper and more meaningful conversations — as well as new behaviors. An example that is frequently shared by parents pertains to the character strength of open-mindedness. Students explain to their parents that open-mindedness means you like to consider new ideas and try new things. Parents then use this character strength to their advantage by reminding their children to keep an open-mind while trying a new food for dinner. Smart.

When we started our journey in the Spring of 2015 we had no idea that the response would be so positive.

Every month, students are recognized by their teachers in front of the entire school for displaying specific character strengths.

It now seems that it was all meant to be. The character education program that we used for years was no longer having the impact we desired. Student behaviors and beliefs were not being affected by our teaching and it felt as if the time we were spending on teaching character wasn’t benefitting our students. Then, in March 2015, Mr. Herron, a second grade teacher at our school, noticed the Facebook posts — on positive psychology and character strengths — from a lifelong friend, Mike Erwin.

We had a Google Hangout with Mike where we reflected on our current character education program. We then discussed how we could share what he was posting with our students in a way that would help them become stronger leaders, peers, and people — both now and into the future. After all, character and relationship building are what will separate our students from others in an increasingly complex, technologically advanced, and narcissistic world.

At the time, the answer was not as simple as we hoped. Character, it turned out, is more complex than we imagined. Mike explained the 24 character strengths that define our uniqueness as individuals. He passionately shared his belief that those who understand themselves and others through the lens of character are best equipped to develop meaningful relationships with the people in their lives. He implored us to take the Values in Actions Survey and consider teaching all 24 character strengths to our students. We took his advice and piloted The Positivity Project, becoming the very first Partner School in September 2015.

Now, as we head into the second year of implementation and reflect on The Positivity Project’s impact in a short period of time, we are recognizing that the students in our classrooms are more self-aware — and through that self-awareness they have a genuine sense of self-confidence.

They know what their top strengths are and how they can leverage these strengths as individuals when working with teams of students or simply interacting with their friends on the playground. More secure in who they are, their minds are free to understand and appreciate their peers. Students understand that all of their friends in class are unique and, for example, just because they, personally, might be brave doesn’t mean that everyone else in their class will be brave, too.

With this improved self-awareness and deeper understanding of others permeating throughout our school community, we now feel an intense responsibility to teach our students how to use their knowledge to enhance themselves as people, as citizens, and as future leaders in our country.

The good news is that The Positivity Project has taught us that character can be developed and that there is no better time to develop character than the most influential time is a person’s life: childhood. We are focused on helping students find specific ways in which they can improve their character. For example, a child that needs to work on the character strength of humility can practice allowing others in his/her group to take the spotlight. Surprisingly, the students at our school have even noticed that their principal can develop this character strength!

In short, we have been inspired with what we have seen in our school community since implementing The Positivity Project. We know that what we are teaching and discussing in our classrooms will forever change the way our students understand, look at, and treat others.

And, it is this understanding that will help them in life. The understanding that Other People Matter.