The Role of Character in Strengths-Based Education

It goes without saying that most parents want their children to thrive, be joyful, and live lives of meaning and purpose.  Undoubtedly, schools play an essential role as to whether young people do indeed flourish in these areas.   Schools like Templeton Academy, are designed with this focus in mind and intentionally include comprehensive strength-based curriculum and programming.  

So what role does character play in strengths-based education essential?  Let’s start by exploring the science behind human flourishing.   Martin Seligman, known for his work on learned helplessness and considered the father of positive psychology, identified 5 essential components to human flourishing in Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing.  Easily remembered using PERMA, they include Positivity, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. Essentially, Seligman found that we humans flourish when we experience ample positive emotions, spend significant time in FLOW, enjoy constructive and healthy relationships, contribute to endeavors larger than ourselves, and set and meet personal and professional goals.  When these 5 components are present in our lives we grow and flourish.  When they aren’t, we cease growing and actually decline.  Tony Robbins says it best “if you’re not growing, you’re dying”.

Looking closer at PERMA’s first component, Barbara Frederickson, in her book Positivity, details how the positive mind states of joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love optimize the performance of our minds and bodies.  Frederickson’s research led to her Broaden and Build Theory stating that positive emotions serve two valuable purposes; they expand our thinking and build our emotional reserves.  It even affects us at the cellular level.  While in a positive mind state, our cells grow and while in a negative or neutral mind state, our cells decay.  Thus, those who experience higher ratios of positive to negative emotions enjoy expansive thinking, enhanced emotional resilience, and better overall health. 

This brings us back to the benefits of strength-based education.  In a 3 year study with over 40 team members, Peterson and Seligman found that across cultures and time,  there are 6 highly valued virtues (wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, transcendence) that can be broken down into 24 strengths of character.   Each person possesses all 24 character strengths, but has their own unique set of 5 signature strengths. When the signature strengths are applied, especially in novel ways throughout a person’s day, they result in greater positivity, increased engagement, stronger relationships, greater meaning, and increased accomplishments.  Yes, the exact same components linked to human flourishing and growth.  Teaching young people about the 24 character strengths and how to apply them supports their flourishing.   

At Templeton Academy, we know that a strength-based education model includes more than a focus on academic strengths; it must also include the identification, development, and application of character strengths.  This is why Templeton students take the free character strengths assessment developed by Peterson and Seligman and available at the VIA Character Strengths website. It is also why their strengths and the 24 character strengths in general are a regular topic of conversation in their academic classes and core advisory group.  Our students learn how to consistently apply their strengths so they can thrive, experience joy and live purposefully everyday.  For example, curiosity is one of several character strengths associated with school success. At Templeton Academy Nashville, students intentionally leaned into their curiosity and researched a topic of interest to them. Afterwards, they learned how to create a podcast and shared what they discovered with others.  

To learn more about Templeton Academy’s innovative school programming, check out our education resource guide.