Character traits make us who we truly are
Leading positive psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman identified 24 universal character strengths that all people exhibit. Our character strengths are the core parts of ourselves that shape our personalities, our goals in life and influence our behaviours. They motivate us and make us who we truly are. We have the ability to use all 24 character strengths but we typically exhibit a smaller number of strengths regularly; these are called our ‘signature strengths’. In one study, when participants were asked to identify their top five signature strengths and encouraged to use them in a novel way every day for one week, they reported being significantly happier up to six months later (Seligman et al., 2005).
What is strength spotting?
It can be hard for us as individuals to identify our own character strengths because we use them regularly and sometimes take them for granted. It is often easier for the people who know us well, like friends, family, teachers and classmates, to spot our strengths; this is called ‘strength spotting’.
It can be an illuminating experience to have others spot strengths in us, as our eyes are opened up to seeing the strengths that we maybe ignore. It can also be an extremely bonding experience when students think about each other in a positive way and celebrate each other’s strengths.
A strength-spotting exercise
In the resource below, students consider the 24 character strengths and reflect on the uplifting messages their classmates provide for them. Once students have thought about their classmates’ strengths and given an example of how they use them, collect in the strips. All the strips about one student, ‘Sarah’, for example, are given to her to stick onto a sheet. Each student should have up to 30 strips of strengths others have spotted in them. When everyone has their strength strips, you can then discuss as a class students' responses to the reflection questions.
Other tips for developing students’ strengths in the classroom
- Show your class the video called The Science of Character from the Let it Ripple film studio, which explains what strengths are and how we can grow them in order to be happier and more fulfilled.
- Enlarge and print out this poster, created by the VIA Institute on Character. It has icons for all 24 character strengths and gives a brief explanation of each strength.
- Students could take the VIA Character Strengths Youth Survey (aimed at 10–17 year-olds). It is free and takes about 15 minutes to complete. Students will need an email address. The survey will identify their top five signature strengths.
- At the start of lessons, share with your class the strengths that you would like to see them use (for example ‘teamwork’, ‘perseverance’ and ‘kindness’ when working in groups). When you notice students using those strengths, recognise it and praise them.
Download the resource Strength spotting for students.
Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N. & Peterson, C. (2005) ‘Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions’, American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–421.