Yes! Teachers Can Develop Character Strengths, by Marilyn Price-Mitchell PhD

A teacher’s job extends far beyond academics.

While teachers are hired to develop children’s skills and abilities in academics like reading, writing, history, geography, and math, there is a lot more going on in the classroom than meets the eye.

Opportunities abound for students to develop hope, fairness, humor, valor, appreciation, and many other character strengths that lead to fulfilling lives. For some teachers, this is a natural extension of the job they do on behalf of children.

Building character strengths in children is the mutual responsibility of families, schools, and communities. In Part I of this series, we defined character strengths and introduced the VIA Survey of Character. In Part 2, we examined how parents help build character strengths by changing the way they give praise and by helping kids recognize character strengths in others.  This article shows how one teacher is building a classroom environment that places character front and center.

In his recent article School Made Easy: Character Education is the Key, Dr. Neal Mayerson, Chairman of the VIA Institute, points out that teachers choose the type of culture to create in their classrooms.  Cultures of collaboration, confidence, mutual respect, and engagement help nurture the development of character strengths.

A Teacher with Character as a Mission

In a compelling video created by the VIA Institute, Jay Sharp, fourth grade teacher at Bella Vista Elementary School in Salt Lake City shares how he uses character strengths as the foundation to a core curriculum. By teaching the vocabulary of character strengths, children can explore their meaning and relate their own strengths to the tasks they undertake.

Jay Sharp has four goals for his students.  He wants them:

  • To be more content and happy with where they are right now.
  • To be open minded about others’ perspectives.
  • To feel what it’s like to overcome a fear and incorporate that feeling into their lives.
  • To have fun – and feel the lightness that learning brings to life.
Jay Sharp, teacher - Yes! Teachers Can Develop Character Strengths, by Marilyn Price-Mitchell PhD

Teacher: Jay Sharp

With the slogan “Learn it. Do it. Teach it. Know it,” older students mentor younger ones about character strengths.  As they do, learning is internalized for the older students.  They gain confidence and benefit in many other ways.

As a developmental psychologist and advocate for positive youth development, I’d like to clone Mr. Sharp in classrooms around the country!  Please watch and learn from a teacher who understands the true goal of education.

The next article in this series focuses on out-of-school-time programs and how community leaders instill character strengths in children of all ages.

Articles in the Series on Character: 

Part 1: Why Character Counts

Part 2: How Families Develop Character in Children

Part 3: Teachers Develop Character Strengths (Reading Now)

Part 4: Character Development: A Role for Community Leaders


Photo Credit: VIA Institute

Published: May 13, 2011

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