Your character counts: building self-esteem through character education

With increasing recognition of the critical role of ‘soft’ skills – for example, resilience in educational attainment and overall wellbeing – it’s time character education became more of a priority.

Wayne Norrie, chief executive of Greenwood Academies Trust, explains how this plays a vital role in supporting wellbeing amongst students, as well as boosting educational attainment.

Character education, at its best, goes far beyond a wellbeing initiative. It can be used to address tough issues and help students to live healthy and happy lives which contribute positively to society. As children grow into young adults, positive characteristics equip them with the tools needed for social and professional success.

Character education does not have prejudice, but rather encourages all students – regardless of disability or disadvantage – to experience equal opportunities in life.

Resilience – or stickability – also plays a key role, encompassing effort and perseverance which are often key factors in determining success. When you look at character education through that lens, it’s as much a priority as any core subject in education. This is why it’s a trust-wide mission for us, and lies behind our Your Character Counts initiative, which launched in our schools in June 2017.

Academy by academy, child by child

How this mission is implemented and carried out, of course, depends on the individual academy. Each has its own priorities and its own personalities. We’ve incorporated the beliefs of each school and spoken to experts, families, pupils and teachers to discover the different ways in which we can make the character education message resonate.

For some, it could be awards for pupils who represent the values of the trust; for others, it can be about building on professional development opportunities for staff, and extra-curricular activities like trips, visits and events to contextualise learning.

Whatever the approach, offering these opportunities doesn’t just support the growth of pupils and staff professionally, but also empowers all members of a trust to grow in confidence and self-esteem. We see this as a powerful tool for raising aspirations and supporting the wellbeing of pupils and staff, and so getting it right is crucial, too.

Listening to other people, getting their opinions, is a central part of what we encourage with our pupils, so the input of other organisations and charities in supporting our Your Character Counts initiative is mission-critical.

Working with Humanutopia to run workshops has been incredibly rewarding. Their sessions aim to develop five pillars among young people;

  1. hope
  2. confidence
  3. happiness
  4. relationships
  5. employability skills.
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This has helped break down barriers from social cliques and build bridges and respect between unlikely allies in each school.

We’re also working with Stonewall to build an encompassing approach to ensuring that respect, tolerance and support are qualities embedded in all of our schools. We’re helping our staff and pupils learn more about mental health awareness and anti-bullying to further instil these qualities.

A trust-wide approach

As a trust, we know that just telling schools what to do isn’t going to cut it. Successful character education means that trusts need to support their academies by providing leadership and advice; we get excited when our schools go the extra mile – and so many of them do.

It’s our job to ensure that the ethos which underpins the trust’s development goals also reinforces staff and pupil development. We’re doing this by making sure that professional development is planned and targeted, but also quite profound and enjoyable. We’re looking at methods like introducing a lead within each school to work with senior management on individual requirements. On another tack, incorporating character education in the curriculum, and in day-to-day classroom practice, also helps, ensuring we’re putting our money where our mouths are.

Character education demonstrates commitment to the individual needs of all pupils, but also to society as a whole. We’re preparing young people for a rapidly changing future but, while the economy and job markets may shift quickly, we can be sure that perseverance, moral fortitude, kindness and the ability to collaborate will continue to be important skills. We look at it like building the confidence of everyone in the trust to be their best selves, and it’s something we’re thoroughly enjoying along the way.

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