For the past 2 years, my school participated in the Positivity Project.
The goal of the Positivity Project is, essentially, to have optimistic, resilient, kind kids in our schools; we want kids to be happy! The motto of P2 (Positivity Project) is “Other People Matter.” This comes from research of positive psychology that anything where we build connections with other people makes us happy. Happier people help others better; Making other people happy makes us happy. I enjoy Gretchen Rubin’s books, and her work on happiness echoes many of these thoughts. Although that sounds simplistic, I personally feel this is so important. I personally know multiple sixth graders at my school (and younger!) who have dealt with depression, suicidal thoughts, and self harm. Many kids believe that their parents care more about grades than being kind to others or being happy in life. At their core, I believe parents want their kids to be happy, but the thing is – kids BELIEVE that this is true. We as educators and parents have to make kids believe that we care about character. We care about WHO they become more than just WHAT they become.
P2 aims to develop 24 character strengths in kids which have been shown through research in Positive Psychology (the study of what makes people successful and happy and mentally healthy) to lead to productive citizens. P2 also aims to help students focus on others and avoid the trend towards narcissism. Their hashtag #otherpeoplematter is a mindset that is encouraged across all ages.
The summer prior to implementation, I went to a training to learn about the research behind this psychology and how to teach it in my classroom and across my school. The training is the only thing that costs money; following the training, I received access to all of the daily lesson plans, a calendar listing out when traits will be introduced and taught, and posters to hang in my classroom.
While in training, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between P2 and Responsive Classroom. In fact, many of the schools that already adopted P2 did so through their Morning Meetings, which is exactly what I did. The first year, our school goal was to do 10 minute lessons on the Character Strength of the week 4x/week; we recommended this be done through Morning Meeting.
Another goal of implementation was to develop a schoolwide language surrounding character strengths. What I love about P2 is that every child can more easily identify with a character strength. Prior to P2, our school had teachers give out character awards for monthly traits (included honesty, respect, responsibility, integrity, etc.). For some students, they were very unlikely to get an award and others always received the awards. With P2, we can highlight strengths that don’t often get awards such as humor, teamwork, zest/enthusiasm, connection/purpose (listed as spirituality in research but more nuanced in P2 materials for schools), and appreciation of beauty and excellence. We can discuss how some strengths are more difficult for you but come more naturally to someone else. This more balanced look at the strengths meant that all students felt that they could more easily connect with the lessons throughout the year. Everyone was being taught about things they were good at AND things that needed improvement.
After going through the lessons for a couple of years, I came to some conclusions:
- Improvise! Get creative! It was not necessary to follow the lessons and show the videos that are included in the curriculum. Some of the best lessons were ones where we just discussed more freely or did a quick reflection in journals using a thinking routine such as Three Why’s (see here).
- Consistency, not rigidity. I didn’t have to do it everyday (or even 4x/week as planned) for it to be meaningful, but I did have to do it every week. The lessons didn’t have to be consistently 10 minutes. 15 minutes one day would make up for just a message reminding everyone of the trait the next. I could skip days and it still was an integral part of our classroom.
- Embrace the strengths of everyone, including you! My sixth graders liked hearing about how I connected with certain strengths and which ones were not like me at all. It helped them see the whole list of 24 not as a to-do list of character but as a spectrum.
- Incorporate the language! I intentionally integrated the strengths into discussions of characters in books and in our study of famous people, particularly our autobiography/biography unit. It made for interesting discussion and connections. Taking the character strengths into other disciplines is really what helped students use the language and see value in pursuing and developing a character strength.
- It’s a movement not a program. In the training, they emphasized that this was not meant to be a set of lesson plans. This was not curriculum that you would master, “pass,” or be assessed on. It was meant to identify and develop character. It was meant to teach kids concrete ways to make their lives happier. It is meant to oppose narcissism and strengthen community bonds. It is meant to highlight the strengths of others, recognizing and appreciating the good while setting goals on how to be better. It’s a mindset. It’s a movement.
After all, don’t we all want our students to be happy? Don’t we all want them to care about other people? Don’t we all want to be happier ourselves?
Have you or your school done Positivity Project? How do you feel about character education? Let me know!