Recently I was visiting with a friend who has taught elementary for 34 years. Jay is gifted at what he does. Every year, he works to encourage conscious awareness of interpersonal relationships and personal growth among his students. He was describing to me what he has been doing this year to integrate the VIA character strengths into his fourth-grade classroom. It gave me goose bumps.
The VIA Classification of Character Strengths describes 24 positive personality traits that account for a lot of what's best about us and the lives we build with one another. Among them are simpler words like "creativity," and more difficult terms such as "social intelligence" and "appreciation ofbeauty and excellence." Jay has never been one to underestimate the capabilities of 10-year-olds, so he assigned the 24 terms as "spelling words." Of course, there's little reason to know how to spell a word if you don't understand what it means and how to use it, so the students learned the meanings of each character strength through rich group discussions. After becoming familiar with the terms, they began considering how these strengths reside within themselves. To help them in this process, Jay introduced the Pyramid of Power.The Pyramid has three levels. At the bottom are 3 foundation blocks, then 2 on top of those, and then the pinnacle piece. That's six blocks on each of four sides, resulting in a full pyramid of 24 strengths! In his classroom, Jay has focused on one side of the pyramid. He asked each child to place at the base of their pyramid the foundational strengths that the child identifies as "most like me"- what at VIA we refer to as "signature strengths." In the middle are strengths the child sees as less prominent. At the pinnacle are one or more strengths that the child identifies as wishing to build towards.