I am grateful because my work as an organisational coach, with an emphasis building on well-being, resilience and engagement, affords me the most amazing opportunities to work across the business, government and education sectors. Whether it’s working with 50 year old executives or 15 year old school students I have learned that giving people the time and the tools to discover, ignite and build their strengths is a powerful gift indeed.
In the last 6 months I have been fortunate to be able to invest my time and energy in applying the VIA Character Strengths Survey within 3 education related programs. The VIA identifies 24 universal and cross-cultural ‘Character Strengths’ and through the online assessment you can find out which of these are likely to be your ‘Signature Strengths’ – those which are most natural to you. Research shows that by working to our Signature Strengths we can build our well-being, resilience and capacity to flourish in work, study and life.
My first example focused on teachers. It’s my firm belief that if we want to help young people to flourish we need to help the adults in their lives to invest in their own well-being too. I delivered a strengths-based Positive Education workshop for leaders and teachers in a special school targeting young people excluded from mainstream education – arguably those most vulnerable and at risk. Providing a space to introduce the VIA in the context of workplace well-being and engagement, allowing colleagues to strengths-spot amongst each other and commit to building upon their own signature strengths was affirming, energising and empowering for them. They also reflected upon how so many of the young people they work with are consistently labeled by their weaknesses, by what they do wrong rather than right and also how overplaying their strengths actually undermines them. This workshop has facilitated ongoing discussion of how best the VIA can be applied to support the unique needs, challenges and aspirations of their students and how we can work further with the teachers to have strengths-based coaching conversations.
My second example was as part of another Positive Education program introducing the VIA to the whole Year 8 community – 160 students, their Year Tutors and Parents at a large international school in Asia. All were supported to learn about what it really means to flourish and be our best, build a common language of strengths and a shared understanding that by working more to our signature strengths we are more likely to succeed in all of life’s domains. A key takeaway for me was that when the students were asked to identify potentially flourishing people as the start of an initial signature strengths spotting exercise, in between the Presidents, Best Selling Authors and Sports & Music Stars there were Mums, Dads, Grandparents, Friends and Teachers – even Headteachers!. They got it – that you don’t have to be rich or famous to live to your strengths and flourish! Following the introduction of the VIA all the Y8s have since completed the VIA online survey and have been supported by their tutors and parents to reflect on strengths use in themselves and others as they participate in regular school activities and special events like the Year Camp. The Head of Y8 reports tangible evidence of increased confidence in students, more use of strength-based language and positive changes in the way both students and teachers perceive each other, with a greater focus on strengths as opposed to deficits.
Lastly I have been privileged to participate in The Helmsman Project, a youth coaching study being measured by the University of Western Sydney. THP aims to build hope, self-regulation and resilience in young people at risk of disengagement from school. The program is unique in that it is combining evidence-based coaching with an ocean sailing experience that has seen me, Serena Porges my wonderful co-coach and 6 young people take our Competent Crew Certificate through a 5 day/4 night ocean sail experience on Arctos, a 55ft Sydney Hobart Yacht!
Having introduced the language of VIA to the young people, the sailing experience afforded us no end of opportunity to reflect on the use and development of both signature and character strengths in ourselves and others. We have seen humour, persistence, prudence, kindness, leadership, zest, self-regulation, hope and perspective, bravery and citizenship both tested and applied in abundance! The young people have discovered strengths they never knew they had and learned that strengths can indeed be overplayed too and at times we need to switch them off!
Key now is how we coach and support the young people to be more mindful of their strengths use in their daily lives and in defining and striving towards their future goals. Sailing analogies abound but the most powerful has to be the fact that it’s the sails of the yacht that capture the wind and give us direction to move forward and reach our destination. So the sails are like our strengths and the more we invest in building our strengths the more likely we will successfully navigate life’s inevitable choppy waters and sustain the energy needed to achieve our goals and aspirations!
So now in 2014 as I prepare for embarking on the next Helmsman cohort in March and to extend my strengths-based work in schools and organisations within Asia-Pac, I remain grateful to be learning and living through the VIA and to have the platforms to help others to do the same.
For more information on the VIA Character Survey visit the Strengths Section on my website or go to www.viame.org