The case for character education

The last 2 days at the Conference on Character, Culture and Values hosted by Character Scotland have been very thought provoking.  The focus was around the case for character education and as such mainly around how the appreciation of character can benefit our young people....fascinating stuff and a few more blogs coming around the workshop topics and keynote speeches.

Overall, there was a bit of not quite confusion but certainly a lack of a common understanding of what character actually is - how is it the same or different to values?  Does it really matter?  I liked the discussion in the open space session at the end of today where a gentleman described the purpose of schools is not 'just' to educate young people with skills and knowledge but also this otherliness...something that to some seems intangible but is the discovery and rounding of ones' character...whatever we choose to call it, and there are many options.  From social and emotional well being, personal development, personal and social education, values education, character education...the list was long!

The definition Character Scotland offer is "Character refers to our motivations and capacities to be moral agents and contribute to a better world."

VIA Institute on Character define it as attributes that are "morally and universally valued, encompass our capacities for helping ourselves and others and produce positive effects when we express them."

Dr. Marvin W. Berkowitz of the Center for Character and Citizenship simply states character is "being a good person" And even perhaps most usefully warns against getting bogged down in detail and disputes over our preferred choice of words.

Whatever our choice of language to describe character education there is certainly, in Scotland, a move toward embracing it on some level within education.  The 4 capacities within Curriculum for Excellence (successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors) indicates that education is much more than purely academics. However, it's also clear that we are very much at the beginning of this journey and have a long way still to travel...if there actually can ever be a finite destination when it comes to raising awareness of and forging of young peoples character.

What I do know is that it is vital we collaborate to make this happen.  Even using purely my own personal and professional experience it is clear that too many young people leave education without a sense of self or ability to describe who they are and what they can do in a positive light.  And indeed this translates to my work with adults some of whom again have a poor sense of self awareness.  Which further translates into the sad reality of lost potential.

Scotland is a highly educated population yet it doesn't translate this resource into productivity - why not?  I wholeheartedly believe it is because of a lack of individuals self belief and confidence in the genuine impact their contribution makes to their community and country.

Equally, there is more to this than the economic output.  What is the culture we want to create?  What qualities do we value in people?  What kind of person do we want to live or work beside?  Of course we want character strengths such as kindness, perseverance, courage, honesty, forgiveness, hope, gratitude, humour.

Character education is, in my view, in line with emotional literacy and there is an enormous body of evidence that supports emotional intelligence being the foundation to success, that people who are flourishing achieve better results than those who are not.  So to support someone develop a strong sense of self and confidence in the value of their contribution WILL translate to improved attainment.  However, for those who still harbour a seed of cynicism...what's the worst that can happen?  Young people leave with with grades they would've achieved anyway but with far greater confidence. I know I'm sold.

But teachers can't do this alone.  They can trailblaze and play a vital part as they are every day role models of how to 'be'...authentic, compassionate and resilient humans but they need help.  It's true that team work makes the dream work and schools and organisations working with young people need to engage with each other to create solutions that work for their own situation.  I don't believe one size can fit all.  Geography, school size, needs of pupils, support needs of teachers and  local resources to name a few all come into play.  I do have a strong sense that adopting a coaching approach is key to truly valuing and embedding personal development within education and related fields.

Character education is an ideal approach to innovate, collaborate and reach into the community to make a real difference both the the young people themselves and through the results of the activities they forge their sense of self through and the peoples' lives they touch in the process.



9 keys of resilience

I attended a great workshop on Nurturing resilience in young people with complex needs, presented by Dr  Michael Ungar.  His team have researched resilient young people throughout the world and have come to the conclusion resilience is made up of 9 things:

  1.  Structure: to know what to expect and a sense of boundaries
  2. Consequences: appropriate and related consequences to positive and negative actions
  3. Parent- Child connections: having a positive bond with a parent
  4. Lots and lots of relationships: Positive relationships with a variety of different people
  5. Powerful identities: Having a positive sense of self - I am able, I am happy
  6. A sense of control: to be heard and have the ability to influence change at an appropriate level
  7. A sense of belonging/spirituality/life meaning: I am part of this school, this is my job
  8. Rights and Responsibilities: To be treated fairly and have appropriate responsibility to learn from.
  9. Safety & Support: To have their basic needs met and be supported to access with they need

There are a myriad of factors at play within these 9 aspects such as the risk factors in the persons environment - balance becomes more important the greater the risks are.  Ultimately, balance is more important that meeting every single aspect so a weak or absent aspect is ok as long as other aspects are present and some are strong.

And equally it's vital that risk is assessed in the context of the individual's model of the world rather than according to the 'adult'.  Risk may seem high according to our own values, beliefs and experience however discovering the coping strategies, values and beliefs of the individual are vital.

As you can see resilience is more than the common understanding of an ‘ability to cope with and bounce back from adversity’, which puts the onus solely on the individual to develop resilience skills and apply these ‘effectively’ - with the inference that it is the fault of the individual for their lack of skill if they ‘fail’ to thrive.   Instead, these 9 keys show us that resilience is a complex relationship between how the individual perceives him/herself, how he/she relates to others and crucially how others (people and systems ) relate to the individual.

I found this particularly interesting as it this completely supports the importance of team work and the interplay of systems on our wellbeing.  This is useful for us all to bear in mind as we each have roles to play in many peoples’ lives, whether our own family & friends, our colleagues, clients and wider community.  We are each part of a multitude of systems that have power to positively or negatively impact on our young people (and us oldies too!) and so we need to be mindful of the power each of all holds – we matter, how you are relating to other people in your field and family matters.  You can find out more on his website:

Who to use as a reference?

When you're looking for work it's useful to be prepared and get your references organised before you're asked for them.  Referees are people who know you, whether personally, academically or in work, who are prepared to pass on a sense of who you are to the opportunity provider you have applied to.  It's all very well being able to talk a good game in an interview but it's really useful to get an idea as to other peoples experience of you has been.  Team work makes the dream work right?

Most employers want 2 referees, one of which must be your most recent employer.  This is to check whether there are any issues that should be flagged before hiring you as well as confirmation that you are actually honest and trustworthy and did actually work in the role you said you did!

So who do you use?

This is down to your personal experience but these are are a few things to consider:

Still working?

When you are leaving work it's important to have a conversation with your team leader/line manager to confirm they will give you a reference and to confirm the appropriate details to give to future employers.

Some larger companies will only confirm you have worked there - what is your companies policy?  Find this out now and you'll come across to future employers as well informed and organised.

If anyone who wants more detail about you, you'll need to use someone (a manager or colleague) in their personal capacity - make sure you have their permission and confirm again the appropriate details to use.

It's really useful to keep in touch with your referees so you know if they move on and they stay aware of who you are.

if you are applying for work and your current employer doesn't know and you don't want them to know that's ok. Most companies are happy to request a reference after you have confirmed you are accepting the position.  There are a few who do, as a matter of procedure, require them before the interview.  This is a test of your commitment to the role and also to address any issues within the interview setting. It's you're call whether this is an acceptable risk for you and if in doubt have a conversation with the person recruiting you.

Not working?

Whether you are consciously taking time out from the workforce due to ill health or caring for your loved ones or you are in between jobs, all of these situations can cause anxiety around references.

If the company you worked for no longer exists and you don't have any contact details, don't worry, just explain this to your future employer and ask them whether they would prefer you use a character or academic reference.  A character reference is someone who will confirm you are of sound character - but never a family member. If you have studied recently it may be more appropriate to have a teacher or lecturer confirm your details.

This is where your contribution and involvement in your community is paid back - your help at a toddler group or school, neighbourhood meetings, church or sports events.  And if you're not involved in anything at all and work is part of your future plan then please reconsider.  Not only is voluntary work amazing for your personal growth and well being as well as benefiting others in your community - it keeps your skills fresh, confidence high and gives you much needed references to help you move forward when you want to.

Left on bad terms?

It's important to be honest especially if you have worked there any length of time.  Any failure to present information could be a sackable offence so let's avoid things ending badly twice!  Again, how you play this really depends on the 'bad terms'.  It may be possible for you to use the details of a colleague or another manager but rather than second guess I highly recommend having a conversation with a person in the HR department, if there is one.  Find out what their policy is and what information will be given about you.  And remember employers have to be very careful about saying anything potentially damaging to you - if they aren't able to say anything good (that is fair and accurate) they may decide to not say anything at all.  In which case, you are better finding out now so you can prepare and come across in the best light possible.

Overall though, my message is simple, spend some time figuring out at least 2 people you will use of references, make sure you have their permission and their up to date details and keep in touch with them so they remember who you a good way :-)



Emotional Intelligence


I think we've all worked with, lived with or known someone who's mood swings can rip through the atmosphere. And hopefully we've all experienced that person who changes the air for the better - one that can lift the mood and make people feel positive. These are examples of Emotional Intelligence (or your emotional quotient).

Have you ever wondered why that super smart person you went to school or university with hasn't transferred their intelligence into career & life success?  And why, that person who wasn't the brightest button in the box has?

Continue reading →

Get the Advantage! Lunchtime Q&As

SSQ&AthursdaySo I'm embracing technology again.  I get asked quite a few questions around career and personal development that have common threads so I thought why not have a space where I can answer them and you guys can either join in at the time or have a place to listen later.  And hanging out with Google seemed like something to try out.

The first one will be on Thursday 7th May at 12.30pm, just for half an hour so you can squeeze it into a lunch hour if you have a burning frustration you want help with to help you that day. And if you can't make it but are interested then I'll be uploading it to Youtube and sending it out to those of you on my newsletter...feel free to sign up if you fancy something nice popping into your inbox :-)

Anyhoo, here's the link to the very first Get the Advantage!  Q&A Thursday lunchtime google hangout.

Please send me your questions either through the hangout page, on here in the comments section, on my facebook page or email:

I'm looking forward to it and hope you are too!

Speak soon,