By Benjamin Miller, Research Fellow
Jubilee Centre for Character & Virtues, University of Birmingham
“For many teachers, the coronavirus crisis has been a reminder that a holistic education can encompass both the formation of character and the very best academic standards.”
The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week this year is kindness. Throughout the week, people around the UK have been sharing stories of how kindness has prevailed in the challenging circumstances we find ourselves in and suggesting ideas to promote kindness in their communities and work places.
Many of these stories of kindness have come from children and young people as they spend time away from their friends and school communities and face the challenges of continuing their education remotely. For some students, exams have been abandoned and their futures are uncertain, and for others, school trips and extracurricular opportunities have been cancelled and yet young people continue to demonstrate kindness, empathy and compassion. Recent polling undertaken by Populus for The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, underlines this claim highlighting the importance of the virtues of compassion and care by the British public during the coronavirus crisis. In addition, organisations such as the #iwill campaign are drawing attention to the roles that young people are playing in their communities, collecting many of their stories via the #covidteenheroes hashtag.
The enforced break in the school year has also given the teaching profession the opportunity to take-stock and reassess its aims and values. For many teachers, the coronavirus crisis has been a reminder that a holistic education can encompass both the formation of character and the very best academic standards. As the global pandemic continues to disrupt public life, it has also highlighted the importance of the community and civic aspect of school life, and the unique opportunities schools have, to shape their students to be people of character and to create healthy school cultures in which young people can flourish.
As schools in the UK prepare for a phased return, school leaders and teachers face the challenges of supporting a school population who have endured a period of lockdown and distancing from their wider school community. As face-to-face teaching resumes there is an opportunity to celebrate what students have achieved in this unprecedented time and to offer them opportunities for reflection and conversation about how they might continue to grow their character in these challenging circumstances.
There are many excellent resources to support schools as they develop a plan for character education at school. In order to assist schools in the different aspects of teaching character, the Jubilee Centre has developed a new character education curriculum for primary and secondary schools called The Character Curriculum – Flourishing For Life. The curriculum is split into four broad areas flourishing individuals, flourishing relationships, digital flourishing and flourishing societies and has been designed to integrate with current curriculum workloads and existing timetabled subjects. Currently key stages 2-3 are available now and the full curriculum (key stages 1-4) will be available for download in June 2020. It seeks to give students the opportunity to explore these important topics ‘through the lens’ of character, focusing on different character virtues such as kindness, empathy and compassion in different contexts and allowing students to develop the language of character and space for self-reflection.
The Character Curriculum has been designed to be a flexible tool for teachers and schools to use and adapt for their individual contexts, especially with new approaches to teaching being adopted for socially distanced schooling.
It is clear that even when schools do return, much of school life will look very different from what went before. As many children and young people have displayed, however, opportunities to develop character continue, and there is an opportunity for us all to emerge from this crisis as more kind, compassionate and empathetic people.