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Putting Life Skills into practice: UWCSEA's Grade 8 students start their Life Skills programme each August with a focus on understanding character strengths

Karen Cockburn, Former Middle School Vice Principal, Pastoral, Dover Campus
7 January 2016

UWCSEA's G8 students start their Life Skills programme each year with a focus on understanding character strengths.

Who am I? Who do I want to be? With these questions, our Grade 8 students start their Life Skills programme each August with a focus on understanding character strengths. The Values-in-Action Classification of Strengths has been described as the ‘backbone’ of the science of positive psychology. Research by Dr Martin Seligman and Dr Chris Peterson tells us that character strengths can be used to enhance relationships, overcome challenges and are associated with physical health. 

A great deal of research has examined these strengths and how they can benefit happiness and wellbeing. Evidence suggests that when we use our strengths, we feel authentic and energised. Seligman suggests that we should identify our key strengths and use these regularly in our lives. His work tells us that it is important to celebrate all the things that go right instead of focusing on all of the things that can go wrong. When we focus on building our strengths, there is a lasting effect on happiness and wellbeing.

Part of this unit also helped students develop the important skill of noticing things about themselves and others. Spotting strengths in others strengthens relationships and the Grade 8 students were asked to name the person they admired most in the world and to identify the character strengths they admired in these individuals.

We finished the unit by joining in the international celebration of Character Day on 18 September. Grade 8 students and staff came to school dressed as a character strength. Along with 6,700 classrooms, schools, and organisations in 41 countries we watched the premier of The Adaptable Mind, which explores the skills we need to flourish in the 21st century.

On their return from their two-week expedition to Chiang Mai, Grade 8 students revisited their character strengths and spent time thinking about how these strengths enabled them to overcome adversity and flourish:

Strength: Perseverance
“I think perseverance is the most important strength of the trip because it was needed for everything. The hike, the rafting, caving, putting up the bivvies and much more.”

Strength: Curiosity
“Throughout the entire trip, I demonstrated curiosity by learning about Northern Thailand’s culture and by exploring the caves filled with bats.”

Strength: Gratitude
“I saw how others in rural areas lived and became a lot more grateful for the lifestyle I have in Singapore.”

Student Maya Lewis Hayre, sums up her experience: 

We learn values in a classroom everyday. We know that we have things that make us special and have strengths that make us who we are. When we began the Life Skills unit, we came in thinking it was going to be exactly what we always hear. The magnitude of this unit only hit us afterwards. When we went to Chiang Mai we trekked, caved, rafted, and spent three hours putting up tents only to find our things infested by ants in the morning. When we sat down to eat the pasta we had slaved over, or reached the end of the cave, our friends patted us on the back and we learned to be proud that we were resilient and that we had persevered. That was what the unit was all about. We will still be strong even if we don’t know it, and the most valuable lesson you can learn is to appreciate these strengths and work at them to make them even stronger, and that you need to appreciate others and they need to appreciate you. This is something you can’t learn in a classroom, to learn this you need to hike seven kilometres, or carry a bag of full water bottles through a one-kilometre long cave.