Character Educator in Focus: Gail Peyton

Gail Peyton is a Regional Director for Primary Education in Birmingham, and a student on the MA Character Education programme. In this blog, Gail discusses how professional development focused on the character of the teacher might support teachers to fulfil their roles as character educators.

Gail Peyton

I currently work for a large MAT as a Regional Director for Primary Education in Birmingham and recently have expanded my primary focus to include an all through school which has provided great personal development for me. Although I am from Birmingham originally, most of my teaching career and first two headships were based in south-east London, so it was a great joy to return home after thirty years away and be in a position to contribute to education in the city.

In many respects, my journey in life has led me to realise the importance of developing the aspect of ourselves we call ‘character’.  As a practising Buddhist of the Soka Gakkai movement (value creation society), I have had the benefit of developing my character through my daily Buddhist practice – we often call this practice, ‘polishing our mirror’ or revealing our best selves – which is similar in principle to the idea of flourishing or living a ‘good’ life. Indeed, I think both principles have a symbiotic relationship between self and environment at their core.  It is impossible to develop and reveal our best selves or live a good life, without the help of others and so education has a crucial role in supporting every individual in our care with the ability to do just this.  I use the term ‘individual’ purposefully because I believe that developing our character is a life-long commitment and so as a leader, I am interested in extending this responsibility to the whole school community.  

What does character education look like in your role?

The terms ‘caught, taught and sought’ which are used by the Jubilee Centre, were helpful to me because they not only define how character is shaped by experience, but also because they remind us of the opportunity we have to shape character intentionally which helps us to live lives that create value within our families, workplaces and communities. Part of my role is to help leaders evaluate the effectiveness of their provision and help identify next steps in their school improvement journey. All of the schools I am supporting have very recently introduced an explicitly taught character education programme as part of their personal development offer to pupils, however, I have very quickly come to realise the significant lack of training or development in this area – in fact, most training in education we provide for teachers and leaders is often around skills and technical expertise.  In order to tackle this issue, I think it is important to view the development of staff as intrinsic to any character education programme – particularly as teachers and leaders serve as moral exemplars in their schools and in society. Given that character education is concerned with supporting individuals to live a flourishing life, I think it is vital to recognise that the context for learning about character has to be our everyday lives and it concerns all of us – starting with myself.

What are you hoping to learn through studying on the MA Character Education programme?

I am undertaking the MA programme to improve my own knowledge and understanding so that I can better support schools in developing a coherent and consistent approach to character education that is embedded throughout the school community.  I have realised that in order to do this well, I need to develop my own virtue literacy and apply this practically to my own life first. I hope to be able to provide staff with professional development in character which helps them to fulfil their roles in a way which enables them to truly flourish as individuals within the school community as well as teachers of character.  Currently, I am looking at how to develop virtue literacy and reasoning through the everyday work of school leaders by building this into existing HR systems (such as line management).  I want to use the literacy of virtues so that staff can talk with one another about the challenges they face, and (hopefully) find constructive solutions to these through purposeful reflection.   

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