Charlotte Tibbs is an Assistant Principal at Springwest Academy – a mixed comprehensive school serving the local community of Feltham in Hounslow. In this blog, Charlotte describes character education at Springwest, and how this has developed.
Character Education at Springwest Academy
Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education’. At Springwest, we believe in social justice and understand that this can be realised through the provision of extensive opportunities for both academic and character development.
Last academic year, I was asked to develop character education at Springwest. I was keen to use the Jubilee Centre’s Framework and presented this to the senior leadership team. We liked the idea of developing virtues and also the ultimate goal of living a good and happy life. Having studied philosophy at university, I was also excited to revisit Aristotle’s Ethics.
At Springwest, we have a culture of using staff and student voice to inform key decisions and so created a presentation and survey where members of our school community could vote for the virtues that would underpin our provision. The voting and discussions led to the following virtues:
- Performance virtues: collaboration, bravery, creativity
- Intellectual virtues: ambition, autonomy, curiosity
- Civic virtues: volunteering, community pride, charity
- Moral virtues: forgiveness, empathy, gratitude
From the start, we were keen to offer students many opportunities for ‘character taught’, ‘character caught’ and ‘character sought’. We introduced character lessons for key stage three students as part of their curriculum offer. In collaboration with the Head of Personal, Social, Health and Economic education, I created lessons full of moral dilemmas, fun collaborative activities and lots of reflection points to enable our students to begin engaging with the framework. Each lesson begins with a student relevant ‘Think Now’ activity. For example:
Think Now: Your friend has told you that their family has gone on holiday and they are staying alone. They tell you that this is a secret and that you must not tell anyone.
1). Tell a teacher the secret because you are worried
2). Keep your friend’s secret
3). Tell another friend because you feel like the secret is too big to keep to yourself
We wanted our students to think hard, especially where different virtues come into conflict. A real highlight for students was a crime solving lesson which featured interviews with our teachers as suspects. For weeks, students were suggesting their theories to me about “who had done it”, which really encouraged discussion, curiosity and collaboration.
At the end of each lesson is a space to reflect and set targets for the following week. Teachers of other subjects began to see students working on these targets in their lessons. For example, one student wrote: This week I would like to work on my intellectual virtues by listening really carefully to what other students say. Their English teacher commented that this student had been much more focused during class discussions and had built upon the answers of others.
In addition to these lessons, we wanted to provide a range of co-curricular activities and opportunities to promote character sought. So many of our teachers volunteered to give up their time to run a club and we linked them to the virtues:
- Intellectual virtues: Chess Club, Ancient Myths and Legends Club, Poetry Club, Student Newspaper, Science Club, Construction Club, Springwest Scholars, Library Club
- Moral virtues: African Asian Caribbean Club, Girl’s Voice, Big Brother, Calm Club
- Performance virtues: Visual Arts Award, Digital Art, Dance Club, Model UN, Goalkeeper Training, Trampolining, Climbing, Sports Clubs, Running Club, Art Club, Arts Media Club, Cookery Club, Just a Minute, School Musical
- Civic virtues: Gardening Club, Community Activists, Eco-warriors, Reading Mentors
Recently we held our first “Character Day” focused on performance virtues. In the build up, we explored what it meant to show bravery, collaboration and creativity and encouraged staff to model these virtues on the day by taking part with students. A real highlight was our Year 7 “Circus Day” where students learnt new skills and performed them in a circus tent. Our other two Character Days will centre around moral, civic and intellectual virtues.
For the past two years, we have had a gratitude week where students have written thank you notes to their peers, staff and parents/carers. We are now going to rebrand these weeks “Reflection Weeks” and ask students to complete a “Reflection Portfolio” about their character development to track their journey over the year and to reflect on how lessons, clubs, trips, activities and so on have contributed. The portfolio reminds students of the virtues and how they can be demonstrated, thus reviewing their learning from their character education lessons and motivating them forwards to independently seek out new opportunities. They will also continue to write their gratitude notes.
Despite being in the early stages of development, putting character education at the heart of what we do has opened up so many new experiences for our students: from community litter picking on a Thursday morning to spinning plates in a circus tent on Character Day, from writing thank you notes during Reflection Week to seeing examples of peers who have demonstrated moral virtues in assembly. We are really proud of how our school community has embraced this new initiative and we are keen to ensure that all aspects of school life are underpinned by the Framework going forwards.