Character Strengths, Well-being in education

Character strength of the day: patience

I have based my education work on character strengths on the work of Peterson and Seligman (2004). I am an educator, not a psychologist, and I have adapted Peterson and Seligman’s list to fit the context of schools and classrooms. I made small changes to language here and there, but the biggest change I made was to add a strength – in response to comments from many teachers and from my own reading and understanding of learning and teaching – I added the strength of patience.

Patience is an inherent part of TEACHING – we have to be patient with ourselves and our pupils, we have to allow ourselves to be human and allow them to be human too. It is an inherent part of LEARNING – we have to be patient and allow ourselves not to understand, not to grasp at easy solutions, not to settle for the quick and obvious answer and to do that long enough for deep learning to happen.

This week I was privileged to help an excellent teacher of the #AlexanderTechnique, Sue Fleming, to run a group in Manchester who are learning the Alexander Technique, mostly to help prevent or improve aches, pains and bad backs. They were learning to pause and notice – their bodies, their feelings, their thoughts, how they sit, how they stand, how they breath – and learning to do those things with more awareness, more lightness, more thought. For those who’ve never heard of the Alexander Technique it is a ‘psychosomatic’ discipline, a ‘movement-based embodied contemplative practice,’ (Schmalz et al 2014), a way of tuning into your ‘whole self’ and how you react to your environment, to the stresses and strains of life. It is subtle, it is gentle and it takes time to learn it.

And fresh from the state school system of education in the UK, where I work as an adviser on ‘well-being’, I was aware of how slowly Sue was taking things, how much time she was giving to reflection and noticing, to questions and questioning – and I was impressed and challenged.

Because in schools right now, everything is FAST, everything has PACE (and it’s FAST pace, not slow pace!), everything is EFFICIENT. But some thinking and some learning can’t be done quickly. As the Nobel Prizewinner Daniel Kahneman points out, (2011) some thinking needs to be done slowly, some thinking needs PATIENCE! And efficiency and speed are not the only goods in life, sometimes kindness, gentleness, beauty and ‘what is right’ are more important.

So, here’s a tip for cultivating patience, for letting things take the time that they take…..

‘Pause at Doors’

You go though doors many times every day. When you come to a door just press your internal pause button

Pause….notice your feet and the feel of the floor beneath you; notice if you are breathing; notice what you are thinking, feeling and sensing, seeing and hearing; pause and think about wanting to go through that door lightly, cheerfully and with a twinkle in your eye …and then release your pause button and move on.


Tiny pauses in your day can ground you, calm you, slow you down, de-stress and unwind you …and cultivate the ability to wait, to be patient, to let things take the time that they take …..

Kahneman, Daniel, 2011. Thinking, Fast and Slow

Schmalzl, L., Crane-Godreua, M. A. & Payne, P., 2014. Movement-based embodied contemplative practices. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience , Volume 8, pp. 1-6, London: Penguin

Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. E. P., 2004. Character strengths and virtues: A classification and handbook. Washington DC: American Psychological Association


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