How Early Childhood Educators Resolve Workplace Challenges Using Character Strengths and Model Character for Children in the Process

Abstract

Character strengths improve performance and well-being but are rarely studied among early childhood educators. This qualitative study describes how in-service early childhood educators (n = 17, United States) resolved workplace challenges following a character strength application intervention. During professional development, teachers learned to write action plans to use character strengths (e.g., perseverance, kindness) to address their challenges. Teachers reported a 71% success rate in fully or mostly resolving challenges using this method. Another 22% experienced partial success. This study documents how teachers matched character strengths to personal challenges with children, coworkers and parents. Teachers reported using certain strengths mostly with children (e.g., love, forgiveness), others mostly with adults (e.g., teamwork, bravery), and others universally (e.g., kindness, leadership). Teachers reported modeling or teaching character strengths to children in 31% of cases in which they were seeking to resolve some form of workplace challenge. Teachers perceived that the intervention made it more likely for them to model or teach character strengths to children, particularly kindness, forgiveness, social intelligence and teamwork. Educators and children are likely to benefit from professional development that explores the application of character strengths in the workplace.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    The frequencies of character strengths used by educators will be reported elsewhere, due to space limitations in the current paper.

  2. 2.

    The difficulty level of challenges (high, moderate, low), with examples and frequencies, is also being reported elsewhere due to space limitations.

References

  1. Altheide, D., & Johnson, J. (1994). Criteria for assessing interpretive validity in qualitative research. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 485–499). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Anderson, C. (2010). Presenting and evaluating qualitative research. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 74(8), 141.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Beaty, J. J. (1999). Prosocial guidance for the preschool child. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Berkowitz, M. W. (2011). What works in values education? International Journal of Educational Research, 50(3), 153–158.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Berkowitz, M. W., & Bier, M. C. (2005). What works in character education: A research-driven guide for educators?. Washington, DC: Character Education Partnership.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Berkowitz, M. W., & Bier, M. C. (2007). What works in character education? Journal of Research in Character Education, 5(1), 29–48.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Berry, J. W., Worthington, E. L., Jr., Parrott, L., O’Conner, L. E., & Wade, N. G. (2001). Dispositional forgiveness: Development and construct validity of the Transgression Narrative Test of Forgiveness (TNTF). Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 1277–1290.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Carter, M. A., & Dasson, M. (2017). What school leaders are doing to support a culture of character: An exploratory study with preschools in Singapore. Childhood Education, 93(1), 29–38.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Comer, J. (2003). Transforming the lives of children. In M. J. Elias, H. Arnold, & C. Steiger-Hussey (Eds.), EQ + IQ: Best practices in leadership for caring and successful schools (pp. 11–22). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Dey, I. (1993). Qualitative data analysis. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Govindji, R., & Linley, P. A. (2007). Strengths use, self-concordance and well-being: Implications for strengths coaching and coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 2(2), 143–153.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Gradišek, P. (2012). Character strengths and life satisfaction of Slovenian in-service and pre-service teachers. Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal, 2(3), 167–180.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Gray, D. (2018). Doing research in the real world (5th ed.). Los Angeles: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Haslip, M. J., Allen-Handy, A., & Donaldson, L. (2018). How urban early childhood educators used positive guidance principles and improved teacher-child relationships: A social-emotional learning intervention study. Early Child Development and Care, 190(7), 971–990. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004430.2018.1507027.

  16. Honig, A. S. (2004). How teachers and caregivers can help young children become more prosocial. In A blueprint for the promotion of prosocial behavior in early childhood (pp. 51–91). New York: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Hyson, M., & Taylor, J. L. (2011). Caring about caring: What adults can do to promote young children’s prosocial skills. Young Children, 66(4), 74.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Ivtzan, I., Niemiec, R. M., & Briscoe, C. (2016). A study investigating the effects of Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice (MBSP) on wellbeing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 6(2), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.5502/ijw.v6i2.557.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Kaplan, B. H. (1992). Social health and the forgiving heart: The type B story. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 15, 3–14.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Knowles, M. S. (1984). Andragogy in action (1st ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Kokoszka, C., & Smith, J. (2016). Fostering character education in an urban early childhood setting. Journal of Character Education, 12(1), 69–74.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Lavy, S., & Littman-Ovadia, H. (2016). My better self: Using strengths at work and work productivity, organizational citizenship behavior and satisfaction. Journal of Career Development, 44(2), 1–15.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Linley, P. A., Nielsen, K. M., Gillett, R., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). Using signature strengths in pursuit of goals: Effects on goal progress, need satisfaction, and well-being, and implications for coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 5(1), 6–15.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Littman-Ovadia, H., & Steger, M. (2010). Character strengths and well-being among volunteers and employees: Toward an integrative model. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(6), 419–430.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Lottman, T. J., Zawaly, S., & Niemiec, R. (2017). Well-being and well-doing: Bringing mindfulness and character strengths to the early childhood classroom and home. In Positive psychology interventions in practice (pp. 83–105). Cham: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  26. McCullough, M. E., Bellah, C. G., Kilpatrick, S. D., & Johnson, J. L. (2001). Vengefulness: Relationships with forgiveness, rumination, well-being and Big Five. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 1141–1164.

    Google Scholar 

  27. McGovern, T. V., & Miller, S. L. (2008). Integrating teacher behaviors with character strengths and virtues for faculty development. Teaching of Psychology, 35(4), 278–285.

    Google Scholar 

  28. McGrath, R. E. (2015). Character strengths in 75 nations: An update. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(1), 41–52.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Mei-Ju, C., Chen-Hsin, Y., & Pin-Chen, H. (2014). The beauty of character education on preschool children’s parent–child relationship. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 143, 527–533.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Norrish, J. M., Williams, P., O’Connor, M., & Robinson, J. (2013). An applied framework for positive education. International Journal of Wellbeing, 3(2), 147–161.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (1999). Relation of hope to self-perception. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 88(2), 535–540.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2006). Character strengths and happiness among young children: Content analysis of parental descriptions. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7(3), 323–341.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2009). Character strengths: Research and practice. Journal of College and Character, 10(4), 1–10.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2006). Character strengths in fifty-four nations and the fifty US states. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(3), 118–129.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Peterson, C., & Park, N. (2006). Character strengths in organizations. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27, 1149–1154.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Peterson, C., & Park, N. (2009). Classifying and measuring strengths of character. In S. J. Lopez & C. R. Snyder (Eds.), Oxford handbook of positive psychology (2nd ed., pp. 25–33). New York: Oxford University Press.

  38. Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

  39. Pianta, R. C., Burchinal, M., Jamil, F. M., Sabol, T., Grimm, K., Hamre, B. K., et al. (2014). A cross-lag analysis of longitudinal associations between preschool teachers’ instructional support identification skills and observed behavior. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 29(2), 144–154.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Priest, C. (2007). Incorporating character education into the early childhood degree program: The need, and one department’s response. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 28(2), 153–161.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Proctor, C., Maltby, J., & Linley, P. A. (2011). Strengths use as a predictor of well-being and health-related quality of life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 12(1), 153–169.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Proyer, R. T., Gander, F., Wellenzohn, S., & Ruch, W. (2013). What good are character strengths beyond subjective well-being? The contribution of the good character on self-reported health-oriented behavior, physical fitness, and the subjective health status. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(3), 222–232.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Proyer, R. T., Gander, F., Wellenzohn, S., & Ruch, W. (2015). Strengths-based positive psychology interventions: A randomized placebo-controlled online trial on long-term effects for a signature strengths- vs. a lesser strengths-intervention. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 456. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00456.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Ramaswamy, V., & Bergin, C. (2009). Do reinforcement and induction increase prosocial behavior? Results of a teacher-based intervention in preschool. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 23(4), 527–538.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Ruch, W., Gander, F., Platt, T., & Hofmann, J. (2018). Team roles: Their relationships to character strengths and job satisfaction. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 13(2), 190–199. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2016.1257051.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Schuberth, D. A., Schuberth, D. A., Zheng, Y., Zheng, Y., Pasalich, D. S., Pasalich, D. S., et al. (2019). The role of emotion understanding in the development of aggression and callous-unemotional features across early childhood. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 47(4), 619–631.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5–14.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Shoshani, A., & Slone, M. (2017). Positive education for young children: Effects of a positive psychology intervention for preschool children on subjective well being and learning behaviors. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1866.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Shubert, J., Wray-Lake, L., Syvertsen, A. K., & Metzger, A. (2019). Examining character structure and function across childhood and adolescence. Child Development, 90(4), e505–e524.

    Google Scholar 

  50. van Woerkom, M., Bakker, A. B., & Nishii, L. H. (2016). Accumulative job demands and support for strength use: Fine-tuning the job demands-resources model using conservation of resources theory. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(1), 141.

    Google Scholar 

  51. VIA Institute on Character. (2018). What the research says about character strengths. https://www.viacharacter.org/www/Research/Research-Findings.

  52. Weber, M., Wagner, L., & Ruch, W. (2016). Positive feelings at school: On the relationships between students’ character strengths, school-related affect, and school functioning. Journal of Happiness Studies, 17(1), 341–355.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Whitebook, M., McLean, C., Austin, L. J., & Edwards, B. (2018). Early childhood workforce index 2018. Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California at Berkeley. Retrieved from https://cscce.berkeley.edu/early-childhood-workforce-2018-index/.

  54. Wood, A. M., Linley, P. A., Maltby, J., Kashdan, T. B., & Hurling, R. (2011). Using personal and psychological strengths leads to increases in well-being over time: A longitudinal study and the development of the strengths use questionnaire. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(1), 15–19.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank Dr. Ayana Allen-Handy for her helpful suggestions.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael J. Haslip.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Haslip, M.J., Donaldson, L. How Early Childhood Educators Resolve Workplace Challenges Using Character Strengths and Model Character for Children in the Process. Early Childhood Educ J 49, 337–348 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-020-01072-2

Download citation

Keywords

  • Character strengths
  • Positive psychology
  • Character education
  • Early childhood education
  • Social emotional learning