Last week I worked with a school in Bolton. Their theme of the year - “Be the Best that You Can Be”, succinctly reveals the brilliant work that they have done with Growth Mindset and the wonderful, passionate, inspiring teachers that want to see their pupils succeed. I was there to help awaken the pupils to certain character traits that could help them be the best that they can be. The character traits I explored were Hope, Perseverance, and Bravery. They got hope, the necessary requirement we humans have to be optimistic, especially in light of a heavily conflicted and burdened world. They got perseverance, the need to try and try and try again when things seem impossible…. what was interesting for me was when we got to bravery. A majority of the pupils, when asked what they thought bravery meant, answered from the perspective of physical bravery - the amount of pupils that have held a snake was countless, and a particular swing ride at an amusement park proved quite scary, but these children sucked up their fears and got on board. I admired their guts and determination, but I was left to wonder, where is the moral bravery in this discussion.
Many character traits could appear to be gendered, stereotyped, and circumstance specific, bravery being a very specific example. When people think of bravery we often think of superheroes in the movies, or people trying to overcome a physical feat such as climbing the Himalayas, or a firefighter running into a building to save its occupants. What we have to consider is a more internal bravery, a bravery that acknowledges the rights and wrongs of this world, a bravery where we use our voices more than our bodies. This type of bravery is probably scarier than physical bravery, it is taking a moral stance about something, perhaps going against the majority opinion - but for the right reason. To help “save” our world (and when I say “save” I refer to climate change, war, mental health issues, abuse, etc, and any number of ills that damage, inhibit, and destroy lives) should we not focus on teaching moral bravery to our future generations, for they are the ones who will have to step up and say enough is enough.
If moral bravery is so important how can we teach it in schools and in the community? There are many thoughts on how to teach character in schools, there are many research strands and validated interventions - but I think the first thing to do is to open up the discussion with young people about what bravery is. If we start a discussion with the pupils we work with we can illustrate to them the moral choices they will have to make in the future, we can provide them with the knowledge and confidence to make the right choice for wider society. We can bring into the classroom moral dilemmas, stories of individuals who illustrate a moral bravery in their fight for social/environmental/human justice; we can inspire, we can motivate, and we can lead by example.
Where is a starting point for schools? It can be hard to bring such concepts into the classroom when, as a teacher, you have no time to investigate and gather much needed tools to introduce character. The VIA Character Strengths provide a one sheet that illustrates contemporary approaches to bringing bravery into the classroom, research centres such as the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues provide classroom resources that reflect a morally centric character approach, and my own programme, Resilience Wellbeing Success, uses the latest in character interventions to explore character strengths, including bravery. These are a great start to looking at how to bring more, character-centric, wellbeing tools and concepts into the classroom. However, schools need to make character a cultural approach - make moral bravery an ethical shout for positive change in their community and see pupils build their confidence to stand up for what they believe in.